5 Reasons Why Borders’ Sue Grimshaw Is a Romance Writer’s BFF

Readingissexy One of the joys of belonging to my local chapter of Romance Writers of America – the San Francisco Chapter (major shout-out here) is because of some of the wonderful programs they pull together for published authors.

(Of all ilk, really. Yo: mystery, thriller, commercial lit, and lit writers, seriously: it's worth attending these meetings, for the mojo alone.)

Take, for instance, yesterday's speaker: the incomparable Sue Grimshaw, the romance buyer for Borders Books on a national level. I've heard Sue speak at least three times in the past five years, and each time not only do I learn something new, but her message is always up-to-the-minute on industry trends, from the bookseller's perspective.

Besides being one of the most unassuming and gracious book industry people on the planet, Sue is also very open and forthcoming with information from the perspective on how and what makes it easier for her to want to buy your book on a national basis (it all comes down to the writing, folks: character development sells…), and how you can make her phalanx of in-store romance booksellers aware of it, so that they can enthusiastically sell it. (There are 200 of them in Borders stores across the country! Talk about knowing and workin' the genre…)

That said, here are my top five reasons why Sue is a romance writer (and romance reader's) best friend:

Reason #1: Romance books are her focus, day in and day out. A dedicated romance book buyer isn't necessarily the norm in many of the other chain bookstores, or the majority of indie stores. Sue has worked in that capacity at Borders for over a decade, and it has allowed her to analyze sales and reader trends in this book genre.

Reason #2: She works hand-in-hand with publishers of the genre. She lives to give input on ARCs and covers, and to update publishers on sales trends in the romance subgenre categories (historical, contemporary, paranormal, inspirational, etc).

And by the way: According to Sue, in the romance genre, the male torso on the cover still pulls the impulse buy, even more so than a woman on the cover. Both on the cover, done well, works, too.

Does publisher co-op get you more front-of store and end cap placement? Well, duh, yeah of course. But there is still some "store option" on the local level, which brings us to . . .

Reason #3: She encourages you to get in touch — and stay in touch — with her romance booksellers and store managers.
Hey, we're all in this together. Authors have to promote, too. To quote
Trollope (Anthony, not Joanna) it's the way we live now.

To
that end, it would behoove you to walk into your local Borders — for
that matter, every Borders within reach, even (or especially) when
you're out of town — and make it a point to introduce yourself to the
store manager and if they have one, the romance specialist. Yes, you
should drop off bookmarks or advance reading copies, if you have them.
(and if you don't, CREATE SOME.)

Reason #4: She talks to authors. Ask her anything: How is my subgenre doing? What kinds of stories or plotlines sell? What do you think of my cover? She won't hedge. And as we all know, knowledge is power. The best thing about it: although she's in a power position, she's not intimidating. She's just like the rest of us: reserved (okay, maybe not ALL of us) and loves books. Contact her via email: via email at: sgrimshaw at bordersgroupinc.com

Hey you can even find her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SueGrimshaw  

Reason #5: Sue — and Borders — are doing all they can to get you in front of readers. Truly, that's what you want from any bookseller, right?

To help this process along, email Sue when you have your pub date and blurb and cover. Be sure she gets an ARC as soon as possible. Let her know what you'll be doing to promote the book (online excerpts, book trailer, special promotions). Get quotes and raves from other authors (she says this is something that gets her excited, as a reader, so she presumes it works on other readers, too).

In fact, Borders is one of the sponsors of RomConInc, a humongous romance fan convention and  booksigning, to take place in Denver, Colorado July 9-11, 2010. Here's hoping it's a huge success, and that, eventually, we'll see similar events more frequently, and in various regions of the country. Considering the number of romance books launched each month, there will certainly be a demand for it, by readers and authors.

Another must-do: Create an affiliate account with Borders, and put links to its specials — and your books, of course — on your site. Not only will it make your books more accessible and affordable for your readers, but affiliates get commissions (cha-CHING!)

And yes, feel free to send her your book trailer. Her vlog, which lives at bordersmedia.com/trueromance, is updated daily with all kinds of reader recommendations and other goodies. Who knows? Maybe yours will be one of her greatest hits.

In other words, make Sue and her romance bookseller posse your new BFFs,

—Josie


SecretLivesfaux

Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives
Simon & Schuster/Pocket

Look for it in bookstores
September 2010

Danielle Steel: Aide Embezzled Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars!

Danielle-Steel

Danielle Steel leads the lush life she writes about: gorgeous gowns, jewels, furs, mansions in San Francisco's tony Pacific Heights (the one she owns, the former Alma Spreckels mansion, is one of the city's showpieces) Because I'm all authors grabbing the brass ring and making it big, I applaud Ms. Steel's tenacity, and the body of work and fans that have paid it off.

Even as I walk past her stunning home, I hadn't fathomed just how MUCH money a financially successful novelist can make. I guess because so many of us — make that TOO many — don't make even enough to do our craft full time, if we want to eat and pay our rent, too.

I guess that's why, when I saw this newsbyte, you could have knocked me over with a feather.

With all due respect to Ms. Steel:

Hell yeah, if $400,000 was missing from my account (I'm sure it was taken in bits and pieces: you know, a thousand here, another thou there) I would have figured it out — and fast!

Here's the report from the Associated Press:

Tue Sep 29, 12:46 am ET
SAN FRANCISCO – A former aide to Danielle Steel is facing time in federal prison after admitting she stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the romance novelist.
Federal prosecutors announced Monday that 47-year-old Kristy Watts, who also goes by the name Kristy Siegrist, pleaded guilty last week to one count of wire fraud and four counts of tax evasion.
Prosecutors say Watts admitted stealing at least $400,000 while handling accounting and other duties for Steel.
Watts worked for the best-selling author from 1993 to 2008.
Investigators determined Watts had deposited checks from Steel's accounts into her own account and used Steel's credit cards for herself.
Sentencing is set for Feb. 4 in federal court in San Francisco.

I guess you can be too rich, if not too thin,

—Josie

SecretLivesfaux

My Next Book:

Secret Lives of
Husbands and Wives

Simon & Schuster/Pocket
September 22010

Tome of the Mommy: Romance (writing) in the Bedroom

Writingmom Writing is in the blood, as well as the heart and the mind. J.K. Rowling may be the most famous (and most successful of us, but many of the writers I know are are women who, like me, have families and all the complexities that implies, but still find the time to slip out a book or two (or more!) of erotic romance a year. This Washington Post article explains how Irene Williams, a mother-of-two, manages to do so, and run her own publishing company as well.

Talk about a busy lady. Then again, as this picture shows, for centuries moms have been writing whenever and wherever they can.

I hope you find this inspiring,

—Josie

The Wizardess of Id: Romance and Sex and Werewolves, Oh My!

By Ian Shapira / Washington Post Staff Writer /Sunday, June 28, 2009

Behind the Rite Aid, next to the house with the American flag, and inside the five-bedroom home with the fish-shaped windsock swaying over the front door — this is where a former government lawyer with a thing for sex and werewolves lives.

Her name is Irene Daisy Williams, a.k.a. Treva Harte. A veteran of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, she has been doubling as novelist, co-owner and editor in chief of Loose Id, a publishing house specializing in erotic romance literature. (Williams favors paranormal erotic romance, a sub-genre heavy with werewolves. More on the werewolves later.)

Married for more than 20 years to a lawyer at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Williams oversees from her Falls Church home an unusually profitable publishing house. In the increasingly battered book industry, Loose Id has sold more than 1 million mostly online books since being founded in 2004, netting profits — Williams won't say how much exactly — that enabled her to quit her trademark lawyer job last year after 20 years. Erotic romance, it seems, is a hot genre. Even heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, the mother of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, just got into the game, with her newly released novel, "Obsession: An Erotic Tale," which just so happens to be blurbed by writer Joyce Carol Oates.

For Williams, 50, whose cat-eye glasses and auburn hair emit a calculated puckishness, writing and editing sexually charged and happy-ending fiction provides a reprieve from the challenges of real life in her household: Beyond the door of her writing studio, her 90-year-old mother lives with dementia, and children Jan, 15, and Frank, 18, contend with dyslexia and autism, respectively. Within her personal history, Williams deals with the fact that she never knew her father, who took off after she was born.

"In some ways, writing is one of the few places I have absolute control — well, I can pretend I have absolute control over my world," she says with determined cheer. "My characters . . . I understand them and I understand where they're going to, and ultimately they're going to have a happily-ever-after."

Growing up in New Jersey in the 1960s and in Arizona in the 1970s, Williams embraced romance writing and, later, erotic romance writing because the narratives conferred freedoms beyond her micromanaged adolescence. And she liked how the story lines, unlike those in mysteries or science fiction, focused on women and were edgier than more esteemed Victorian books about manners and society. "As far back as I remember, I would sneak bodice-ripper books and tuck them under the bed. I would buy them from the grocery," Williams recalls. "I had no siblings, and I also lived with my grandmother. But I did have an allowance. My mom just knew that I was reading big, thick books."

On a recent weekday, Williams sits in her home office, decorated with a framed certificate for excellent government service, her husband's old fencing swords on the wall, and, coincidentally, she insists, a bed. Next to bookcases filled with Nora Roberts paperbacks and erotic romance guidebooks, she continues to crank out her latest e-novel, "Return of the King." In the tale, set in the future, federal agents search for anti-government rebels . . . and a rebel woman meets the foreman of her ranch for the first time . . . igniting a molten-white-hot-volcanic affair . . . and she thinks:

Blue eyes in a tanned face. Blue eyes that looked right into you and almost made you miss that the rest of the man was equally beautiful. Almost. Perfection like that was hard to miss for long. . . . My body was leaning toward him.

* * *

In the genre of erotic romance or "romantica," Loose Id is considered among the top publishers, industry experts say. Doreen DeSalvo, the company's chief financial officer, said the enterprise, which charges $2 to $8 for its online books, grossed $1.3 million in 2008 and is on track to make slightly more this year. Williams said that after profit distribution, she makes about the same money she made as an attorney.

With the same competitiveness that distinguishes the gates of Manhattan's big commercial publishers, Loose Id is not for the rookie or wannabe romantica writer. "Our acceptance rate for new submissions is 4 percent," says DeSalvo, herself an author. (Her work in progress: "Bedding the Beast," about an Italian girl whose father sells her as a mail-order bride to a man moving to America; it's based on her grandmother's life.)

"Loose Id is one of the more respected digital publishers operating now. It's a combination of their quality storytelling, good editing, good business sense," says Sarah Wendell, who co-writes the Trashy Books blog and is co-author of "Beyond Heaving Bosoms," a new romance novel guidebook published by Fireside, a Simon & Schuster imprint.

"What's frustrating to me is that unless it's in print, it's considered not valid, but New York publishers have caught on," Wendell says. "Erotic romance is a way of dealing with the oversexualized image of women in the media — women are airbrushed and ridiculously perfect. This genre is about a woman's sexual experience and the unlimited amount of variety you can have."

Williams published her first digital novel — "The Seduction of Sean Nolan," a Civil War story — eight years ago, but she soon grew frustrated with the slowness and risk-adverse nature of established romance houses.

So, in July 2004, she co-founded Loose Id. The company's freelance editors are sprinkled across the country and include teachers, lawyers, even a World Bank officer from Alexandria. Loose Id's most recent titles include "Georgina's Dragon," "Seducing His Lordship" and "Exploring Savage Places," which capitalizes on today's vampire vogue.

* * *

Back in her home office, Williams returns to typing the tale of sweaty-chested anti-government insurgents. The plot was getting complex: The ranch owner and foreman were savoring the morning, but soon dread surfaced about whether they would be captured.

Rey looked at me and wiped his face off with a damp towel. "Can you hold them off?" He looked ill. Hell, why not? He probably hadn't slept in days. The few hours
drowsing in a cage shouldn't count.

She glances out the window to see her son's school bus arrive. She scampers downstairs to the kitchen. "School was good?" she asks Frank in a soft voice. "Did you try to call me?"

"What's for supper?" he asks.

"I think we're having steak tonight, kiddo," Williams says, then asks again, "Did you try to call today, sweetie?"

Her daughter, Jan, a rising sophomore at George Mason High School, is forbidden to read her mother's books but says she is not even tempted. "I am not really into these sort of books. I might be someday," says Jan, who prefers Harry Potter.

And her husband, Mark Mellon — the guy who works at the FDIC — is not into the erotic romance, either. "I think it's icky," says Mellon, who also fancies himself a fiction writer. He once published, in the magazine Anthrolations, a short story, set in the future after a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, about a 50-pound cockroach sent to disassemble the Taj Mahal and rebuild it in a nonradioactive location.

"It's this weird little subculture that I write about," he explains helpfully. "But I admire Irene so much — she writes somewhere close to 300,000 words a year. That's incredible."

Earlier this month, Williams released "Heal," a novel about "werewolves in human form." A blurb on Loose Id's Web site offers this tease: "Ruth's an Ice Queen and she's really cramping Arlin's freewheeling take-what'll-have-you style. Especially since Ruth smells like sex. How can a woman so cold smell so incredibly hot?"

Williams explicates a bit more: "Werewolves like to make love with lots of people, but they're not that picky." She pauses and glances at her husband's fencing swords.

"I'm going to use these in a story, but I don't know how yet."