Jean Marie Stine is the publisher/CEO of Renaissance eBooks Inc. One of the most successful and longest running eBook publishers (with nearly 1,800 titles currently available), Renaissance's various imprints crank out sci-fi (Futures Past), mysteries (Deer Stalker), and most famously, their Sizzler Editions, from which Stine has garnered a reputation as a publisher of red-hot erotica.
With a professional writing background that spans four decades—from working with Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry back in the day, to penning the seminal transgender novel Season of the Witch, to publishing in magazines too numerous to name—Stine has truly ridden the ebbs and flows of publishing. She recently sat down with SexIs to share her perspective on eBook publishing, and how it's increased the value and presence of erotica (and every other genre) for both readers and writers alike.
EBook, eBook, eBook, that’s all we hear these days. Is the market that lucrative for a publisher?
Certainly recently, with the advent of Kindle and digital readers like it, we’ve seen a real surge in sales. In just two years Kindle and Nook have garnered seven times as much sales as our single biggest distributor. That’s a lot.
How about for writers? Is this the way to go? Says Stine, “I of course love receiving work from previously published authors, but I will look at any book length erotic novel, even by a beginner.”]
If you’re a writer who feels you can’t break in because you write something off the rails or your themes are controversial, eBooks are a good place for you. If you’ve followed in that time-honored tradition and have culled a whole bunch of themed stories together in one book and don’t know where it can fit, we might just be the place. Even writers who have published before, if they write something that they can’t get published with their traditional publisher, there is a terrific chance it will work as an eBook. Your work shouldn’t simply stay in a trunk, get it out there and let it make some money for you.
How much money?
I always say you’ll make enough money every quarter to be able to take a date to dinner … at McDonald’s and be able to pay for a Big Mac. (laughs)
And in the meantime, an author is getting his or her name out there, especially in a field as specialized as say erotica is.
That’s exactly right.
As a writer of erotic fiction, I know how hard it is to get stuff published through a trad publisher. Why is that?
Well, the people who make the most, like the Steven Kings, James Rollins, Nora Robbins, their publishers have the money to promote them and to pay the fee for premium space in what we call the ‘brick and mortar’ stores. In many of the big bookstores, a big publisher will pay a price on each book, sometimes a dollar a book on each copy the store takes, so the store will display those books in the front of the store, see the most traffic for them. Laying out those dollars a traditional publisher is less able to take risks.
And you can take those risks?
Yes, because we see profit from every book we sell. We don’t have to spend thousands investing for a minimum run; there are no physical books sitting in a warehouse someplace. Our only real outlay is for copyediting, an investment of time, staff and maintaining the website. We actually saw a profit with our first sale … and that went to both us and the authors.
Do you find any genre doesn’t sell in eBooks?
Funny enough, cowboy literature doesn’t seem to sell. Maybe it’s too hard to negotiate a Kindle when you’re on a horse or in a jeep working out on the range. (laughs)
Let’s switch gears just a bit. What’s fascinating to me about your long career, beyond Renaissance eBooks, is how you worked, played, hung out with all the big sci-fi writers back in the early ’60s when you lived in L.A. You actually worked with Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry. Can you give us a little glimpse what that was like?
Those were magical days! I can still see the sun hitting the eastern side of Paramount Studios, making the pale wall almost incandescent. The first time I met Gene he was behind a desk at the far end of a very large room and only when you got up close did you realize how big the desk was. The first moment I saw his face I knew he was a shark, but, I thought: Good science fiction needs a shark to champion it in shark infested Hollywood—and Gene was a good shark. He could be as ruthless as anyone else to survive, but basically, day-in and day-out, his heart was more than in the right place.
You didn’t actually work on Star Trek, though?
Right, I mostly worked on non-ST stuff for Gene, including development on a never-made Tarzan movie. His idea for the film was to set it back in the early 1900s and treat it seriously, very much like Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. But the project, as so many of Gene’s did, fell afoul of studio politics.
And what followed from those days was Season of the Witch. Tell us the background to Season, if you can.
Like many a first novel gay, straight, trans, and even mainstream, the transsexual theme and episodes in Season of the Witch grew out of my own erotic fantasies. (Editor’s Note: Season of the Witch is the story of a hardened seducer of women, whose consciousness is transferred into the body of a woman as “legal punishment.”) If someone constantly yearns for what is a form of sexual expression so taboo that even fantasizing about doing it voluntarily in any way seems sinful, they will often instead fantasize about being forced to do it.
The early sex fantasies of many male-to-female transsexuals and many female-to-male transsexuals involve being forced to cross-dress or undergo a sex change. The “bodice ripper,” where the notorious rake ravishes the innocent heroine against her will again and again until they realize they have been in love since the beginning, both wanted it and live happily-ever-after is very popular among heterosexual women who have inhibitions against sex; that’s another example.
Season received positive reviews in the sf world and the transgender community, and has achieved some kind of classic status. Sans sex but with the transgender theme intact, it was even made into a semi-philosophical shoot-’em-up as a movie, called Synapse in the U.S.
Are you writing presently?
I haven’t written a word since I took this over. Just recently I was getting into a writing a groove for a bit, but it didn’t last and I’m one of those writers who need to get into a groove. I know some can write four to eight hours a day, just sit down and do it. But not me, I need quiet. I need to be able to relax, have nothing pressing.
It’s my hope someday to write again.
But it seems like you mentor all your writers, especially for your Sizzler titles.
For the past 10 years this has been very hard work, but I could not have done this without my writers. I am very grateful to them and I feel in a way like a midwife, godmother to all these books. Every single one of them means something to me. I’ll change covers over the years if the book isn’t selling, try a different marketing plan. I believe in these titles and think they should be read.