Thursday, March 01, 2007

An Interview with Jerry D. Simmons

Reading about Jerry's new project for Independent Authors and Writers, I visited his website, WritersReaders.com. I was pleased with his point of view, but I was even more interested in him when I read about his 25 years in traditional book publishing. So I asked him for an interview -- focused on our genres.

When I first contacted Jerry about the interview, this was his reply: "I'll do my best to answer as honestly as possible based on my 25 years in NY publishing. Your readers may not like some of the answers, but I'll be truthful."

That last line of his had me intrigued... you too, I bet. So let's get started.

As a writer in the areas of 'sex,' I feel, as many of 'us' do, that traditional publishing has shied away from erotica and non-fiction sexuality works. Do you see erotica as a less marketable fiction genre?

Yes, erotica and non-fiction sexuality works are less marketable as a fiction genre. The reason is that major retailers make most of the rules on what they want in their stores, Wal-Mart is a perfect example. Most have decided to try and stay closer to the "family orientation" and away from mainstream America.

Personally I've noticed a shrinking erotica section in most general bookstores -- a wisp of a shelf with mainly Penthouse Letters. Do you think this is an accurate picture of the genre as a whole? If so, is this a reflection of current politics/culture, or has it always been this way and I've been slow to notice it?

The shrinking erotica sections in bookstores is an accurate picture of the market's unwillingness to accept books other than those such as Penthouse Letters in their stores. I'm not convinced that is accurate of the marketplace, or interest in the subject matter, but the retailers call the shots and that is why publishers stay away from publishing other books in the category.

That erotica category has for most of the past 30 years been slow to develop and again, the major book retailers are primarily the reason. On the flip side, if this category had seen better written, titled and packaged products then perhaps sales would have forced these same retailers to rethink their position. As it is, sales are nonexistent, and yes the problem is lack of titles in stores, but also lack of interest from the reading public in what is perceived to be 'hard-core.'

There's been large growth in romance fiction with a emphasis on sex -- often called 'erotic romance' or 'spice' or some such. Do you think this is a way 'around' the stigma of erotica or a legit genre of itself? Is this growth (and it's sales impact) a positive sign for erotica?

Yes, this is a way around the problem and again Yes, this is a positive sign. The problem with erotic is the word. The retailers that I've talked about don't want a section in their "family oriented" stores with the label "erotica." However call it anything but, and stick it under romance, create a sub-genre and there you have it. If it's a duck and you want to call it a basset, most of the time in the world of publishing, you can get away with it.

Often I hear from writers who say that pubs have passed on a fiction ms with comments that if the author removes the sex they'll reconsider it; but then here comes Hollywood putting in gratuitous sex scenes where there originally were none... Any comments?

Hollywood compared to B&N or Borders is apples and oranges. Movies can get away with it, but publishing is still very old school and especially the retailers. Sure, these same retailers will sell "sexually oriented" NC-17 rated movies but try the same with a book in the category "erotica" and you got problems. I'm not saying it makes sense, that is just the way it is.

Is the stigma of self-publishing still a 'bad' one? Has it changed in recent years?

The stigma was imposed by the major NY publishers and it has stuck over the years. It's only bad because too many Independent Authors publish without editing which impacts all self-published books. Consumers don't distinguish a well edited Independent Title from a bad one and in order to get beyond that, you need some designation. That is one of the areas I plan to tackle with my new community of Independent Writers and Authors.

The stigma is changing slowly, but not fast enough to make an impact on sales. It must be done on a massive scale to make a difference, that is why the community is so important.

Barnes & Nobel etc. ask for a marketing plan. This scares many authors as they feel this is a numbers game - and even when what they ask for is a list of competing titles/works, many authors fold under the task of compiling such a list. Can you explain what buyers are looking for with such lists? And are they worth filling out if you are with a small press or self-published -- or does it all come down to sales history and so it's a hoop best not wasting one's energy on?

Buyers want small publishers and authors help them market and sell books. They want the author and publisher to assist them in making sure the books are placed in the category that will give them the best chance of being found and purchased.

They are definitely worth filling out and as an author you should have that research completed before your book is published. How can an author effectively market their book without knowledge of their own category and what sells?

It's still very much a numbers game, however the more you can assist the publisher and retailer with marketing, and merchandising your book, the better chance you have of selling copies, which is the bottom line, no matter what.

What are some things an author in these genres/topics can do to gain respectability with publishers, book sellers etc.

Help the reading public understand the difference between erotica and sex. Movies have ratings that make it easy, books do not. I'm not necessarily suggesting a rating system but better descriptions of content on the jackets and flaps of books. Holding your own book fairs, especially in NYC, you should draw lots of people. Any way to spread the word about the true content of your product.

Taking close examination of titles and covers of books are important, men do not want to be seen in an airport reading what appears to be a woman's book. The consumer in general does not want to be seen reading an erotic title. I'm also not suggesting you mask the true content but soften a bit. Look at most romance titles today, publishers know how to get around the problem of sex in their books.

For authors shopping their works to publishers, are they best off looking for 'sex' niche publishers or a general pub press?

Depends totally on what you hope to achieve as an author, your goals as a writer. The answer to your question depends on what you want with your writing and career.

Along those lines, can you tell us what your plans are for erotica and non-fiction works in the project? I understand you cannot yet give many details, but will there be any differences for authors or works in these categories/genres as opposed to more 'mainstream' works?

My plans in the new community is to offer all Independent writing and all Independently published books to the reading public. The decision as to how many erotica or non-fiction works will be entirely up to the community based on how many erotica writers and authors decide to place their work online. There will be absolutely no differences or distinction between that category and any other.

The community is open to everyone regardless of what they write. There will be no censorship, certainly we want to avoid hard-core material that any reasonable person might regard as objectionable or offensive which I might add includes racist or hate material, but I will not make that decision, the community makes that decision. The site will operate as a community of Independent Writers and Authors and the marketplace will decide how many erotic books they want to buy. The size of the category will depend on the number of writers and authors, limitless and without boundaries.

The opportunity for erotic writers is as good as writers of speculative fiction or non-fiction aviation, the site is wide open to everyone regardless of what they write. The focus is to offer books to the world that cannot be found any other place, my plan is to introduce Independent Writers and Authors through voices never heard and stories never told.

Your community is invited to join my community. This will change the face of traditional publishing as it exists today.

Thank you for the invitation, Jerry, and your participation in the interview.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts, perspectives, and ideas with your readers.

Again, to sign up for Jerry's new project all you need to do is email Jerry at jerry - at_ writersreaders.com and let him know you are interested.

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