MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Lori Perkins is the Editorial Director of Ravenous Romance, a new publisher of romance ebooks and audiobooks. She has been a literary agent for 20 years, and is currently President of L. Perkins Agency, which has foreign agents in 11 countries and working relationships with Hollywood agents. She was the agent for HOW TO MAKE LOVE LIKE A PORN STAR: A CAUTIONARY TALE by Jenna Jameson, which made the New York Times best-seller list for 7 weeks. She was also the agent for J.K. ROWLING: THE WIZARD BEHIND HARRY POTTER by Marc Shapiro, which was on the N.Y. Times Children’s best-seller list.
As an author herself, she has produced four books: THE CHEAPSKATE’S GUIDE TO ENTERTAINMENT; THE INSIDER’S GUIDE TO GETTING A LITERARY AGENT and THE EVERYTHING FAMILY GUIDE TO WASHINGTON D.C. and THE EVERYTHING FAMILY GUIDE TO NEW YORK. She has also written numerous articles on publishing for Writer’s Digest and Publisher’s Weekly.
As an editor, she has edited thirteen erotica anthologies. when she is not teaching at N.Y.U.’s Center for Publishing. And somehow she found time to be interviewed by me.
Lori, how did you decide to start Ravenous Romance, and has it been as successful as you hoped?
LORI PERKINS: As an agent, I sell the stuff that other agents won’t handle — SF/Fantasy, pop culture and erotica. So after 9/11 I became the literary agent for the porn industry — I am Jenna Jameson and Vivid’s literary agent. But I also wondered what had happened in the erotica world that I had read as a younger woman, and I was surprised to find that the erotica market was becoming more and more female-centric. I took on Cecelia Tan — who writes SF/Fantasy erotica, as well as baseball books (another passion of mine) — and started selling erotica anthologies. I started reading all these wonderful writers with excellent writing chops who made their living writing short stories, and groomed a few of them into novelists for this burgeoning erotic romance and chick lit market.
At that time, I met Holly Schmidt and Allan Penn, who were nonfiction packagers doing a lot of sex books. They wanted to start a romance publisher, and I suggested that there were enough romance publishers out there, but erotic romance was young and growing. When they examined the market, they came back and said, yes, let’s do all ebooks, and that’s how Ravenousromance.com was born.
VENTRELLA: What is currently selling at Ravenousromance.com, and what are you looking for?
PERKINS: We’ve made a name for ourselves by crossing genres. Our most popular category is M/M romance, which means gay male romance. We’ve taken popular romance classics and rewritten them in contemporary settings — AN OFFICER AND HIS GENTLE MAN, PRETTY MAN, SLEEPLESS IN SAN FRANCISCO. We will be doing the same thing for lesbian F/F fiction now, so we are looking for someone to write THE PRINCESS’S BRIDE and MUST LOVE CATS. You get the idea.
Our paranormal romance is selling really well. We have seven vampire series, and the zombie fiction does well. HUNGRY FOR YOUR LOVE, our zombie romance anthology, is one of our best-sellers, as is our gay zombie romance, FOR LOVE OF THE DEAD by Hal Bodner. And our kinky stuff does well too, such as our THREESOMES anthology. We currently have a call out on the RR blog, ravenousromance.blogspot.com for stories for a paranormal threesomes anthology, THREE’S A CHARM, and an historical threesome anthology, ONCE UPON A THREESOME. We have two more big anthologies coming up soon — FANGBANGERS, which is romance with anything with fangs and claws, and APOCALYPSE TODAY: LOVE AMONG THE RUINS, which is end-of-the-world romance.
VENTRELLA: Do you see e-books being the wave of the future?
PERKINS: Ebooks is the future of the mass market. There will always be collectors and bibliophiles, but when it comes to books as entertainment, you can’t beat an ebook.
VENTRELLA: Do you think there is any stigma attached to books that are primarily sold as ebooks?
PERKINS: Only if they are self-published. We published 150 titles this year and sold reprint rights to a third of them to major houses.
VENTRELLA: Given that it is relatively inexpensive to produce ebooks, is there a worry that some will assume that the standards are lower for publication?
PERKINS: It is not much less expensive to “publish” an ebook. We pay an advance against royalties; we hire an editor, a copy editor, a cover designer; the book has to be converted into eformats from Word, and then it needs to be uploaded to the various Estores that sell it. Plus we need an office and an accounting department. I sell subrights. All Estores (Amazon, B&N, Fictionwise, Audible, etc.) take a huge portion of the sale price of the book (just like a bookstore and a distributor in print). The only part of the ebook system (with a real pubisher) that is less expensive is the cost of printing, shipping and storage, and that is returned to the author in the higher than print royalties — most epublishers pay between 25% and 35% royalties.
VENTRELLA: What will usually get a submission rejected for Ravenous Romance?
PERKINS: All erotic romance must have a happy ending or a happy-for-now ending. We might ask you to change it, and if you won’t, we won’t publish it. And then just plain bad writing will get you turned down — alternating perspectives, passive voice, etc.
VENTRELLA: Have you ever liked an author’s style and voice but rejected a story based on other grounds?
PERKINS: I am an editor who can fix things, so I can usually walk an author through a rewrite.
VENTRELLA: Audiobooks also seem to be growing tremendously. How are the ones with Ravenous Romance produced?
PERKINS: Erotic romance audiobooks do very well, because there aren’t many of them (they are still quite expensive to produce, since they must be done in a studio).
VENTRELLA: Do you think eventually the book publishers will change their pricing to accommodate a new economy model?
PERKINS: I think ebooks should be affordable, and that if they are too high they will encourage pirating. I think the print world needs to get rid of “reserve against returns”, which is an antiquated system that makes the publisher and the author a lender to the book seller. I think books are entertainment, and they must learn to complete with DVDs and games and music, all of which needs to be affordable. So a new blockbuster book should be $20, an ebook $10 and a mass market/backlist $5, IMHO.
VENTRELLA: What is your background? In other words, how did you get to become a literary agent?
PERKINS: I was journalist. I was the publisher of a neighborhood newspaper in Upper Manhattan with a degree in journalism from NYU. I became an agent becuse I wanted to sell both fiction and nonficiton, but I have always been an editorial agent (I fix the books before they go out and I often come up with ideas for my authors). I’ve also written four books and edited 15 anthologies. And I teach writing/editing at NYU.
VENTRELLA: As a literary agent, what do you see as the biggest mistake new authors make?
PERKINS: They are too eager to get published. They don’t work on their craft. They have fantasies about the marketplace that are no longer real.
VENTRELLA: How do you deal with receiving work that you think is well written but to which you don’t think the market wants?
PERKINS: I’ll tell them just that and tell them what’s selling, and if they want to rework something, fine. Otherwise put it in the trunk and get me something commercial.
VENTRELLA: What’s the best way for a new writer to find a literary agent who likes their genre and style of writing?
PERKINS: Get WRITER’S DIGEST’S GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS or Jeff Herman’s and go through the book with a marker, making a list of all the agents who sell what you’ve written. Then email the top five, wait a week, and go on to the next five, etc. You can also join Publisher’s Lunch and look up agent sales for the past three months to see who has sold something that sounds like what you are writing. Then send a query letter that starts: “I read on Publisher’s Lunch that you recently sold a….”
VENTRELLA: And finally, who are your favorite authors? Who do you like to read, and why?
PERKINS: My three favorite books are 1984, ALICE IN WONDERLAND and DRACULA, and I would say GONE WITH THE WIND is my fourth. I love Stephen King (am reading UNDER THE DOME now). I especially loved SALEM’S LOT because it was DRACULA set in America and he deftly portrayed the death of a small town. I think MISERY is his finest book — brilliantly crafted. I also love Peter Straub, who has mastered the art of telling a story like the peeling of an onion. He always amazes me.