Spotlight on Jacqueline Church Simonds
My novel The Last Wife of Attila the Hun, now with Five Directions Press, was originally published in 2003 by Beagle Bay Books, owned and operated by Jacqueline Church Simonds. Jacqueline and I realized early on we had a lot in common, including the fact that we were both authors and both publishing other writers too. We wound up with side-by-side booths at two book shows, at least, back in the day. I was so impressed, not only with the great job Jacqueline did publishing and promoting my book but with Jacqueline’s book-world savvy, her abundance of creativity, and her awesome sense of humor. It is a thrill to interview her for this Spotlight feature.
There are two kinds of people in the literary world—those who write, and those who write, publish, instruct, consult, package, sell … What do you suppose it is about books that makes some people want to be involved in every possible way?
A certain amount of stubbornness and stupidity, I think.
Back in 1999, I didn’t intend to do more than write my own books. But then I couldn’t get a publisher for Captain Mary, Buccaneer (this was five years before Pirates of the Caribbean came out), and was faced with self-publishing. I’m sort of an “in for a penny, in for a pound” person; I learned everything I could about the process … and still screwed it up. But I learned a lot.
One day, I got an email from an author who’d had no luck getting her YA pirate novel published, and I thought, “Why not?” Then I had two more unrelated queries, and decided to go with it. Boom, suddenly, we (my husband Robin and I) had a publishing company. Slowly, we turned to women’s nonfiction, although we did continue to put out a few novels. (One of them was the best thing I’d ever read, then called Gudrun’s Tapestry, by a woman named Joan Schweighardt.)
A friend of my parents wanted to put out a book but didn’t want to learn the ins and outs of the business. Next thing I knew, we were working on the prepress production. We’ve done 32 publishing services projects in the intervening years—everything from trade paperbacks to a two-volume leather-bound slipcased edition with ribbons and gilt edges and the whole giddyup.
I got a call from a publishing friend just after Ingram and Baker & Taylor ended their friendly posture toward self-publishers and small presses (we somehow made the cut). She asked if I would help out a woman who had two different distributors go out from under her. Shazam, we were in the distribution business. At our height, we had a small warehouse and carried 42 titles that were distributed through every national distributor, and four specialty wholesalers.
I was also a co-moderator (“List Mom”) on a Yahoo Discussion Board for about ten years. We were the go-to source for self-publishing, back in the day. I even dared to write a book based on the website I built to support the Self-Publishing Discussion Group, called The Self-Publisher’s FAQ, with a foreword by the guy who is credited with pretty much inventing self-publishing, the late Dan Poynter. I also taught at IBPA’s “Publishing University.”
All I really ever wanted to do was write.
With all your experience, you are the perfect person to comment on the way things were and the way they are now.
When I started in 1999, you had to print at least 3,000 copies to get to a decent price point to sell at wholesale, and there were actual bookstores you had to convince to carry your book (most weren’t interested). Amazon had a tiny market share but demanded a 55 percent cut. The major wholesalers would consider carrying your book if it looked at all professionally produced.
I just read that there were 1.68 million books put out in 2018. The reason for that is Print on Demand (POD), which lessened the carrying costs (warehousing and shipping), and ebooks, which opened the door to pretty much anyone with any skill level, with no gatekeepers. A two-tier book publishing market developed in which a very few books broke out from the POD/ebook-only crowd, and those only in the very early days (The Martian and Fifty Shades of Grey the most notable). IngramSpark (the self-publishing arm of the giant distributor who ate B&T) offers distribution to authors for a fee.
Amazon now charges for per-pages read of their ebooks, and the rate has steadily ticked down every year. There appears to be no end to those willing to sign up for the program.
Top take: it’s way easier to get published these days, but that’s just the start of your problems.
What changes do you see coming in the future?
I think the book-content-to-video river will continue to broaden. That means creators need to have very tight control of their properties and not let publishers get a slice of any page-to-screen adaptations.
I see in my current job as a bookseller a lot more interest in graphically oriented books. Books aren’t going anywhere for a long time. YA sales go up every year; those are future readers.
There will continue to be a strong demand for intellectual property, no matter the wrapping (books, ebooks, streaming, whatever).
Your first novel, Captain Mary, Buccaneer, was based on the lives of Ann Bonny and Mary Read. Having read your book years back, I can’t figure out why some smart producer didn’t make a feature film based on it. Tell us why your book would make a great feature film.
There were 52 women pirates of note, and I maintained a website for many years about them. My favorite was Cheng I Sao, who ended up with an entire fleet of pirate ships.
Ann and Mary were fascinating in that they were “passing” as men on different ships when they met in the late 1800s. Mary may have been trans or gender-fluid (she was raised as a boy to fool her deceased father’s moneyed family). Ann was an intriguingly roguish woman. Who wouldn’t want to write about them?
About ten years ago, I heard that the director Ridley Scott was looking for a story based on Ann and Mary, so I sent the book to his production team. I never heard back. I think the stink of Cutthroat Island tanked any chance that he could get funding.
I did sell the foreign rights to the Italian publisher Harlequin Mondadori. I’ve always thought Captain Mary would make a nifty graphic novel, but I’ve had no takers.
I read somewhere that you got hooked on the King Arthur legends back when you were a little girl. How did your obsession affect you growing up, and how does it feel now to be writing novels based on the legends? And do you think writing these novels will get the legends out of your system, or is this likely to be a lifelong thing?
I’ve loved King Arthur since seeing Disney’s The Sword in the Stone when I was about four years old. I’ve read all the great books about the Round Table and hope never to be “over” my obsession. While my current series is based on King Arthur, I hadn’t intended to write about it. I don’t plan to return to Camelot in future book projects, even though I know even more of the legend now than when I started.
The Priestess of Camelot was more-or-less a fanfic of The Mists of Avalon when I began it, shortly after a major illness sidelined me. It’s sort of a mouse-eye view of Camelot (but of course, the priestess gets to sleep with everyone, because why not?). It’s obviously far more complicated in final form. (It’s now the prequel to the series.)
After I finished Priestess, I wrote a modern narrative frame to show how the things Anya set in motion were taken to completion 1,500 years later. Every beta-reader came back and asked what was happening with the modern people.
And so I wrote The Midsummer Wife. As I tapped in the last chapter, I realized I had just committed to writing a series. I swore. A lot. I had no interest in writing a series. I placed the series with Vagabondage Press. Then I wrote The Solstice Bride (just out in November) about the failed results of Book 1. I’ve written the third/final book, Mistress of the Rose Moon, a Grail Quest with talking animals, aliens, miracles, politics, love, and sex (there may be a kitchen sink in there). It’s with beta-readers now. I hope it’s out Midsummer Day 2020.
How do you balance a full-time job with your writing?
I am one of the children’s lead booksellers for the Reno Barnes & Noble. The hours vary anywhere from going in at 6 a.m., to working a late shift till midnight (Christmastime). What I’m saying is, there isn’t always time—or in fact, anything left of me—to write new material, market the older stuff, edit and manage clients’ book projects (I still have a publishing consultancy), and have a funny thing called a life.
I write when I can on my off days. But I try not to beat myself up when I don’t feel like doing anything more than lying in a heap. Rest is critical to the creative spirit, too. I have two entirely different manuscripts I’m working on, and am hoping to have a completed first draft of one of them by the end of 2020.
Jacqueline Church Simonds is an author and publishing consultant living in Reno, Nevada with her husband and beagle. Her novels are Captain Mary, Buccaneer, The Midsummer Wife, The Solstice Bride (Books 1 and 2 of the Heirs to Camelot), and The Priestess of Camelot (series prequel).
I’m on twitter: @jcsimonds
And Facebook: Jacqueline Church Simonds