Friday, August 15, 2008

Loose Id and Doreen DeSalvo

Doreen DeSalvo is one of the wizards behind the curtain at Loose Id (pronounced lucid), an author, and a student at Seton Hill University. As a co-owner of a successful electronic publisher, she has insight into the growing ebook industry, and she's in an excellent position to dish on the romance genre.

Her generosity led to my usual third degree, though I'm sad to say there are no fun smackdown questions here. Le sigh. Perhaps next time!

How much impact does a formal education have in a query or cover letter as far as Loose Id is concerned?

In a query letter, you have a limited amount of time to convince an editor your writing is worth a look. Telling us you're serious enough about writing to pursue a graduate degree is a great way to make an impression, especially if your program is in genre fiction. Loose Id has several authors who came from the Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction program, so it has a great reputation with us.
Incidentally, Loose Id accepts partial submissions of up to three chapters. You can read our full guidelines here.

What prompted you to pursue your Master's degree in Seton Hill's WPF program?

I've always had a penchant for academia. There are some wonderful writer-based organizations that offer workshops, such as the Romance Writers of America, but that can only take you so far. I got to a point where I wanted to study romance from a more analytical point of view, as well as learn some new techniques from professional instructors. I'm transitioning from writing erotic romance to writing mainstream historical romance, and this seemed like an ideal time to branch out and try an academic writing program as well.

What sources do you recommend for writers who want to continue learning the craft and the business of writing popular fiction?

I've already mentioned the Romance Writers of America -- they have nearly 10,000 members, and local chapters in most cities around the country. Join a local chapter and meet other like-minded writers. You'll learn more about the business than you can possibly absorb; the organization also offers conferences, workshops, and opportunities to meet hundreds of editors and agents. The biggest benefit is the membership itself. I've found the members to be incredibly generous with their time and knowledge. Some of my closest friends were met in RWA. Even if you don't write in the romance genre, you'll find a wealth of information applicable to other genres.
If you're looking for a more academic perspective, Seton Hill University can't be beat. To my knowledge, there's no other program that takes genre fiction so seriously.

I'd also recommend you focus more on your own writing than anything else. The business talk can be overwhelming and distracting. It's nice to know who the major distributors of paperback books are, but that doesn’t really help you write your book. The only thing a writer can control is the words on the page. Make them the best you can so that your book sparks interest in an editor and ultimately in readers.

With the amazing growth of e-books in the last few years, likely thanks to the Kindle, Sony's reader, and the handful of other e-book readers available, it seems as if this industry has the potential to really explode. Where do you see e-books and print books in five years?

There's been slow but steady growth when it comes to "mainstream" fiction in electronic format, and I think that growth will continue over the next decade. But in my opinion, the real appeal of E-books isn't in the technology, but in the subject matter of the books themselves. I believe the most successful E-books are the ones that simply aren't available in print. That's why most of the leading E-publishers are those that release cutting edge erotic romance -- they're publishing something that isn't being released by New York publishers. No matter how "hot" the mainstream print publishers go, in my opinion they will never be willing to go to the extremes of passion that E-presses do.

Also, readers of such hot material often don't want it in print form, because they don't want to be seen reading such things at the soccer game or on the bus. We've all been embarrassed by some of the covers on print books we're reading. E-books give readers far more privacy than print. To use an analogy, back in the dawn of the PC, analysts said that Lotus 1-2-3 was the "killer application" that made every company want to buy PCs for their employees; without Lotus 1-2-3, no one really needed a computer. In a similar way, erotic romance is the "killer application" that makes E-bookreaders viable.

How does Loose Id plan to position itself as the industry evolves?

We believe in keeping our organization streamlined so we can react quickly to any changes in the industry. Although we have a very talented staff of editors and artists, the owners are still involved in the big management decisions, and we communicate with each other almost every day.

We've been profitable since our second quarter back in 2004, and we have a substantial financial cushion that enables us to flex our muscle for the good of the industry as well as the good of the company and its authors. One example is when Triskelion Publishing went bankrupt in 2007. Their authors' contracts were held up in bankruptcy court, and Loose Id decided to put in a bid to get those rights and return them to the authors. As a company we always try to do "the next right thing." Above all, we operate with integrity and honesty.

We do have plans for the next few years, but we like to hold our cards close to the vest until we're ready to announce them. One exciting avenue we've become involved in is Second Life, the virtual reality world. You can find a Loose Id kiosk and free promotional items in the Second Life world, including some of our authors' books that can be "carried" around the Second Life space. We'll be expanding our Second Life presence in the near future. We're always exploring new technologies and new audiences, in keeping with our overall image for Loose Id -- hip, funny, sexy and smart.

The e-publishing industry has changed a great deal in the past ten years. How do you think the e-book world has improved? What would you like to see work better in the future?

I think it's fabulous that huge companies like Sony and Amazon are getting into the mix. Now that I've given them kudos, I'll say that my biggest complaints are with the E-book readers themselves. I own several E-readers, and I used to work in high tech designing applications for mobile phones, so please excuse me while I go into geek lecture mode.

First, there is a lot of room for improvement in the user interface of E-readers. Changing from one book to another is a lot more difficult than it should be -- it should be as easy as picking up a physical book from a shelf. The product designers need to look at the original Palm Pilot, which did only a few things, but did them more easily than anything else on the market.

I'd also like to see more advances made in battery life and in backlit displays. The Electronic Ink technology (pioneered by Sony and a company in France named Bookeen) is fantastic, but I want backlighting when I need it. Those screens are hard to read in anything but optimal lighting.

Aesthetically, the devices leave a lot to be desired. Both the Sony E-reader and the Amazon Kindle are utilitarian in appearance, to put it kindly. I'd love to see Apple jump into the mix with a sleek, sexy product.

I'd also like to see more open technology. Sony and the Kindle are hanging themselves with their proprietary format, in my opinion, just like the Rocket E-book did before them. An open platform is the way to get your product the widest acceptance. There is an E-book reader from Bookeen called the Cybook that has an open platform -- you can put books in many formats on it, and you can even install your own fonts -- but they don't have a lot of advertising. I highly recommend it as the best E-book reader on the market.

When it comes to the industry as a whole, I'd like to see more openness in the sales venues. Why is it so difficult to get books onto a Kindle unless you purchase them from Amazon? The same charge can be levied against Sony. There is no excuse for these closed-transfer systems. The customer bought the device -- don't stop them from putting any content she sees fit on it.

:: climbing down from soapbox now ::

There are so many authors who publish through both e-publishers like Loose Id and more traditional presses. Some stick to one or the other.

What need(s) does Loose Id fulfill for readers and writers that the traditional presses don't or can't?

I've touched on the reader aspect a bit already. Loose Id gives readers their most extreme fantasies, in a manner that ensures their privacy. When you're reading an E-book, no one sees the cover of the book but you. It's your secret.

In the same way, we give authors the freedom to explore their wildest ideas. Our editors will help shape them in a direction that appeals to our readers, but we want the author to feel that we're giving them assistance, not issuing mandates. If you have an idea that's hot and twisted, that your friends have told you "will never fly in New York," give us a call. It could be exactly what we're looking for.

Let's talk about the romance genre. Do you believe romance novels are purely escapist fiction, or do you see them as feminist literature?

I think they're both. If you look at the surface of romance novels, they seem to be saying that women aren't complete without men. I think the opposite is true -- it's the MEN in romance novels who aren't complete without a woman. That's pure escapist fantasy, the type to gratify a woman's ego. Some of us secretly love to see a strong man brought to his knees by the love of a good woman. Yet in reality, plenty of men are happy and complete without a woman, just as plenty of women are happy and complete without men. And of course I'm talking about heterosexual romance here. There is a whole wide world of lesbian and gay romance that serves an important market, and Loose Id is proud to have a part of that audience.

Another feminist argument is that romance novels put women at the center of their own stories. The women in these books make their own decisions, and that is powerful and liberating.

As a feminist, I find it sad that romance is the genre most widely maligned. It seems that misogyny is alive and well in some parts of our society -- any book written by and for women is subject to ridicule, simply on the basis of the gender of its authors and readers.

Current trends in the romance market point to some wicked polarization - erotic and inspirational romances rule sales, while the stories in between seem to have fizzled. What do you make of this, and how long do you think that trend might last?

The polarization in the market is nothing new, in my opinion. A few decades ago, the strongest sellers were the "sweet" Harlequin lines and the sexier historicals, like Joanna Lindsey and Rosemary Rogers. Over time, those extremes have solidified into Inspirational and Erotica.

And don't forget, there is still plenty of room in the middle for some huge best sellers. Just as one example, Julia Quinn isn't writing inspirational or graphic love scenes, and last time I checked her sales would make just about any author envious. Same for Nora Roberts.

Romance is a HUGE tent, with a huge readership. Of course there's polarization. It's a little like comparing the Sierra Club to the Girls' Scouts. There's plenty of room in the woods for everyone.

Aside from the advice to sit down and write, what do you recommend to writers who want to make a career out of their passion for storytelling?

I'm lifting this straight off of my Web site:

  • Don't ever give up! That's the best piece of advice I can give you. Talent is important, but persistence is even more important. Even after you've been published, you'll still have to deal with rejections, revisions, and bad reviews. Find a way to keep writing. Protect your muse and don't allow anyone to mock or deride your desire to be a writer.
  • Study the craft. My favorite book on the craft of writing fiction is Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. Another great craft book is Plot by Anson Dibell, which is about a whole lot more than plot. The discussion of "mirroring" scenes was worth a hundred times the cost of the book.
  • Stay sane. Nothing puts your ego, self-esteem, and self-confidence on the line quite like writing...especially if you write in a genre like romance, which has been openly ridiculed throughout recorded history. Find a way to handle the insecurity and rejection without self-medicating or going crazy. A book that's helped me weather the slings and arrows is Writing from the Inside Out by Dennis Palumbo. It's not a book on craft; it's a book about how to keep your sanity and self-esteem when you're a sensitive, creative type at heart.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer all my random questions, Doreen! I hope we see a lot more of Loose Id in the future.


Donnell said...

Fantastic interview, KL and Ms. De Salvo. Thanks for the great questions and frank answers. I love your advice on writing and your explanation of the business.

Helen Hardt said...

Wonderful post and great advice. I appreciated every single word!

KL Grady said...

Thanks for dropping by, Donnell and Helen!

Treva said...

Sometimes I forget one reason I love romance is because it is for and about women. Fantasy, empowerment, or stereotype, it is a way women see themselves.

Then again, I enjoy LI m/m romance written by men and women -- and I won't go further on that subject since I haven't formulated enough of an opinion on what that means for women.

KL Grady said...

Treva, thanks for stopping by. As for your love of M/M, check out Jessica Freely's discussions about it. She's collected some links to fascinating discussions on the subject and has even written about it herself. It might give you some fodder for forming your own opinion. :) (Then buy some of her books - she's an awesome person and an amazing writer!)

Doreen DeSalvo said...

Thanks, everyone, for stopping by. If you have any questions for me, feel free to post them.

Treva raises an interesting point about women who enjoy Male/Male romance. I haven't pondered that subject enough to formulate a solid opinion. Is the appeal simply "If one man is good, two are better"? Or is there something more fundamental, such as our need to see men put through their emotional paces in a wider context or in a more complex relationship than the traditional heterosexual romance allows?

Much to ponder. Thanks for the food for thought.

Zoey said...

Thanks for such an informative and useful read! This has been truly interesting and helpful. Thank you!

Madelyn said...

Thank you for the great interview. I found it helpful as a writer. I also appreciated the insight into the romance genre and the e-publishing industry.

Doreen DeSalvo said...

Thank you both, Zoey and Madelyn. I'm glad you enjoyed the interview.

Treva said...

(Then buy some of her books - she's an awesome person and an amazing writer!)

Actually Loose Id has contracted one of her books. And yes, she is.

jyauzer said...

Thanks for such an informative interview. I appreciated Doreen's candid answers and the breadth of topics covered. Comprehensive and knowledgeable. I hope that future interviews with Doreen are forthcoming. Thanks again!

Tiffany James said...

KL & Doreen,

Thanks for this great post! I thoroughly enjoyed it and posted:
"The only thing a writer can control is the words on the page." on my bulletin board behind my computer. The timing is perfect as I just found out I didn't final in a contest and was feeling a bit blue. Thanks for the encouragement!

Tiffany James

Doreen DeSalvo said...

Tiffany, I'm glad you found some inspiration in my post. Keep writing and don't ever give up!

Beth Barany said...

Doreen, It was great to get your perspective on the e-book industry. Thanks Five Scribes for interviewing her. Always a fascinating perspective on the world.

Yah, why doesn't apple jump into the mix? Or have they already with the iPhone?! Your thoughts?