Every so often there comes the opportunity to corner an interesting person, whether it be at a convention, a reading, or in the local supermarket by the vegetable stall, depending on how stalkerish I feel. Recently, I bumped into Sandra Gerth, aka the author Jae, as she was inspecting oregano at the herb counter…and that got me thinking…
Go backwards to the beginning. Like so many lesfic writers you found a readership and a voice through the online community, but you weren’t specifically fanfic, or Xenaverse. Where did you see yourself fitting in?
Actually, I did get started writing fanfiction, just not within the Xenaverse. The first piece of fiction I ever wrote in English was a series of three Law & Order: Special Victims Unit fanfiction. That was in spring 2006. I had been reading a lot of fanfiction in English for a couple of years, so at one point, I gathered my courage, wrote a story in English, and posted it online, at fanfic archives such as The Athenaeum and The Academy of Bards.
Reader reactions were very positive, encouraging me to keep writing in English—so I did. I also found some great beta readers through the fanfiction community. I’m still friends with one of them today, and she was the one who encouraged me to get my first novel, Backwards to Oregon, published in 2007.
Your move to professional status began as an Indie, and now you are the senior editor at Ylva. If I may say so, that’s a healthy trajectory and a well-managed career. Did you imagine your writing evolving in this direction?
Not quite. I actually never self-published, but yes, it was an amazing journey that I never thought would end up where it did.
While I have a healthy respect and deeply admire some of my fellow writers who self-publish, I like being part of a team. As an editor, I know exactly what is involved in publishing a novel, and I appreciate having a publisher who takes over some of that work for me, leaving me more time to write.
When I first got published in 2007, it was with L-Book ePublisher, one of the pioneers of lesfic publishing when it comes to e-books. At that point, while I certainly loved writing, I never dared to dream of one day becoming a full-time writer. I have been writing almost my entire life but didn’t think it possible to ever make a living of it, especially since I’m publishing in a niche genre. But as I continued writing and building a backlist of now nine novels, that pipe dream started to look more and more realistic, especially when I switched publishers and joined Ylva in 2012.
I love it that, as Ylva’s senior editor, I now get the chance to help other writers fulfill their writing dreams.
By moving to ‘the dark side’, i.e. editing, how do you manage dual tasking your everyday work with your writing? How does it affect your creativity?
So editing is the dark side? 🙂
I usually reserve my mornings and early afternoons for my own writing. I found out during the course of my first year as a full-time writer that I’m most creative in the morning. Once I met my daily 2,000-word goal, I spend the rest of the day doing project management and editing for Ylva.
I think being a writer helps me as an editor and the other way around. I know exactly how our writers feel when they get back their manuscripts full of edits and comments. I know how special each of these stories is for its author, and I treat them accordingly.
On the other hand, editing other writers’ manuscript also helped me view my own manuscripts more objectively, identify the weaknesses, and work on improving them. So for me, the “dark” and the “light” side balance each other well.
Collaboration is important to you. Not only from an editing viewpoint, but also in your writing. How important is collaboration in the lesfic industry, and for you personally? How do your collaborations come about?
That’s true—collaboration is very important to me and to Ylva. That’s true for editing—as an editor, I try to work with our authors to make sure their books are the best they can possibly be instead of making the editing process a constant struggle about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s certainly true for writing and publishing too.
I think everyone in the lesfic community can benefit from helping each other out, exchanging information, and giving advice. I, personally, try to give back by mentoring writers who are just starting out, by posting writing advice on my website, and by answering questions from other writers and fellow editors, no matter if they publish with Ylva, with other publishers, or chose to self-publish.
I recently also got to experience a collaboration of another kind—I co-wrote a novel for the first time. Fellow Ylva author Alison Grey and I just published our paranormal romance Good Enough to Eat. I had already published several paranormal romance novels, and when Alison had an idea for a vampire romance, she approached me and suggested a collaboration.
At first, I had my doubts about how writing a novel with another author might work, but I soon realized how much fun it can be. It was always interesting to see how Alison built on a scene I had written. I’m sure it turned out a more interesting novel than if I had written it on my own.
Europe vs. America. How do you perceive these different markets. Your main focus seems to be on the US market, yet there is also a healthy European audience, too. How do you negotiate the two?
These two markets are indeed very different. For one thing, Germany and the rest of Europe have been slower to adopt e-books in comparison to the US. That’s not just true for readers; many publishers seem to almost be afraid of e-books and think they’ll be the downfall of the publishing industry.
Since Ylva has one foot firmly in the US market, we’re definitely more forward-thinking than other European publishers and faster to adopt new ways of doing things—and to discard them if they don’t work.
At the moment, we focus on the US market mainly because it’s harder to get good German manuscripts. That’s part of the reason why we translate some of our English novels into German. I’m translating my own books, but we’re also working with several talented translators.
Promotion is also very different in the US vs. in Europe. The European market is more…splintered, for lack of a better word. Sadly, there are fewer collaborations and fewer communities for readers and writers, so reaching readers is a lot harder.
Interestingly, we also have numerous German readers who prefer reading in English—myself included. So our sales numbers in Germany are pretty good too, even for the English novels.
A book that works well in the US market won’t necessarily work as well in the German market and the other way around. One thing is true for both markets, though—readers anywhere in the world prefer quality fiction with believable plots and characters they can identify with, so we try to focus on that.
Finally, speaking with your editing hat on, what do you want to see from new writers? Where do you want to go with existing writers and/or lesfic in general? What makes a gut-clenching exciting submission?
Ooh, I get to put together my editor’s wishlist! Let’s see…
I would like to get submissions that grab me from the very first page—the very first sentence, ideally—and won’t let go until the end. That doesn’t have to mean that every book has to be a thriller that takes us through a rollercoaster of adventures. It means that the story should have an interesting, three-dimensional main character, a well-mastered point of view, and some nice forward momentum in every scene. (There are a few more things on my wishlist. For more details, you might want to take a look at the top 12 reasons manuscripts are rejected).
If you add to that a writer who puts her heart and soul and a lot of time into her writing and is willing to work hard to improve her manuscript and her writing skills, that would be an editor’s dream.
I’d like it if lesbian fiction would reach a point at which we have the same high expectations of a lesbian romance (or any lesbian novel) that we would have for any other piece of fiction. A book should have more than just two lesbian characters to be labeled as a satisfying read. Readers shouldn’t have to ignore spelling/grammar mistakes, plot holes, or weak writing. They should get a book full of well-edited, good writing, exciting plots, and great characters…that happen to be lesbians.
Seeing the line at the checkout had diminished I snatched my basket and ran for it, shouting, “Thanks for the chat, Sandra,” over my shoulder. I love shopping. I wonder who I’ll meet next time?