Today I have the distinct pleasure of speaking with Laurie Sanders, Acquisitions Editor for Black Velvet Seductions. Welcome Laurie. It’s great to have you here!
Tell us a bit about Black Velvet Seductions.
Black Velvet Seductions is a small publishing company that publishes heterosexual romance of all types. The company, which was incorporated in April of 2005, was born as I was nearing completion of my own erotic romance novel His Perfect Submissive which incidentally is still not complete. As I looked around at the publishers that were then available for erotic romance I did not see one that was everything I wanted in a publisher. I considered self-publishing but quickly realized that if I were to self-publish it would require a huge commitment of time and money to promote my one book. I began to toy with the idea of making that commitment but using it to publish and promote books by other authors as well.
I spent the next several weeks thinking about what I wanted in a publisher and how I would incorporate everything I wanted into the publishing company I was devising in my mind. When I had a good idea of how I would organize things I discussed the idea with my business analyst husband Orville. He was excited about the idea. We spent several days trying to come up with the perfect name for our new venture and finally came up with Black Velvet Seductions. We were incorporated. I began to build the website, and continued to work on my manuscript. We sent out calls for submissions and got listed in Writer’s Market. The manuscripts began to trickle in…and then stream in.
In December of 2005 we released our first book, Jessica Joy’s Fool Me Once. Other books by other authors followed.
What role do you play in the company?
I am the CEO and handle most roles within the company. My primary roles are editor and director of promotion and marketing, though I also handle the Black Velvet Seductions website and newsletters.
What do you look for in a manuscript?
When I started Black Velvet Seductions the roles of editor and CEO were both new to me. Though I had read romance for more years than I care to admit, had written and published several pieces of fiction, and had edited a number of newsletters for organizations I had never been a CEO and had never acted as a fiction editor before.
The experience was daunting. When I received the first manuscript that needed a rejection letter I realized I didn’t really know how to write one. I had never received one, but there are samples available in books…and I adapted that, explaining in greater detail than the sample why the manuscript wasn’t right for us. When I received a thank you letter for the rejection letter along with the comment that it was the nicest rejection letter the author had ever received I figured I must be doing something right and we continued along that path. I never write form rejection letters.
Even when a manuscript is not a romance my rejection is written to the author and is specific to the piece.
The line between a rejection letter and a revision letter is a fine one. To me a rejection letter is for those times when a piece is just not suited for us, and there is no hope of making it suited for us. The piece is a mystery and we publish romance. The piece is a sex manual and we publish romance. It doesn’t fit. There is no way to make it fit.
Revision letters are more along the lines of the piece isn’t right for us, but here are the ways you could tweak it to make it right for us.
What I look for in a manuscript are first and foremost, is it a romance? For us the relationship between hero and heroine needs to be the primary focus of the novel. If the novel is a romantic suspense the suspense element will also be a strong focus, but it shouldn’t overpower the relationship between hero and heroine. If the cover letter and synopsis lead me to believe that the piece generally fits our lines then I read the first few pages of the manuscript. Unlike most publishers I do not usually make a publishing decision at this point, though I might if the piece is written in first person (we publish no material written in first person), or if the piece has so far to go that it needs to be rewritten entirely. In that case, I will read enough of the manuscript to explain generally what the manuscript needs. If it comes back improved I will give some more feedback until it comes back close enough that it can be coached up to publishable standard.
Nine times out of ten the manuscripts that I reject are rejected because the point of view is not deep enough. The story is told versus shown through the viewpoint character’s viewpoint.
I look for manuscripts that pull me into the story, that make me feel what the characters feel. That is accomplished by using deep point of view, by showing the story, by skillfully weaving, sensory details, thoughts, feelings, and motivation, into the action of the story. The goal of fictional writing is to provide the reader a vicarious experience…to make them feel as if they are experiencing what the character is experiencing. I look for manuscripts that provide that.
When I find a manuscript that captures the characters and their thoughts, feelings, and experiences there is a sense of excitement because even if the spelling and punctuation is atrocious those things can be fixed. The author who can come up with a story that captivates has talent that can be honed. One who can write pretty words but who cannot convey a depth of emotion are more difficult and time consuming to teach.
What are the most common reasons for rejecting a manuscript?
The most common reason is that the piece falls outside what we publish. The author has sent a non-fiction book and we publish only romance. Or the author has sent a mainstream with a bit of romance but the romance is not a strong enough focus.
The second most common reason I reject a manuscript is that it is written in first person and we don’t publish any manuscripts at all in first person.
The third most common reason that I reject a manuscript is that the viewpoint isn’t deep enough. The story is told on the surface. I see people acting, hear them talking, but I don’t feel what they feel. The piece lacks the energy that comes with a piece told in deep point of view.
Manuscripts in the first two groups are hard rejections. They are rejections as opposed to revision letters. In most cases I do not recommend that people rewrite a manuscript in third person point of view for us, though there have been cases where authors have rewritten and gone on to be published with us. Toy’s Story: Acquisition of a Sex Toy by Robert Cloud is a great example.
Manuscripts I reject because they don’t grab me, which is 99% of the time a product of shallow viewpoint, are soft rejections---more like revision letters. It is an area where an author needs to develop some knowledge and skill in order to deepen the viewpoint. However, if they are able to do that then I am delighted to look at a revision.
Tell us a bit about the monthly newsletter.
The newsletter for writers really stems from my desire to be a positive part of the romance writing industry. I receive hundreds of manuscripts, a high percentage of which I have to reject either because they do not grab me or because there is some other problem with character, motivation, plot, etc. The newsletter is really a teaching instrument in that the articles in it (at least those I write) are designed to address the issues I see in manuscripts that I have to reject. I can’t teach each individual author how to rewrite their manuscript with deeper point of view. However, I can write articles which provide information which will help an author to deepen viewpoint, write stronger dialogue, craft stronger characters, or make an unsympathetic heroine seem likeable. It’s both a gift to writers and an investment in them really.
What do you offer authors who publish with you?
We are a small company. We do not publish a huge number of titles. We are much more interested in producing quality reads than in producing a huge number of mostly mediocre ones. We want every Black Velvet Seductions title, in every line we publish to be synonymous with class and quality.
For authors our reputation spills over so that being published with us is a symbol of accomplishment.
Black Velvet Seductions was structured to be very author friendly. Our contract is free of the cringe worthy clauses that tie up future books. Our royalty structure is straight-forward and easy to understand. We pay 50% of the price we receive on all books. What we receive may vary as our books are carried widely in a number of different eBook stores including our own website, Fictionwise, ARe, AdulteBookShop, and Coffee Time Romance but the royalty rate for eBooks is always the same.
We pay 10% royalties on the price we receive on all paperback books. Again, what we receive varies because our books are carried on a number of sites (our own website, Amazon.com, and Booksamillion.com) and are available to brick and mortar stores through Ingram’s and Baker and Taylor. We also sell direct to small booksellers who do not have accounts or who wish to order direct from us. Though we receive varying amounts for books sold through different channels the royalty rate for paperback books is always 10% of the amount we receive.
Though promotion is in large part an author task, I do as much promotion as I can to assist our authors. I set up BVS group chats on various email loops, I give away a lot of books and eBooks on behalf of authors.
Authors receive a great deal from us on the books they purchase for book signings. Though our contract stipulates that authors can buy books for 65% of the cover price I have for a long time sold them to them at 50% of the cover price, which makes better sense for authors. Most chain stores want to sell books at signings on a 50/50 commission. At 65% authors would go in the hole 15% of every book they sold, which is not a good outcome for authors…though it is a pretty common one in the industry.
One of the things that all of us at Black Velvet Seductions really treasure is the closeness we feel as a group. Most of us look upon Black Velvet Seductions as a family. We support and promote each other. The feeling of our company, from the top down is friendly, caring, and considerate.
Anything else you want our readers to know?
Black Velvet Seductions is committed to the communities where our authors, artists, and readers live and work. Recently I asked each of my authors to choose a non-profit organization that they would like Black Velvet Seductions to sponsor on their behalf. Sherry James, author of Studs for Hire: Woman on Top(and a horse lover) came forward with Epona horse rescue an organization that rescues slaughter bound horses and prepares them for adoption.
We will soon be announcing a joint promotion with Epona. We will be assisting Epona with some press releases and an educational campaign about the plight of horses which are still (in spite of recent legislation banning their slaughter in the US) sold in the US and transferred across the border for slaughter.
During the three month promotion we will be donating a portion of all sales from the Black Velvet Seductions website to assist Epona in feeding, sheltering and providing veterinary care for 49 slaughter-bound horses that they rescued from a feedlot in Nebraska.
We will be featuring the stories of some of these horses on our site. There will be buttons for visitors to make donations to the cause without making a purchase of any kind. Of course, when they buy a book on the site a portion of the sale will automatically go to the organization.
This area will not be live on the site until late May/early June. But I would like readers to be aware. In the meantime readers can visit the Epona site to learn about the organization or to make a donation. Their website address is: http://www.eponahorserescue.com/
Thank you for taking the time to share with my readers what it’s like on the other side of the desk. Best of luck to you and Black Velvet Seductions!