Interview with Elizabeth North, Dreamspinner Press

Today Elizabeth North is joining us on the website to talk about Dreamspinner Press which started just three years ago as a publisher of M/M and gay romances and now seems about to set epublishing on fire, with record sales and an enviable stable of writers.

DREAMSPINNER PRESS – THE COMPANY

“Dreamspinner Press is an independent publisher of gay romantic fiction in a variety of sub-genres with print, ebook, and audiobook lines. We publish everything from short daydreams to full-length novels and multi-novel series.

Founded in January 2007, we released our first title, Size Matters: Short Stories Long Enough to Satisfy, in May of that same year. Over the intervening three years, we’ve increased our production to two print titles and five electronic titles a week. Currently we have 220 authors from six continents, more than 600 titles published or contracted, and our web site has more than 6,000 registered users.

In addition to our publishing, we support a variety of charities. In the last eighteen months, we have contributed a portion of profits from our titles to: the Family Equity Council; COLAGE; USA Cares; Service Members Legal Defense Network; the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center of New York City; Lambda Legal; and Mass Equality.”

Dreamspinner Press is a Partnership and Elizabeth North, Executive Director, is the public face of the publisher.

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Hi Elizabeth and thank you for agreeing to be interviewed on this website. We are honoured to have you here because I know how busy your schedule is. Before we begin the interview I would like to express my sincere thanks to you and Dreamspinner for donating so many of your books to M/M readers who come by the site every day. We are all very appreciative of your generosity. Now on to the business at hand.

Dreamspinner is one of the largest M/M publishers and we review many of your books – from fantasy to contemporary to historical and speculative fiction and everything in between and you have a huge following on this site. I would like to start off the interview by asking a few questions about the company, the epublishing industry in general, your future plans as they affect readers of M/M and gay romances, and also open the questions to readers:

Can you tell the readers what are the areas that the company focuses on to ensure growth year over year to maximize the return on its investment? Based on recent information it seems that your business strategies have been very successful.

Dreamspinner believes in doing one thing to the best of our ability and growing in small sustainable steps. We don’t increase production until we have the cover artists, editing staff, and submissions to maintain our quality. Our business plan is not to be everything for everybody, but to consistently produce quality M/M romance, which is diverse enough to be challenging.

Dreamspinner has achieved phenomenal success in only 3 -1/2 years. To what single factor would you attribute this success? Perhaps there are a number of factors rather than a single one.

We do our best to provide every customer and every author the best experience possible.

I notice that Dreamspinner is now offering audio books in a limited number of stories. Is this an experiment? If so, do the results indicate whether or not you will continue to offer this format?

Our audiobooks have only been in production for less than a year, but I see us continuing to grow that line slowly.

What would you say are some of the major challenges facing small publishers today, print AND e-publishers, outside of the economy, which has certain built-in downsides?

In a strange way, I think the downturn in the economy has helped our press in two ways. One is that traditionally during times of economic recession, affordable distractions like books and movie rentals flourish. Second, all of our titles are available in ebook format at a lower price point than paperbacks, which has encouraged even the die-hard paperback reader to try ebooks.

Are you planning to expand further into other types of stories? For example, some of your competitors have recently launched Young Adult lines. Are you planning to venture into this area or any others in the short term?

We have two lines in development for 2011, but we are waiting to have the review and editing staff in place before announcing the themes and opening them for submissions.

I have a question about genre purity. My site only reviews books that are “pure” M/M, which means there is no on-page sex between women and any of the protagonists in these books, even if they eventually have their HEA.  Also, the majority of M/M readers do not view secondary het pairings or ménages with women in these stories as part of the M/M ‘verse. Since Dreamspinner is an M/M publisher, I and other readers had assumed that your books did not have het pairings, but some  readers have complained that a small percentage of recent DSP books have couplings that are not male/male and they would like to know why the blurbs do not indicate this so that they can avoid buying these books which end up as DNF. Het books that I have read do not have M/M sex, so I suppose M/M readers are wondering why they are not treated with the same consideration.

All Dreamspinner titles end with an M/M or M/M/M relationship, but in an effort to accurately reflect the real world, sometimes the process to get there includes women. I would be horrified to pick up a het romance that warned for M/M sex, because to use that as a warning implies that it is wrong or something to be avoided. I have never picked up a mass market romance and found warnings of any type, even on het romances that do include M/M (or other) subplots—the two authors that come immediately to mind are Laurell K. Hamilton and JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, which introduced an M/M pairing in Lover Mine. Content warnings seem to be a carryover from fiction/fan fiction posted on the Internet and have never been a part of general publishing. You will find them on some smaller press web sites, but not at Random House or Penguin Group.

I believe that the media: books, television, movies, magazines, and more influence people’s attitudes; therefore, I want Dreamspinner titles to portray a balanced world where all relationships are accepted and treated equally. Reverse discrimination is still discrimination.

There is an ongoing series on this site where experienced writers blog on various topics every Tuesday aimed at helping newbie M/M authors. One of the areas that writers are having difficulty is in marketing their books. Since this is not a skill many authors possess, what assistance does your company offer to your authors in this area? Do you consider it to be totally their responsibility to market their books to their target audience?

Dreamspinner is a full-service publisher. The definition of that for us is that we provide cover art, full editing, and marketing for every title we accept. We do not require or expect our authors to do self-promotion. Some of our authors are comfortable promoting their titles, and their efforts augment what we do. We provide new release exposure using our web site with more than 6,000 registered users, a newsletter with a circulation of 4,500 readers, a Facebook and Twitter presence, and announcements on dozens of online groups and lists. In addition, titles are advertised with banner/cover ads and distributed to forty review sites. We provide support and guidance from one of our experienced authors (Ariel Tachna), who we’ve hired as a social media coordinator. She helps authors looking for promotion ideas.

In your opinion, what is the absolutely worse thing that a writer can do to screw up his or her chances of being published?

Use of improper or unprofessional formatting or grammar in their submission e-mail. Many writers today live online, but an official submission e-mail is not the place for chat speak or improper capitalization and punctuation. A potential author should do everything possible to present themselves in a professional manner and follow posted submissions guidelines. In addition, they should spend some time examining the titles produced by a publisher to make sure their story is a good fit. I receive as many as ten submissions a week for het romances when two minutes on our web site would have saved the author’s time and mine.

This is probably a sore point for many publishers but readers have been complaining consistently about DRM (Digital Rights Management). The readers’ view is that they don’t want DRM on their books since this prevents them from downloading their books to different devices such as ereaders, iPad etc. Fictionwise and at least a couple of your competitors that I know of do not use DRM in books they sell. What is your company’s policy in this area?

DRM isn’t a sore point for us at all. We’ve never DRMed our titles, and we will never DRM our titles. We believe that when a reader buys a title, they should enjoy all the freedom they would with a paperback. To that end, we provide a permanent bookshelf on our site with access to all the formats with no date or download restrictions. If a reader’s computer crashes, they have an automatic off-site back up. If they buy a new eReader, they can download all their purchased titles in the new format. If they need PDF for their laptop, PRC for their phone, and ePUB for their ebook reader, they can download all three. We are in the business of making reading a joy, not a chore.

Younger adults live online—Tweeting, blogging, posting videos on YouTube and downloading from iTunes— and about 85% of them, (according to a national US survey) have cell phones. In Asia, young people are not only reading books on their cell phones, they’re writing books that way, too. That adds up to a sizable potential market for mobile phone and Web-based e-books. Over a year ago Google announced that it would provide e-content for mobile phones and would release 1.5 million public domain titles with Sony as its partner in this venture, to coincide with the launch of Sony’s newest e-reader. Amazon indicated it would adapt books already in the Kindle format. Do you see this trend providing a new or expanded market for your books?

The trend is building toward standardization of ebooks to a single open source format, and I think that is the answer to use for multiple devices. The music industry went through a similar struggle with downloadable files before MP3 became the default format. At the moment, it is looking like ePUB could be that format for ebooks, allowing easy access from computers, eReaders, phones, and other devices. Since we already offer our publications in ePUB and several other formats, it won’t be a new or expanding market for us unless a new format gains prominence, and we are certainly keeping an eye on the market.

Tam, a reader from Canada, has a question for you

Dreamspinner produces a lot of anthologies and Daily Dose products. Are they more lucrative than just producing single shot books or are they finding them increasingly popular? I’m curious as other publishers don’t seem to be following that trend at this point. How did it come about and do they see it continuing in the immediate future?

Each year, Dreamspinner publishes 104 novels, 104 novellas, 60 short stories, 4 anthologies, and 2 Daily Dose sets (which include up to 31 novellas and short stories that can also be purchased separately). We believe these projects are both reader- and author-friendly. Although anthologies make very little money, they do offer opportunity and exposure for new authors to break into the market. Many of the authors who publish with us regularly started with a submission to an anthology. We have no plans to change our publication schedule at this time.

Feliz, a reader from Germany had this question

I’ve been to DSP’s “Call for submissions” page recently, and apparently they are right now looking for stories WITHOUT a conventional HEA for a series called Bittersweet Dreams. I think this is a great idea! I’m very curious about the outcome of this new line of products as well as about the authors’ and readers’ reaction to it. Does DSP plan to continue this?

We are excited about the Bittersweet Dreams line. Some of the greatest romances don’t have a traditional happy ending. The first titles will be published in November, and we plan to evaluate reader reaction and sales for at least a year before we make a decision about continuing the line.

Val, an author and blogger from the U.S. had a question and a couple of observations:

I’m curious about what went into the decision to make Dreamspinner a publisher of same-sex romance only. I mean, it seems obvious now in 2010 that the m/m romance field has enormous growth potential, but that may not have been as obvious a few years back, which makes it a very brave choice, considering how almost all of the other publishers were MF + MM.

Torquere, also an exclusively GLBT fiction publisher, was already out there as helpful proof that the same-sex fiction focus could work out well, but still it must have been a bold business decision to make. What factors went into that decision and what hunch or hints at that time made Dreamspinner see something worth gambling on in m/m fiction?

I’d like to say that it was sound business research, but actually, it was a hunch. It was one of those ideas that just felt right.

Larissa, a reader from The Netherlands, would like to know

How was the company started? Also, is there an office or was DSP started from home?

She wants a little background on the publisher other than the corporate information. She would also like to know the origin of the name. 🙂

The history of Dreamspinner actually starts in 2004 when a close friend of mine enlisted my editing skills to help her improve her writing. She was writing M/M romance—which prior to reading that first story, I didn’t know existed. Like many women, I was hooked and went in search of books on Amazon because my friend couldn’t write as fast as I could read. Even when I found a good author and an engaging story, I was disappointed by the quality of the books and editing. My friend was fortunate enough to be approached by a small press who wanted to publish her work, but the entire experience was a disaster. The more I got to know writers in the genre, the more horror stories I heard. I was attending a writing/editing retreat in the summer of 2006 when I made the off-handed comment that someone (notice I didn’t say me) should start a publishing company that specialized in M/M fiction, focused on treating the authors well, and produced a quality book that felt good to hold. A group of eight of us stayed up most of the night brainstorming what an ideal company would look like. Most of those ideas became Dreamspinner Press. The name came from the idea of making authors’ dreams come true.

Dreamspinner was started in a home. We moved from there into office/warehouse space in 2008. In 2009, we built a Dreamspinner office that was expanded to include four additional offices in February 2010.

Denni from the U.S. has a few questions for you –

I’m curious about the story lengths and the reading market. Some small imprints seem to publish shorts & novellas almost exclusively, and others seem to almost ignore them. Although I’ve discovered a few good authors by reading anthologies, on the average my patience with short stories is very limited. Some readers find the shorter stories to be a better fit for their life style and attention span.

So, from the seller/publishing side, how do you choose the ratios of novellas to novel length? Is it a management choice, or merely random as good stories are submitted by your authors? Is it financially ‘safer’ to publish anthologies b/c readers will purchase them if a favorite author is included?

Our mix is fixed and based on experience with sales. Each week, we publish two novels in print and ebook, two novellas in ebook, and one short story. We publish four anthologies and two Daily Dose sets a year. Anthologies actually earn very little money. Most readers are like you and prefer longer stories; however, anthologies provide exposure for new authors and give readers a chance to sample the style of authors they might not try in a standalone story.

Kim W (U.S) has a couple of questions for you:

What would you consider a fair cut for the author when it comes to paperbacks vs. ebook royalties? And why, if at all, would they be different?

Dreamspinner’s royalties range from 25-50% depending on length and publication format. An author needs to understand not just the percentage they are being offered, but how that percentage is applied. Ask for a definition of any term in a contract you don’t understand. Is the royalty percentage calculated on retail, gross, or net? What expenses are deducted from retail to calculate net? Is there a difference in royalty based on where the title is sold? A title (paperback or ebook) earns more for the publisher and the author if it is sold directly from the publisher’s site, because wholesale discounts can range from 40-65%. It costs more to produce, store, and ship paperbacks, so they typically receive a lower royalty percentage than ebooks. Any publisher should be happy to explain how they calculate royalties until you are comfortable with the process.

Are there trends to look for concerning seasons? For example, holiday romances in the winter time and scary stories in the fall.

Submissions tend to go in waves that have little to do with what is being released at the moment. The best time to submit a Christmas story is June, and we’d love to see your Halloween story in March. We attempt to have a balance of genres in each month, even around the holidays.

Budajsguy, a reader from the U.S. wants to know:

My question is sort of shallow: Why are we being subjected to cartoonish cover art? That is an even more massive turn off than headless torsos. (That said, DSP is quickly becoming one of my most-shopped publishers.)

Cover art is like fiction. Everyone likes something and hates something else, so we try to provide a good blend of different types of cover art. Dreamspinner attended a convention recently where we had readers lined up out into the hall to get signed prints of the hand-drawn manga-style covers. Ultimately we try to please our authors by providing a cover that they feel suits their story. Some authors prefer photorealistic covers, and others like the freedom to accurately recreate a scene from the book that can only be achieved through a drawn or painted cover.

Aquina (U.S) has a compliment and a question

I notice some Dreamspinner ebooks are on Amazon (or other sites like ARe) but not all. What is the deciding factor? And why is there sometimes a delay between published date and when these books are available at 3rd party sites? Thanks.

By the way, big fan of Dreamspinner books. Rarely am I disappointed by a purchase.

All of our novels, novellas, and anthologies are available on ARE, Amazon, and over a hundred other ebook retailers and libraries with digital catalogs. Our short stories are only available on our site because once you deduct a wholesale discount from the lower price point, our authors wouldn’t earn a decent amount for the sale of their story.

Titles are uploaded everywhere on their release date. Some sites, like ARE, post stories immediately. Other sites have a review process the story has to go through before it is available, adding 3-5 days. Many sites list our titles through a distributor, so the story is actually distributed by a third party, which adds several weeks.

Mirko from Belgium has a few questions

Dreamspinner Press is one of my favorite publishers and I am looking forward to reading the interview. What I would like to know is:

a)   How do they decide how the cover of a book will look like? Their covers are some of the best (Cut & Run and all the others in that series, so simple but so powerful or Gathering Storm, very well done!) but also some of the worst (the PC drawn ones)! Do they think that almost all the covers from all the publishers are a look-a-like so that making a difference on the shelf is harder and harder to do?

Every author fills out a cover spec sheet based on their story and the kind of cover they would like to have created. We do our best to make the author’s vision for their story come true.

b)   I am not a big fan of ebooks so I love their paperbacks but what do they think of the future of paperbacks vs ebooks?

I think there will always be a place for paperbacks. Ebooks are like movie rentals—convenient and cost effective, but they don’t replace the experience of sitting in a theater. People have been predicting the demise of the print book for decades, but I think as long as we work with the new technology instead of resisting it, books will be around for a lot longer.

c) Does Dreamspinner think that the kind of M/M books in genres like paranormal, romance, crime, sports have already reached their full potential, or do authors have to be more creative in choosing the world where the M/M novel takes place?

I don’t think we have even scratched the surface in what can be written. We are seeing the repeat of formulas that have proven popular, but the cutting edge creative authors have yet to create what will be popular next year.

Recently two Dreamspinner M/M romances reviewed on this site have highlighted what appears to be either a change in direction from your tag line of “Publishers of Quality M/M Romance Novels …..” or a mislabeling of these stories. In Aaron Bradley: Closet Detective, the main protagonists were upstaged by a heterosexual couple who appear to have hijacked the story, particularly the female character who ended up by default, as another protagonist, because so much of the story was focused on her and not on the romance between the two gay men. This resulted in the romance being relegated to a sub plot. In another book, Billionaire’s Row, the story was focused more on the mystery than on the romance, which also became a sub plot. Is Dreamspinner changing direction or are these two books anomalies?

Dreamspinner defines romance as the development of a new M/M relationship between the main characters or growth in an existing relationship due to the events of the story. This can be the main plot of the story as it is in most contemporary romances, or a strong secondary plot, which is what happens in many mysteries and other sub-genre stories. That is the criteria our editors are looking for when we review stories for acceptance. Whether there is “enough” M/M romance in a story is an opinion and a decision I trust my editors to make in an effort to provide a variety of stories for different types of readers.

And last – from Kim W again 🙂

And I would not be my quirky self if I did not ask this one ^_^ :

If you were a taco what kind of hot sauce/salsa/condiment would be appropriate for you?

Salsa Verde

On that note I’ll end the questions. 🙂 (I should tell you that you are probably the only interviewee who has answered this question for Kim) LOL

Thank you Elizabeth.

Elizabeth North & Dreamspinner Contact Information

Email: elizabeth@dreamspinnerpress.com
Website:  www.dreamspinnerpress.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dreamspinner-Press/334648605250
Twitter:   http://twitter.com/dsp_mm_romance

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

36 comments

  • I’m one of those 6,000 members too! I really like the DSP site. I guess I live under a rock, because I never realized that buying the books off of Amazon, etc actually lowered the profits to the writers. I will be sure to purchase off of the sites themselves from now on.
    Also, a few months back, I purchased a print book from DSP, and there was a printing error in the book. DSP contacted me about the problem even before I realized it, quickly sent a replacement (even had the writer autograph it for me!), and sent me a coupon to use on my next order. Now that’s customer service!!
    Hope

  • As an author who has just signed his very first contract with Dreamspinner (DIGNITY TAKES A HOLIDAY, to be released January 2011), the timing for this interview could not have been better or more validating. I was already a fan of the press, but when I got my acceptance for DIGNITY, I was thrilled because Elizabeth said that she liked “to push the definition” of romance. And, if you’re familiar with my writing, you know that statement would resonate with me. I’m so grateful that Dreamspinner took a chance with DIGNITY TAKES A HOLIDAY and really look forward to working with them.

  • Elizabeth

    Thanks again for this interview. I think you’re an excellent ambassador for the brand, and in your role as the face of Dreamspinner you have done an outstanding job.

    Your authors who have commented here and elsewhere, as well as readers, have spoken with one voice about how much they enjoy the atmosphere at DSP and the product. You should be very proud. Even cynical Budajsguy 🙂 who is one of your readers and a guest reviewer on this site loves your books. He said:

    What I took away from this interview is how important it seems to DSP to treat their writers well. In this all-for-profit-screw-the-worker-bee world, that says a tremendous amount about the integrity of the people behind the brand. Just another great reason to continue shopping there.

    from Clare London, one of your authors:

    I think what comes across most clearly to me is the ambitious but measured progress that DSP have made in the market, by managing what submissions and authors they have, plus trying new ventures.

    and from K.Z. Snow

    All I have to say is that I’m extremely proud to be a DSP author. Elizabeth, and the company, are a class act all the way. Their courage, integrity, and respect for authors and readers make them a standout in this industry.

    Just these few testimonials should give you an idea of the impact of DSP on the M/M epublishing market.

    This interview has generated quite the love-in 🙂 and I hope it makes up for the time you took out of your busy schedule to respond to the readers’ and my questions.

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