Interview Transcripts

A Visit with Sheri Gormley: Marketing Dirctor of Virtual Tales

April, 2010

 

Mary Rosenblum LR Web Editor: Several years ago, when Virtual Tales was just starting out, you were a great guest on the Long Ridge website.  I've been looking forward to inviting you back and hearing how things are going, how Virtual Tales is doing and now we can chat. I have so been looking forward to this!  
Why don't you start with the basics, Sheri, and tell LR visitors what Virtual Tales is, how you got involved, and what you do.  

Sheri Gormley, Virtual Tales: Thanks for having me back, Mary!
It's hard to believe that Virtual Tales will be celebrating it's 4th anniversary in June. A lot has changed since we started out -- especially in regards to serials. We started out offering novels in both eBook and eSerial formats, with the eSerials being sent in installments to our customers via email. 
Even though our eBook and our eSerials are the same price, with the continuing development of all kinds of e-reading devices (including cell phones), the vast majority of our customers prefer to buy a whole eBook, rather than subscribing via email. Perhaps its the spam? Or people are just tired of wading through email?
In any case, our ebooks are doing very, very well. They are available for almost every eReader on the market, and we expect our titles will be included in the iTunes eBookstore very soon.
And while Virtual Tales started out as an ePublisher, we have expanded to include print as well. Our authors were eager to get out there and sign books -- and it's hard to sign an eBook. I think it's great that we are able to give our customers the product they want. Some people aren't interested in eBooks, and that's okay. For people like me, however, who have an eReader device (I own a Sony eReader), I know there is no going back for me. I rarely buy anything in paper these days, because my eReader is simply fabulous. I take it everywhere I go and can read comfortably without my reading glasses, because I can adjust the font size. The eInk technology makes it very easy on the eyes (which is actually projected to be a problem for the iPad, as it is backlit like a computer screen and as many people feel eyestrain after staring at a computer for a couple of hours, this is something to watch).
Best of all, I can put SOooo many books and manuscripts on it. I can bookmark my favorite parts, load audio files, skip back and forth between stories, etc. For those of you that haven't picked up an eReader and explored the possibilities, I highly recommend it. The B&N "nook" eReader, for example, puts my Sony PRS-500 to shame -- if there is a pricing war at Christmas, I may put it on my list. The thing I especially like about the nook is that you can share your books with friends. You "send" the file to them, and they can read it for two weeks, and then it leaves their device and comes back to your device. 
To my mind, the inability to share books with friends is the last big hurdle for eBooks taking off. That doesn't mean I think that paper is going away; it just means that as with music, once people realize that their favorite reads can be portable, affordable and convenient, I think the technology will be adopted by a good number of consumers.
There are other issues to contend with -- pricing and the ability to "sync" your purchased books between several "players" (as with the iPhone and iPods, where you can play your movies and music on up to five computers and devices). And of course, many authors are sitting on the fence because they are afraid of their work being copied and distributed for free if they authorize an e-Edition of their work.
But there too, I really believe it's a matter of supply and demand. As with music, as more books become legally available for purchase, the black market will diminish greatly. The formatting and special features that legitimate publishers can build into their eFiles makes the poor-quality of the free downloads less appealing by far. Most people want to play by the rules, and if they can buy the eBook version, they will. 

 

Mary Rosenblum LR Web Editor: Interesting that people want the whole ebook instead of the serial format. I guess we're 'right now' folks, eh?  We hate those cliff hangers until tomorrow.  
You know, I think the music industry  - the dramatic shift from CD purchase to Ipod and MP3 download -- is where we're headed.  But as you say, the 'share-ability' is important.  Then again, as an author, I"m much happier of reader two buys his or her own copy rather than borrowing a friend's!  Maybe the price for ebooks will come down if the volume picks up?  What do you think about that, Sheri? 

 

Sheri Gormley, Virtual Tales: That is a really good question Mary. And it's what everyone in the industry is buzzing about... especially "traditional" publishers. Small press publishers like Virtual Tales look at eBooks, audio books, serials and print books as additional opportunities to get your titles out in front of consumers. Traditional publishers, however, look at eBooks as cutting into their print sales (which is all they know) and they are totally freaking out.
I'm a participant in a number of publisher boards through Linked In, and the barbs are really flying on one post topic. The original post-er had just written a book about how new authors can grow an audience by ignoring the traditional publishers and going indie. It was a standard plug for a book, IMO, but OMG -- what a firestorm! Everything from "you're not really an author unless you're published by one of the NY Publishers" to "why settle for 10% from the NY Publishers when you can do much, much better on your own?"
There is only one certainty in life -- change -- and yet, we seem to fight it so vigorously. Think about it. We change every day. Every year. Our bodies change. We can look at photos of ourselves from the time we are born to the time we die. Human beings change. It's part of what we are by nature. And yet, instead of accepting that fact, embracing it, using it to our advantge, we waste so much time and vitriol to fight it. 
I choose to look at eBooks as yet another way to appeal to attract an audience. Virtual Tales publishes books in print, e-formats and someday I hope audio formats. We give our customers what they want. Even though most customers seem to prefer eBooks, we still offer the serials. It's not a big deal to us -- we just want our customers to be happy. More sales = more dollars all around.
It seems to me that traditional publishers are so comfortable with hundreds of years of doing the same thing, that they are too entrenched to see the upside potential for e-publishing. As I said before, print is not going away anytime soon, and yet, look at the kids today. I look at my own kids -- they are on their computers, their cell phones, their iPods and other electronic devices all day. Their social networks are electronic. They are very comfortable there, and they show no signs of turning back to paper. They are the customers of the future... if we want to earn their business we have to be willing to meet them on their own turf.

 

Mary Rosenblum LR Web Editor: Oh, no kidding!  While I agree that print is not going away, I think a lot of readers will end up reading only in e form.  We'll see. Interesting times, eh?  So, Sheri, when we first chatted, the world still belonged to the print book readers, ebooks were a glimmer on the horizon, and the concept of serial fiction, delivered in short bites, was pretty radical.  So how have things been going?  We now have Kindle, the Nook, flash fiction, and ezines that send to cell phones.  What are you seeing from your vantage point with Virtual Tales?  Are we reading shorter?  Are we reading more on electronic devices?   What trends do you see here? 

 

Sheri Gormley, Virtual Tales: Actually, I think that it depends on the reader, but for a point of reference, Virtual Tales has published several novellas (with more on the way) and they have done very well as eBooks.
Virtual Tales prices our eBooks based on word count, and our paperbacks based on page count. More pages = greater print cost, so that makes perfect sense. And to my mind, you should pay more for a longer eBook than a shorter eBook, because of the extra writing, editing and file layout time involved in setting up a longer eBook.
For the reader, novella-length eBooks can be a great find, for a variety of reasons. First, they are shorter, which has appeal for our hectic lifestyles. But they are longer than a short story, so they are more satisfying because there is more time to explore the characters and their situation. And because they are also less expensive than a full-length novel (VT sells novellas for as little as $2.95 a title), it's a good way to "try out" a new author.
Still, if a story is really good, people will read it no matter how long it is (think TWILIGHT or HARRY POTTER). The advantage with eBooks is size. When we went to Disneyworld last year, I had all four TWILIGHT books on my eReader (in addition to many other books). When we changed planes in Houston, I noticed a group of teenagers traveling together, and each of them was lugging around one of the huge hardcover versions of the 4 novels in the series, which they were planning to pass around as they finished them up and they were arguing over who was taking longer to get through the books. I couldn't help but overhear them as they waited for the next plane. Apparently they all had their own copies of the books, but they were simply too big and heavy for each of them to take all of their own copies on the plane. If they had eReaders (or bought eBooks for their cell phones or iPods), they could have each taken along all the books in a very compact and accessible format.
There have been a few surveys now that demonstrate that people who own an eReader actually purchase more books than people who don't. You can skew that data a few ways, however. Obviously, eReaders are expensive right now, so if you're willing to make that hardware investment, obviously you enjoy reading and probably buy more books than the average person on the street to begin with. And as more and more magazines and newspapers are coming out for eReader subscriptions, there will be more material to fill up those eReaders.
Fictionwise has actually made a name for themselves by offering short stories and article reprints for sale in eFormats, and I forsee a time when most newspapers and magazines will be available for subscription through eReaders... but in this case, I believe it will be at the expense of print. Think about the environmental benefits if you read your daily newspaper on your eReader or your computer, instead of newsprint. Obviously, a method to pay the authors and publishers for their content has to be developed, and I know that Rupert Murdoch started a think tank to work on that piece of the puzzle.

 

Mary Rosenblum LR Web Editor: You know, Sheri, quite a few editors and agents I've met own their ereader mostly so that they can get their NY Times on the road, in the morning when they want to read it!  :-) 
So do you think that readers are tending to want shorter works?  Say, novella down from novel?  Flash fiction down from short story? 

 

Sheri Gormley, Virtual Tales: I would say yes. We have so many electronic distractions all around us -- so many things pulling us in different directions. We want to read a good story... but we have so many things to do. For better or for worse, more than 75% of women in the USA work outside of the home. They are juggling kids and jobs and household responsibilites and time is at a premium. They want GONE WITH THE WIND but please make it short enough to read during Johnnie's soccer game.
Both of my kids are ADHD, and that's a factor, too. Their attention span is unbelieveably short -- anything that takes more than 15-20 minutes is boring. They prefer video games to board games, movies to books, texting over long phone or in-person conversations. 
So I think that for many new authors, starting off with a novella could be a way to get started. I agree with some of the post-ers on your thread about Flash fiction -- it's hard to write something so short! For those that can, there are a number of venues to get your work out there and to start building an audience.

 

Mary Rosenblum LR Web Editor: I have to say that this is, I think, part of the reason that e-publishing is going to take off bigtime.  You can click to that story on your PC tablet, your cell phone, what have you.  And yes, read it while Johnny  is practicing soccer.  That probably says something about writing tight and short, eh, Sheri?  

 

Lizbeth: I will only buy an e-reader kicking and screaming. I really think all this "technology"   makes people less patient, more rude, and less educated!!! And makes me want to join the Amish.  I mean, really, who wants to read anything on a cell phone.   And I'm sorry, but I don't understand the point of 75% of women working outside the home.  Men do also.

 

Ajcap: I'm kind of with lizbeth on this one.  Up until joining the Amish, that is. I like my clothes and cocktails.
But I think there is room for both books and nooks. I certainly won't stop buying books but I'll probably read it first on my e-reader (whenever the damn things come to Canada) before deciding whether to pay $40.00 for the hard cover, because I like reading good books over and over.
I don't know much about attention deficiency disorder (though I believe my husband could have been the poster child back in the 50's) but sometimes I wonder if kids are born with it or develop it due to a fast pace life via television, video games, cell phones, etc.  How will they ever develop patience if they don't play scrabble at least once a week?
 I used to bring a paper back to my step-son's swim meets for the times he wasn't swimming, they worked just fine. Why do we need hundreds of books at our finger tips at once? Don't most people read one book at a time? If I find myself opening up a second book, it's because the first one isn't holding me.
But my real pet-peeve for new tech is the horrible spelling skills the young are developing. I understand cutting down due to texting but it's starting to carry over to written work as well..as though it is acceptable.  Do not like that trend at all.

 

Lizbeth: I agree with the spelling thing Amanda! You should see the "professional" letters that come out of my office! It's a wonder we have any clients. Of course, they probably think it's normal. Not to highjack this thread...

 

Sheri Gormley, Virtual Tales: Quote from: lizbeth

And I'm sorry, but I don't understand the point of 75% of women working outside the home.  Men do also.  
True, lizbeth, but... do men do the housework? I mean, seriously! There are times when I really, really think that moving into the workforce was just a way to get women to do even more work than they ever did. Because not only do we work to bring much-needed money into our households (thanks to ever-declining worker wages since Reaganonmics introduced the wonderful notion that only "C" level workers are worth their over-inflated paychecks. And wasn't it Babs who later made the comment that women only work to buy luxuries like VCRs? I digress. My bad.), we are still the ones who do most of the housework. Run most of the errands. Do most of the kid-shuttling. I'm not saying that men don't chip in, but I read a study just last year that found that even when women work as many hours as men do, they still do 80% or more of the household chores.
THAT'S what I'm talking about. Think about it -- why should reading snatches between errands be the only way I can squeeze in time to read... which is one of the few real "just for me" indulgences I crave? Something's gotta give, and I've pretty much pared back housework to daily laundry (my husband does the dishes every day) and meal preparation. My son mows the lawn, vacuums the carpets, mops the floors every other week or so, and takes the garbage out. My daughter manages the recycling and alternates between bathrooms each week -- except for the toilets. Like changing an empty toilet paper roll, somehow Mom is the only one who's fit for that duty. I used to be the only one who could be bothered to fill up the empty ice trays that someone would stick back in the freezer empty, but then we got a new refrigerator with an ice maker and that's not a problem anymore ;o). As for my husband... he'll pitch in periodically, but only after a lot of badgering. Maybe it's a generational thing -- I'm hoping my son will do better. As it is, my husband says he does more around the house than HIS father ever did.  But then again, his mother didn't have a full-time job outside the home... my apologies. I didn't mean to turn this post into a work/life balance rant. 
As for the benefit of having so many books at your fingertips... sometimes, I'm in the mood for something else. I'll be reading something, but I remember a passage from a favorite book, and suddenly I want to read that book again. I'll give you an example. I was reading ECLIPSE and at a certain point, Bella picks up WUTHERING HEIGHTS and reads something on page she thinks that Edward was reading. I couldn't remember the passage, so I downloaded WUTHERING and ended up reading it for the first time since college (20+ years). It was amazing to me how different it seemed from what I remembered, too. I didn't particularly like it when I first read it, and I was glad to have the opportunity to revisit it so conveniently.
The same for CATCHER IN THE RYE. When the author died, I realized that I haven't read that one since high school, and it was a good opportunity to revisit it. It took just a few seconds on the computer to add it to my reader (no trips to the bookstore or library needed, which is a big plus for me because I have way too many errands as it is).
Now, regarding cell phone reading -- I am TOTALLY with you, ajcap, on that one. That's why I have a reader. I get full-page size, and I can make the type as big or as small as makes me comfortable. It remembers where I left off (no paper bookmarks to lose).
Finally, about the spelling. That gets back to my other thread about submissions. You won't believe how many novels Virtual Tales rejects outright because the author couldn't be bothered to run a spell check. I'm not talking about one or two typos... I'm talking about large quantities of simple misspellings and wrong usage that Word's spell checker would pick up. 
P.S. -- One last bit of trivia. It was another survey from last year, where it was revealed that women read more than men. So if women read more than men, and they have less time to read, that's not a good thing for authors, publishers or the book industry in general.

 

Ajcap: Sheri, that was a great piece of writing. I love rants, I think there should be more of them.
My husband does 75% of the chores and the running around...groceries, bills, etc.  Bless him. And you would think that would leave me a lot of spare time, but you'd be wrong. He takes up a lot of my time because of his ADD. He talks constantly and most of the time he's interesting but he's very hard to follow because, while he started out talking about welding something...some chip of memory will suddenly click in and without missing a beat he will change the subject to skydiving or his great aunt's maniac cat. I have to pay attention but it's a small price to pay.
Anyway, this thread isn't about husbands (I always feel bad for our male students when we women go off in tangents), it is more about time allocation.  Good point about looking up references, it is one of the reasons I will buy a nook eventually. 
But it sure makes us budding authors confused. Used to be; write a book, find an agent, hope someone buys it.  Now I read blogs by experienced authors and I'm just so confused. I think I'll just concentrate on writing well first, worry about the rest much, much later.
Thanks for the insights.

 

Mary Rosenblum LR Web Editor: Yeah, I loved the rant, too.  And that housework thing is so real. I have many professional women as friends and most of them do way more than 50% of the daily housework/child stuff.   Of course, all these folk checking into the Post a Note this week want to know what Virtual Tales is after.  What kinds of fiction do you want?  What do you have in drifts on your virtual desktop and never want to see again?  Do you do personal narrative at all or just fiction?  

 

Sheri Gormley, Virtual Tales: Virtual Tales publishes fiction. We will accept novellas with just 20,000 words, all the way up through novels of 100,000 words or more. We publish a variety of genres, so if you write fiction well, the odds of having your work accepted for publication are very high.
We are also getting ready launch a non-fiction imprint, to be called Nitis Books. Jake George, our Acquisitions Director, is a Native American and the word "nitis" means "helpful advice" in his language. The first title will be a book about coping with Graves disease. 
One trend we have noticed is that many new authors seem to have an aversion to following submissions guidelnes of any kind. I don't know why... it's like a job interview, really. Most people dress professionally for a job interview to put their best foot forward. They fill out the job application and answer all of the questions asked at the interview, even if they think that some of the questions are ridiculous.
We state very clearly that we don't want a PDF submission package... yet we get them all the time. We say we want a synopsis and author bio, and people just send us the manuscript -- sometimes with no contact information. We say we want just the first 4 chapters, and we'll get just the first chapter or the whole manuscript. I don't know why an author would handicap him/herself by not giving us what we ask for. All it does is demonstrate that they don't know how to follow directions, and it's a strong indication that they will be difficult to work with through the editing process.
Another trend I've noticed is that some authors either don't believe in using a spell checker, or they don't know how to use a spell checker. Again, it's like the interview. You want to put your best foot forward. Isn't it worth your time to run a spell check before you send off a query? Yes, we know that spell-checkers don't always find everything, and we aren't so nit-picky that we'd turn down a story because it has a few typos.  What I'm talking about are vast quantities of typos that most spell checkers would find -- things like "hte" instead of "the" or lowercase "i" instead of "I". 
So I would just say that authors should read our submissions guidelnes and send us what we ask for, in the format we ask for. Give your manuscript the best send-off it can possibly get by reading and following each publisher's submission guidelines.

 

Mary Rosenblum LR Web Editor: Oh, submission guidelines.  You know, Sheri, I would HOPE that LR people would be wonderful about those submission guidelines. I certainly beat on 'em often enough about that!  

 

Sheri Gormley, Virtual Tales: Well, on the flip side, I want to point out that Virtual Tales specializes in new authors... and we do try to be respectful. We also try to provide feedback about where our editors saw room for improvement, and, if we liked the story but needed the author to do some further work to polish their manuscript, we will invite an author to re-submit in six month, after making the adjustments we provide.
Sometimes, it's a plot discrepancy (willing suspension of disbelief only carries so far ;o), other times, there are POV issues or too much backstory that needs to be whittled down and "repurposed." Other times it's too much "talking heads" -- pages of dialog without enough narrative.
But, I will be candid -- we reject about 90%-95% of what we receive. We'll offer a re-submit option to about 1/3 of the authors. And, of the authors who resubmit, we'll contract only about 50%... mostly because the author(s) failed to make the edits we requested.
I know you emphasize the importance of following directions with your students, Mary, which is why I would encourage them to submit their work to us for consideration. If we offer a resubmit, it's because we think the story is worth publishing, but there's too much work to be done to assign it to an editor. Remember, our editors review the manuscripts and actively choose to pick up a story to edit. If it's going to be too much work for them, they'll pass along what they want the author to do, and it's really a test. If the author understands the communication, and is able to execute the changes, we'll pick up the story. If they don't understand what needs to be done (and don't follow up with questions), or simply choose to resubmit without making the requested changes, that tells our editors what to expect in the working relationship with that author. Most of our editors choose to pass on those manuscripts.
It's really a give and take kind of relationship. The editors are there to guide the author in polishing the manuscript for publication. They have no interest in re-writing the entire story, and they expect to be able to give the author some specific and general areas that need work and have the author execute on the changes. The story is by the author, afterall. The author should expect to do most of the work. The editor is there for story-arc guidance and to give advice about proper grammar/spelling and usage issues. 
Attitude is everything, and for proof, I offer a little backstory. I sat in on a Writer's Workshop for Orycon last November, where we critiqued the work of two authors (see my blog @ www.sherigormley.com). We offered a contract to one of the two authors... I think you'll be able to guess which author got the contract 

 

Mary Rosenblum LR Web Editor: Sheri, you have put that VERY well!  I think, all too often, novice writers think of editors as gatekeepers who do nothing but say yea or nay to a story submission.  But it's a collaboration and if you can't work WITH the editor the magic of collaboration isn't going to happen.  And many novice writers are not willing to change what they have written. I sure see it as an instructor.  Do you see it often, Sheri?  That 'my words are my children' attitude?  

 

Sheri Gormley, Virtual Tales: Quote from: MaryR

And many novice writers are not willing to change what they have written. I sure see it as an instructor.  Do you see it often, Sheri?  That 'my words are my children' attitude? 
I do see that, Mary, and we've dropped two or three contracts in mid-stream because of it. I think it all gets back to attitude. As an author (especially a new author), you are working with seasoned professional who WANT you to succeed -- who believe in you and your story and want to help you get it out there. So we're all on the same team, and if your editor or publisher is asking you to rework something, then you really need to give it consideration.
One of the first people I worked for out of college used to tell me that you can't win every battle, so pick and choose them carefully before you get started. I have found that it usually works out to about 2-3 "lost causes" for every "win" for my own writing.  For the most part, I make the changes requested, or come back with alternatives. But there are a few things that are important to the story -- perhaps backstory that lives only in my mind that the editor doesn't know. Sometimes, just by explaining why I can't make a change is enough. Other times, an editor will say, okay, I get your point -- but only because you have explained it. So why don't you rewrite this section so that the reader will also have access to that explanation?
It's at times like that when you realize that your editor is looking out for you, and it not out to get you or to disparage your golden prose. When you are open to continuous improvement in your work (and in your life, I believe), and don't take constructive criticism so personally, you feel good about yourself, your work and all the people who are part of your publishing success.

 

Mary Rosenblum LR Web Editor: Well said, Sheri. And that has been my experience as well.  I've found over the years and the books and short stories, that the editor and  I have the same goal -- a very strong published story.   If what I want to do and what he or she wants doesn't dovetail, we've always been able to get there through compromise.  And I've learned a lot in the process.

 

Ajcap: Good stuff. I'm going to print it, laminate it and stick it up on my bulletin board. 
Thanks, Mary and Sheri, thought-provoking and encouraging.  Cheers!

 

Mary Rosenblum LR Web Editor: Sheri, you've been a great guest, thank you!  It's been pretty quiet in here this week, but judging by my late students, everybody is out enjoying the first taste of warmer weather.  Keep up the good work and it's going to be an interesting ride over the next few years as the publishing world changes.  Hope you ride the crest! 

 

 

 

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