When Raelene Gorlinsky first encountered Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc. nearly a decade ago, it wasn’t as a job applicant or an industry observer, but as a reader. An avid consumer of romance novels, Gorlinsky, then an information technology consultant at the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles, read Ellora’s Cave’s first book and was smitten.
Over the next several years, Gorlinsky wrote letters to the authors and editors at Ellora’s Cave about their work – and sometimes about errors she found in it. Eventually the editor-in-chief of the company contacted her and invited her to take the company’s editorial test. In 2003, she joined Ellora’s Cave as a freelance contract editor. She was promoted to managing editor a year later, after the editor-in-chief left the company, and moved from Oregon to Ohio, where Ellora’s Cave is based. A year later, she was named publisher, a role she took on in addition to her editorial duties. Two years ago, she relinquished her duties as editor-in-chief but remains the publisher.
Founded in 2000, Ellora’s Cave has been an early adopter and strong advocate of e-books. Encouraged by market forces to go digital to sell erotic romance novels (“It was very difficult to sell erotic romance through the chains…they were wary of what they put on their shelves,” Gorlinsky said.), the Akron, Ohio-based house now publishes nine e-books and five print books every week.
We spoke with Gorlinsky about digital workflow, the importance of pricing and why editors are like marines.
Jeremy Greenfield: When did you get your start in digital?
Raelene Gorlinsky: It depends on what you mean by digital. Before I came to Ellora’s Cave, I worked for IT departments of computer companies. We put out technical manuals, but it was not what you think of as e-books. I didn’t get involved in the consumer e-book market until I came to Ellora’s Cave in 2003.
I spent 25 years in various information technology and and information services roles, including seven years at Visa in California where I was a technical writer and project manager.
JG: So you had some experience in digital content. You have much more now. What are some skills you think are absolutely essential for digital book publishers to have today?
RG: An important skill is understanding how people read online. Because I had done so much work online, I read all the studies of how your eye moves across the page on the screen and what fonts work best.
It’s something people getting into e-books do have to understand. You can’t just say that this it the font we used in the [print] book and just throw it online.
You see people on blogs complaining about an e-book they’ve bought because traditional publishers are taking their old back lists and taking the print version and making an EPUB or making a PDF out of it and not thinking, “how is this the best presented for online reading.” It just doesn’t work to dump a print book into a text file to be viewed on the screen.
Another thing that all book publishers need to understand is the fiction market. I read Publisher’s Weekly and Digital Book World because I need to learn what’s out there in the fiction market, what percentage is e-book versus print, how does romance fit into it, and fiction versus non-fiction.
JG: Flattery will get you everywhere – thanks for the shout-out. So, how have e-books changed in the past two years and how do you anticipate them changing in the next two?
RG: The way it has changed is the concentration on selling through third-party vendors – Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all of those places. We used to sell almost all of our e-books direct. The bulk of the sales are with third-party vendors now.
Sales in our own stores haven’t declined, but haven’t grown either because most people that read e-books now want to shop at stores that have everything. They don’t want to go from publisher site to publisher site.
So we had to adjust our marketing, our contracts and our prices to accommodate the bulk of our sales being through third-party vendors.
JG: Speaking of pricing….
RG: I see a lot of price wars going on in the next two years. It’s not so much from us because we are primarily an e-book publisher. We establish our prices based on the digital book. For most of the existing digital publisher, they come from a print world and they’re trying to base their e-book pricing on print pricing and that impacts the rest of us.
It’s a competitive market – you can’t ignore where other publishers set their prices for e-books. Seeing what the big guys in New York are going to do with pricing is something we have to watch.
Related to pricing is convincing consumers that an e-book is worth the money. It’s not a product that you have in your hand and so they perceive it as of lesser value and want to pay less for it. Convincing consumers that it’s worth what’s being charged is going to be something publishers have to concentrate on over the next year or two.
JG: How do you see the relationship between author, reader and publisher evolving?
RG: I think that the relationship is going to continue to get closer and more direct. I think social media is going to continue to dominate. We’re seeing more and more publishers starting their own social-media-oriented websites for their readers to interact with their authors. That’s going to continue to grow.
There’s going to be more interaction as a way to discover books. Because discoverability is an issue, it’s going to be more and more important that people have direct connection to an author. More and more readers say that they went and bought a book because they saw the author’s Facebook page or Twitter or blog. Without that interaction, they may not have known about the author or that book or they may not have felt like giving it a try.
JG: What can other publisher’s learn from romance publishing?
RG: We’re successful at what we do because we listen to our readers. When Tina Engler founded this company, she was listening to readers. Her books were rejected by New York publishers who said that readers didn’t want erotic romance.
Pretty much everything we’ve done since then is by listening to readers who say, “why aren’t there stories about….” And we give it to them. That’s the advice I’d give to any publisher of any size: Find a way to figure out what the readers want and profitably give it to them.
E-books can serve markets that print books can’t. A large print publisher is saying, “I’ve got to do x thousands to make it profitable.” For e-books, that x thousand is much fewer.
I don’t have to sell 15,000 books to make a profit. I can make a profit on selling 1,000 copies of an e-book.
JG: You’ve been both an editor and publisher at Ellora’s Cave. How did you manage that?
RG: I was made publisher in the Fall of 2005. For a number of years, I ended up doing both jobs, which was not possible and ate up my life. A couple of years ago I hired a new editor-in-chief.
I went from being a reader to an editor to the steps up to publisher. Editors are like Marines: You’re never not an editor. I still edit a few authors of my own. It’s something you’re addicted to.
JG: Hiring the right people is so critically important right now with all the workflow issues facing the industry.
RG: I think you have to re-envision your whole workflow, starting with what you’ve always gotten: a manuscript from an author.
It’s a lengthy process to get it to e-book. I have a staff of three people whose primary job is formatting e-books and getting them up on the various sites. We do nine e-books and five print books a week.
We started our e-book production department before the big surge in e-books and there weren’t companies offering production as a service. We learned to do it ourselves, we’ve got the process in place, we’ve got people trained, we’ve got the software.
To publishers who don’t have things in place, I would probably advise them to outsource the production and management of e-book files. There are now a number of companies who do that and they’re well-organized.
JG: Ellora’s Cave was a very early player in the e-book market. Why?
RG: Mainly because of our subject matter. It was very difficult selling erotic romance through the chains; they were wary of what they put on their shelves. So, going digital made a lot of sense when it came to selling, not having to worry about printing and distribution. For readers, they could buy the books anonymously, quickly and inexpensively.
JG: What are you reading right now and on what platform?
RG: I generally have several books in process at a time.
On my Nook Color, Definitely Not Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos, a contemporary romance. I read mostly fiction on an e-reader. Also, English as She Is Spoke – 1884, a free book made available by the Internet Archive.
In paper, Angels of Darkness anthology by Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Meljean Brook, Sharon Shinn, a paranormal romance. The trade paperback was less expensive than the e-book, so I went with the paper.
Try Tracking! The Puppy Tracking Primer by Carolyn A. Krause. Yes, I have dogs and have done tracking with the two now-elderly ones and I want to get back into it with my two recent puppies.
Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species – A Graphic Adaptation by Michael Keller, art by Nicolle Rager Fuller. I could not resist seeing how they reduced such a book to a graphic book.
Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman. I heard him speak some months ago at the University of Akron and was impressed by his theories.
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