Mainstream publishers aren't the only ones offering romance to readers these days. Here in our Small Press column, we are delighted to introduce some of the smaller romance publishers. This time we're pleased to welcome Laughing Owl Publications, publisher of mainstream fiction as well as romance. Hamilton J. Boudreax III, the founder, tells us about the press, and Gail Kennedy, one of Laughing Owl's authors, describes her experiences writing for a small house.
A Publisher's Perspective: Interview with Hamilton Boudreaux
Tell us how and why your press got started.
HB: I have had a life long love affair with books. I also wanted to do
something that would have a lasting impact. Books can be treasured and
passed down from generation to generation. The dynamics of the publishing industry right now is such that there is a business opportunity for small presses. There have been parallel
developments in film and recording. (Our next project is a music CD)
As the large houses consolidate, get bigger, get bought out, and absorbed
into Giant Corporate America, they have significant pressure placed on
them to produce 35% returns on investment. This is very tough, and you
need blockbusters to do it.
This atmosphere pretty well shuts out new talent. There are a lot of
really well-crafted works by new writers, and a surprising amount of mid-list writer interest in our house. I am stunned and amazed at the number, and quality of submissions we get
from all over the world. The internet has made the world a very small
Right now our most successful book is a mainstream literary fiction. Ron
Franscell queried us over the net. He followed our writers guidelines.
We did the whole thing by e-mail and phone, including the negotiations
with his agent. Our more exotic titles sell extremely well over the internet (Amazon.com)
We are not a subsidy publisher. We pay royalties. Right now, we do not
pay advances. An advance is a loan. We prefer to print books and buy
advertising. We encourage our writers to help us market the books by making themselves
available for signings, interviews, speaking engagements.
Did you have a mission in mind when you began producing books?
HB: We strive to produce high quality books for discerning readers. We are a boutique house. We can be daring, and bring to market works that won't fit into a neat
category. Our printer uses good paper, and our covers don't curl.
In what format are your books published?
HB: We publish trade paperbacks. First chapters are available on our web site.
I like books. They are a convenient portable universal software format.
I spend most of every day working at a computer screen. I do not want to
read novels on my computer. I also like to take a book with me on the
plane. While I also have my laptop with me, I am doing work on it,
rather than reading.
Do you do print-on-demand books?
HB: We have investigated this. The unit cost of these books is out of the
reach of the typical purchaser. Remember that the bookseller gets a 40%
discount and that the distributor gets another 15%. We have to pay for
the printing, pay the writer, pay the investors, and pay the utilities,
rent, labor, etc.
We print short runs (2,000-5,000) and warehouse them ourselves. Our
printer can get more to us in 15 working days, so we have not yet been
unable to fulfill orders. We are one year old and one of our titles, Angel Fire, is in its second
How are your books distributed? Do you get help from Ingram or Baker and
or are you on your own?
HB: Our books are distributed by Ingram, Baker & Taylor, New Leaf, and a
number of smaller distributors who specialize in libraries. We also have
several small regional distributors. Also catalogs like Manderley.
Our books are available from Amazon.com, Borders.com, Barnes & Noble.com
and a variety of smaller online book stores (who deal with Ingram). Our books are also available directly from us, and our distributing business. Books can be ordered from us by phone, mail, and over the
internet. Our distributors just warehouse and take orders. They do not actively
market our books.
Tell us how you advertise. Where do the dollars go, primarily?
HB: We have been concentrating in trying to reach readers rather than
booksellers in magazines which target opinion influencers, like Affair De
Coeur (for example). We took out ads in "Fate" magazine for "The Beloved"
Our promotional efforts have begun to shift towards reaching reviewers,
and attempting to get publicity through articles and interviews.
Angel Fire was reviewed by USA Today. But the most influential one so
far has been Library Journal.
What is the price range for your releases?
How can readers purchase your books?
HB: Purchasers can order directly from us. (see website information, below) All our books are in stock with
immediate shipping via USPS priority mail. Purchasers can also go to their favorite bookstore and ask them to order. Some of our titles are in larger chain bookstores, but this is a very
tough business, and booksellers don't like to stock too many obscure
But, you have to start somewhere.
Do you have a website with more information?
HB: All current
works are available for your preview on our web site, www.laughingowl.com
An Author's Perspective: Interview with Gail Kennedy
What led you to a small press like LAUGHING OWL? Were you previously published by a mainstream house?
GK: What led me to LAUGHING OWL PUBLISHING was the gradual tightening of the New York Publishing market. I'd been submitting manuscripts to major publishing houses for close to eight years. I had taken writing courses, attended RWA workshops, and honed my writing skills with the guidance of many helpful critique partners. And I felt that I was on the cusp of breaking through. I placed in some contests and received full page rejection letters written by an editor whose letter revealed she had actually read my story and who encouraged me to submit any further manuscripts I had. But eight years is a long time when you are a seasoned citizen.
Then electronic presses and other small presses began to fill the void. Seeing an opportunity they set up shop, and LAUGHING OWL was one of them. And I was in the right place at the right time. I knew the publishers - - two of them are members of RWA and writers, themselves. I made a decision to submit to them - - a decision I haven't regretted for a moment. Not only have they made my lifelong dream come true, but they run a class operation.
What's it like writing for a small press?
GK:I'll concentrate on the pros as I can't think of any cons at the moment. LAUGHING OWL delivers tender loving care. Personalized care. They are available to you when you need them. And they listen to you. When it comes to an editorial decision, they usually are right on, but should you have some strong ideas of your own, they are willing to work with you. I'll give you an example. My romance stories are more traditional and wholesome, but due to market pressure, I felt forced to make them more sensual than befitted them. The result being that parts of the stories didn't ring true to the heroine's character or the nature of the book. LAUGHING OWL's editorial staff agreed and invited me to do revisions, toning down the sensuality level.
They also allow you input on the cover of your book and the title. They are every bit as anxious to please you as you, the author, are to please them. When it's all done, they want a quality product - - one that all parties will be proud of, and that is what they deliver. They have done their homework, researched the marketing and publicity needed to promote your novel and keep you informed throughout out the whole process.
Do you receive an advance and royalties?
GK:I do not receive any advances. I will receive royalties. I also have the right to have my accountant examine the publisher's books insofar as they relate to my work twice a year. LAUGHING OWL is not a subsidy press. I have not spent a penny on my book, other than what I have chosen to do to promote my book.
Tell us about your experiences promoting a small-press release. How do you handle the PR?
GK:LAUGHING OWL handles a great deal of the PR for my book. They place the work in the Publisher's catalog and order forms which are sent to bookstores, buyers and customers, and they place it in an on-line Internet catalog. They talk directly with book chains, wholesalers and distributors, libraries, and a direct mail sales effort is made along with news releases and promotional material to reviewers throughout Canada and the United States. They also help me book interviews on local radio and TV stations and set up book signings.
As I become familiar with the operation, I initiate the book signings myself, contacting the book store managers and setting up the events. I have written interviews for Internet sites and contacted web sites telling them about my new novel. I have mailed out postcards with a picture of my novel on it to acquaintances both local and far away and have assumed the postage expense for these mailings. I'm always on the look out for an opportunity to give a talk about my book or the history of romance to any group that might be interested. Right now, I'm setting up a book tour into Florida during the month of February. And I have a book signing scheduled for just about every Saturday and/or Sunday for the rest of this year.
And here is where the cons of writing for a small press might come in. If you are unable to get out and self promote your book, it will mean that sales might not be as profitable and that knowledge of your novel may be limited. LAUGHING OWL is hooked up with two national distributors -- Ingrams and Baker & Taylor and they are connected with Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com and have their own web page, but they are not yet capable of physically shipping books to be placed on the shelves of all the book stores in the country. However your book can be ordered in any book store in the country. So the exposure of your book is limited. Book stores are willing to order copies and place them on their shelves if you are able to make a personal visit and do a book signing. Another con might be how much you can afford to contribute to the promotion of your book above and beyond the amount dedicated by LAUGHING OWL to that purpose. This means joining professional organizations, traveling, and sending out flyers and this aspect might prove undesirable to some writers.
Tell us about your current release.
GK:My current release is my first novel. Actually it is two novels under one cover -- a unique concept thought up by LAUGHING OWL. And I understand that Silhouette and Harlequin plan to join forces in the near future and publish two short contemporary novels under one cover, thus putting LAUGHING OWL on the cutting edge of the industry. The overall title is: MOUNTAIN DREAMS. The two stories are designed to be old-fashioned adult fairy tales with a traditional wholesomeness to them. And, in line with Norman Cousins' theory in his book, ANATOMY OF AN ILLNESS, the stories are punctuated with humor.
FIVE STEPS TO FLIRTING is the story of Regina Citrano, who knows Prince Charming is out there, only she's too shy to find him. But that's about to change. Armed with a dynamite magazine article, 'The Art of Flirting,' and the knowledge that airports are fertile hunting grounds for beginners, she sets out to test its theories. Meanwhile, on duty in the Cincinnati Airport, F. B. I. agent, Tyler Novak's suspicions kick into overdrive when an attractive redhead strikes up a conversation and accepts a package from the man he has under surveillance.
In SUNDAY SCHOOL AND THE SECRET AGENT, Susan Stewart needs a man calculated to catch the eye of every female attending her high school reunion. Acting on a bet that she can produce a fiancÚ, Susan discovers a possible candidate - - the sexy man tending bar in the Las Cruces country western saloon. Ric Ramsey has gone undercover to ferret out a drug ring and the persons responsible for killing his buddy and former partner. When a perky brunette with a Sunday School softness begins to flirt, Ric begins to wonder. Who would ever suspect her of being a part of the drug ring? No one except him.
Do you have plans for future releases with LAUGHING OWL?
GK: Not at present. Since they are a small press, they can only publish a limited number of books a year, and I am devoting all my spare time and energy to making my book a success for both me and my publishers. According to my contract, LAUGHING OWL has the right of first refusal respecting my next two books. There's always the chance that the partnership magic could happen again.
Hamilton and Gail, thanks for your time, and best of luck! Readers, check out our review of Mountain Dreams.