This is Aleks’s second interview on the site, one week after his “author” interview.
We’re talking today about Riptide Publishing which Aleks co-owns with Rachel Haimowitz and Chris Hawkins. Riptide is set to open its doors October 30th and the publisher is currently on a major publicity campaign.
First, congratulations Aleks!! Your new publishing company which you co-own with Rachel Haimowitz and Chris Hawkins is creating quite a buzz going by the reactions of readers, and you have very lofty objectives based on your mission statement. Your massive blog tour launched the company a short time ago and your virtual doors are now open for business; readers will have an opportunity to see if your books match the mission statement.
Thanks so much. We’re somewhat overwhelmed and (pleasantly) shocked by the response so far, but we feel we’re onto something there. Also, wow, it’s hard work, but so much fun.
Riptide Publishing has taken up the cudgels in terms of producing better quality books which are entertaining enough to appeal to a broad readership.
How do you propose to do this?
(Laughs.) Short answer: Re-introduce the gatekeeper. To explain, e-publishing has often been seen as having done away with the gatekeeper – the function of traditional print publishers who basically just didn’t print the bad books. Between the reader and the author stood this big gate with the publisher as the guardian of good taste and good writing. That used to work well, but we all know that many of the large print publishers are increasingly run like any other production company by soulless MBA-types who usually don’t even read books but only look at the return on investment. If it’s not adding up in a spreadsheet, they’ll kill the book. To produce any book, it’s got to sell; if the marketing department of any given large print publisher doesn’t expect it to sell very many copies, the book won’t get taken up, regardless how good it is or that there might be a thousand readers who’d enjoy it.
So, we won’t acquire bad books. If it’s not a strong story and if the craft’s not there, we won’t acquire it. Once we have it under contract, it gets edited. And edited. And then edited. And edited some more – until it’s the best it can be. Have you ever read a story and thought: “Wow, this could have been good if this had had an editor”? Our aim is that you’ll never think this about a Riptide book. Finally, we focus on quality over quantity. We rather do four great stories a month than thirty that are so-so.
How do you decide who qualifies to be signed as a Riptide author?
Authors who can write – the typical Riptide author has their craft down pat, and tells interesting stories well. Several of our authors have also been looking for a publisher who offers in-depth editing and marketing support in addition to great covers beyond the “naked torso”.
But while we’re closed to outside submissions (that said, we have an open submission call, which is definitely an open door for talent that’s not on our radar) – we do check out writers who are recommended to us.
Quality editors cost a lot of money as Rachel pointed out a few weeks ago on this site, so how will Riptide ensure that your books meet the quality standards that readers of the genre are demanding?
Right now, the editors at Riptide are owners of the company. If it takes off, they get paid from the profits. But of course, this is a temporary stage in our development. I’m currently looking at three freelancers who will take some of the workload, all of them with experience in mainstream publishing and romance, and I hope to sign them fairly soon. You can’t rush this process, but we should be able to make progress there before the end of the year.
We put two developmental editors on every book for at least three editing passes, then two proofers. Our editing goes well beyond the more common simple spell-check and the sweep from the comma police. We simply don’t believe that’s good enough.
Will your books cost more than the range most readers are accustomed to paying for an ebook? Do you intend to offer your novels in print immediately or several months after the ebooks have been released similar to the Samhain model?
For long novels, we go up to $9.99 (because at 100k length or more, a novel keeps two editors busy for a few hundred hours), and a novel is several times as complex as a novella – you have at least one, if not two additional plots to deal with! In the shorter lengths we’re priced competitively to other e-publishers. We’re still a lot cheaper there than traditional publishers who sell their e-books for a lot more.
We’re doing print from mid-2012, according to the business plan. Then we’re looking at simultaneous print and e-publication.
Will Riptide be publishing books that are just a bunch of sex scenes strung together to hide the fact that there’s really no plot? (I’m aware that you have a line of books which will be short stories that focus on sex [Riptide Wet Dreams] but I’m not talking about that line, which is quite specific).
Absolutely not. We want plot. Even the Wet Dreams line so far has character revelation and is anything but “mindless porn”. Regarding sex – we like sex in our books as much as the next publisher, but we’re taking books with no explicit sex scenes, too.
Will you be asking your authors to increase the heat level in their books because that’s what currently sells?
Oh hell no. We’ve even cut sex scenes. The author was quite shocked, actually, because all they’d encountered so far were editors that said “Moar sex plz!” If it’s repetitive, doesn’t add or reveal anything, it should be cut like any other scene that weakens the overall book.
Personally, even if a romance only has one sex scene – but it blows our socks and toe nails off – we’d prefer that over a romance with ten sex scenes that are so-so. Ultimately, though, the author has to be comfortable with whatever heat level they are writing at and we won’t ever ask them to spice up anything if they aren’t comfortable with it. We offer a lot of books that are pretty hot, but we’ll never buy a book just on the sex. So, absolutely, we’d take pure erotica for the Wet Dreams line, but from the length of short story upwards we want more than sex. Plot, character growth, stuff happening that’s more than “kiss – blowjob – anal sex – mutual pledge of eternal lurv -marriage/adoption of kids.”
That said, we’re taking a fairly wide selection of genres – we’re looking at ménages in addition to everything that could be labelled gay or trans* fiction. Some people seem to assume we don’t take romances or don’t like romances, and that a misconception.
Do you offer content editing, and if so, have you ever turned a story completely around during editing? Or would you rather not accept a story that needs that much work?
Yes, we do content/developmental editing – with two editors, who work hard with the author to show wasted potential and solutions to plot problems. I’ve seen good stories become amazing stories, which is such a gratifying experience.
If a story needs too much work, we’ll send an R&R letter (revise and resubmit). Even my rejections aim to be helpful and constructive. I’ve sent an R&R to an author we very much want, because on the style level, she is probably among the strongest writers in the genre, but her book had plot issues, pacing issues, character issues, logic issues. I sent her a long editing letter with solutions to the problems, and held my breath at my own audacity.
She was ecstatic, because she’d known something wasn’t quite right but hadn’t been able to put her finger on it. From that response, her “yep, I’ll do this, that’s a great idea, I now know how to fix it”, we know that we very much want to work with her in the future. And I loved the second version of the book and acquired it two days later.
I notice that you have several submission calls out for different collections and you are requesting submissions in both gay and trans orientation. Will the books that are trans be identified as such so that readers who are only interested in the stories with gay MCs know before they buy?
Yes. We have a very sophisticated “warning” system implemented on the website; we warn for the usual triggers and content, but those who don’t want to be spoilered can make sure they aren’t. I do hope people will give the trans stories a chance, but we won’t achieve this by misleading our paying customers about content.
As you know, the lack of good quality m/m books both from the perspective of content as well as editing is a huge issue with readers and we’re hoping that Riptide will provide us with an alternative to some of the books we have been reading lately. So, very briefly, how do you propose to honour your commitments in this area other than hiring a lot of excellent editorial help which would be very costly?
Apart from working our asses off? (Laughs.) Very briefly: It takes a complete 100% “yes” vote among editors to acquire a book. If one of us doesn’t believe in a book, it won’t happen with us.
Once acquired, we edit it until it’s the best it can be. We’ll never rush a product to market. We’ll never acquire an author just on the strength of their name. We only look at the craft, not at the name or friendships or anything else. As co-owners, we subject our own books to the same rigorous process and quality control. I can show you how the “Dark Soul” stories changed in the editing process – at Riptide, I certainly got some of the most in-depth editing of my career, and that includes editing from print publishers!
Our mission statement is very ambitious, we know that, and we hope that reviewers and readers will call us on it should we ever slip up. But with the company structured the way it is, we’re looking at each other’s work and keep each other honest. I never want to be part of a cynical “throw the shit out, we don’t care, and readers can’t tell the difference anyway” author mill. That’s the Dark Side, and we’re not going there.
Thank you for your time Aleks.