The “new mass market” is how Holly Schmidt describes her core business, e-books. Schmidt’s year-old e-publishing company, Ravenous Romance, is one of several small publishers that have found a way to make independent publishing work digitally. Among the handful of the growing independent digital publishers, some of which have been around for nearly a decade—“romantica” publisher Ellora’s Cave launched in 2000—business appears to be brisk. Although indie e-publishers are not immune to the hardships that face small enterprises everywhere, business has been picking up as the popularity of the Kindle increases and more reading apps crop up for the iPhone and iPod Touch. The business model of most e-publishers also includes publishing print books in varying ways.

Christina Brashear, at Samhain Publishing in Macon, Ga., said she saw sales double from one month to the next after the Kindle iPhone app appeared. Brashear, who worked at Ellora’s Cave before launching Samhain in 2005, has 31 employees and an annual list of about 300 digital and 200 print titles a year. Samhain usually releases print titles 10 months after the e-book is published, focusing on titles longer than 200 pages; the company prints through Lightning Source and has distribution through Ingram Publisher Services.

Samhain focuses on romance, and its authors receive no advance but are paid royalties that range from 30% to 40% for e-books and 8% on print books. Samhain’s staff includes 12 editors, and Brashear estimates that the company receives roughly 30 to 50 submissions a month. What attracts both new writers and established ones, Brashear said, is the allure that Samhain can, unlike the major New York houses, “take more risks on avant-garde content. And content that [New York editors] might deem to be out of synch with the buying public.”

Schmidt, who worked at Rodale and other houses before starting Ravenous Romance (a sister company to the book packager Holland Publishing), said many of her authors—she has about 250—may only get to write one or two titles with their New York publisher, even though they want to do 10 or 12 titles in a year. Others want to branch out into subgenres. “We have some bestselling authors who came to us from other genres. Apparently everyone wants to write erotic romance.” Still, Schmidt said, she would like to branch out into other genres.

Lori Perkins, an agent who deals with a lot of romance writers, has sent many clients to Schmidt. (Schmidt said that of the roughly 300 submissions she gets per month, 90% are rejected.) With plans to ramp up its audio offerings—Ravenous currently has an annual output of 300 digital titles and 40 audio titles—Schmidt is also “experimenting” with print on demand, but is looking more at partnerships for print offerings. To that end, she’s talking to New York houses about print licensing deals, with one already in place with Alyson Books.

Mundania Press LLC, in Cincinnati, Ohio, houses a number of imprints that publish romance, sci-fi, mystery and YA, among other genres, and has some 600 authors on its list, many of whom, said president and publisher Daniel J. Reitz, were onetime print bestsellers. “We have several authors who were once on the Times bestseller list and dropped off and/or fell out of print,” Reitz said, citing names like Robert Adams, the late sci-fi writer whose 18-book Horseclans series was a bestseller when it was released in the late ’70s through the mid ’80s. Other authors simply don’t get traction from the New York houses. Reitz said the e-book business has “picked up exponentially in the last couple of years,” and predicted it will grow faster once the prices for e-readers start dropping. “I think we need a $99 e-book reader before e-books really become mainstream,” noted Schmidt.

Reitz said that his house’s e-books sell, on average, 100 to 200 copies in their first month. There are exceptions, however. Marie Rochelle, one of Mundania’s biggest sellers, who specializes in interracial romances, moved 4,000 to 5,000 copies in her first month in the e-book format and several thousand print copies.

E-Book Pricing
Mundania LLC and Ravenous Romance charge, with some exceptions, $4.99 for standard-length works (of 200 pages), $6 for longer works and $2 for short stories. Samhain breaks the pricing down further, charging $2.50 for short stories, $3.50 for novellas, $4.50 for “category-length” novels (up to 60,000 words), $5.50 for standard-length novels (up to 100,000 words) and $6.50 for longer works.