This year’s Writer’s Track is sponsored by Bell Bridge Books, an imprint of Belle Books. According to CEO and acquiring editor Debra Dixon, Belle Books grew out of a conversation at Dragon*Con. Several of the partners were sitting in a hotel room, talking about the changes in publishing just after the wholesaler implosion a dozen or so years ago. They decided the time was right for going into publishing because there were so many new ways to reach readers. As a result, they formed Belle Books, issuing their first titles—in traditional print format with large print runs—about a year later.
The company started as a Southern regional publisher. Four years ago, however, the partners noticed the opportunities in the rise of ebooks and decided to expand their footprint to reach a broader market. They launched the Bell Bridge imprint to increase the number of genres they offer, and they then released their first electronic editions. The company started with science fiction, fantasy, and young adult titles, building slowly from there. They now average around 36 new titles per year and issue reprints of established authors’ backlists. She proudly said Bell Bridge titles have won awards and have been among the Kindle bestsellers for extended periods.
When asked why the company decided to sponsor the Writer’s Track, Dixon cited Dragon*Con’s history of being responsive to writers. She noted that the con has run a full track of writer-oriented programming for years, with offerings on craft, promotion, and business, an important component as the industry undergoes rapid changes.
Bell Bridge Books, Dixon said, attends both writer conferences and traditional conventions like Dragon*Con. The company believes in “getting out to find good authors and reach readers.”
Dixon segued into a discussion of small presses, indicating that the rise in Internet publishing has led to a corresponding rise in the number of small houses. She emphasized the importance of authors knowing what a publisher offers them. The job of a publisher, as she sees it, is to find great authors, sell the books, and publicize them, with publicity continuing long after a book’s release. The author also needs to be sure the publisher’s definition of success meshes with their own.
In Dixon’s view, small presses have more flexibility than the larger houses. For a small press, she said, the emphasis is on steady, long-term growth, valuing backlist in a way large presses don’t. She sees a small press’s shorter list as affording more time to nurture an author and grow a career, finding the right spot for the author to flourish. She also thinks small presses have more flexibility to meet market changes than large houses have.
Discussing the rise in self-publishing, Dixon said the work’s publisher is less important than its quality. The primary problem with manuscripts she sees in her editorial role is that they are not strongly written. The writing is weak and flawed, where authors often haven’t done “the deep work” to get the books to a point where the editors can punch them up, where the authors have strong voices and know who they are. These authors are “not ready to put something authentic on the page.”
If an author puts out a book that’s poorly written, poorly edited, and “poorly covered,” the author is ignoring the business angle. That book and its bad reviews, she added, will be there forever. She recommended that authors intending to self-publish have their works professionally edited and see that they have good covers, taking a steady and careful approach rather going for the quick release.