Today, Chiseled in Rock has the pleasure of interviewing Debra Dixon, a former Vice-President of Romance Writers of America, multi-published author, and a nationally known writing guru whose how-to book, GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict, has become a staple of writing workshops. Debra’s published work has been awarded the Georgia Romance Writers' "Maggie," A Little Romance Magazine's ROMY,
Colorado's Award of Excellence, the Kiss of Death Award for best suspense of the year from RWA's Mystery/Suspense Chapter, and she's received a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award for Innovative Series Romance. Her books have been recognized as finalists for the Virginia Holt Medallion, Romantic Times Best Loveswept, and the National Readers' Choice Award for romance fiction.
These days, she’s better known as Publisher for BelleBooks and its imprint Bell Bridge Books, which tackles a broad spectrum of genres in both print and ebook formats. A 2011 company highlight was holding the # 1 spot on the full Paid Kindle list for more than two weeks. Their titles have been picked up in translation and by major New York publishers in subrights deals for mass market paperback, book club, audio and large print. The company has published work from NYT’s bestselling authors: Anne Bishop, Susan Addison Allen, Deborah Smith, Sharon Sala, Sabrina Jeffries, Sandra Hill, Jill Marie Landis, and Jill Barnett. As well as USA Today bestseller Kalayna Price.
Thank you, Debra, for joining us today, and for agreeing to speak at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference in September.
CIR: Please tell us about your role with BelleBooks and how you manage your time as writer, editor, and an award-winning quilter.
Debra: Time management? Thank goodness for a great staff and my partner-in-crime, Deborah Smith, our V.P. and Editorial Director. My role as President and Publisher of BelleBooks/Bell Bridge requires complete focus due to our growth and the changing landscape. It’s a 24/7/365 job. I manage time by “choosing.” You can’t be all things to all people. That’s the tough part of enjoying so many challenges. I loved being a writer, but thirteen years ago, I moved on to the next phase in my career, with only the occasional foray into short fiction writing. . .like when an editor colleague cornered me and wanted something for a DAW fantasy anthology. Sometimes, you have to say, “Yes.” But my focus is and has been on growing and building the authors who publish with BelleBooks/Bell Bridge. We have a broad umbrella, strong distribution, and a busy publishing list, but I have to acknowledge that my responsibilities as Publisher trump my desire to keep my fingers in the editorial pie. I focus on one small area of what we acquire. My list of fantasy, SF, Horror and YA is very tight, carefully selected, focused. One of our editors is beginning to take on a bit more of the fantasy with my guidance. Deborah Smith runs the editorial show and does a fabulous job. The best thing I do is try to let people do what they do well. That’s the best time management trick I know. As for quilting, I adore it, but I have to fit it in. I try to do at least 15 minutes a day. You’d be surprised at the production that comes out of simply setting a limit on the time and shoehorning it into your schedule.
CIR: It seems as if publishing changes constantly. Blink and there’s something new. What do you think we might see next?
Debra: Right now I think there is a lot of flash and pow about the future, about the possibilities of what can be done with the technology to enhance and change the reading experience. But for me, the reality is that publishers need to get their arms around the bread and butter which is the pure fiction reader who wants words on some kind of page whether that is electronic or analog. Our focus needs to be on discoverability and surfacing books. We need to find the ways to help recreate the browsing experience or give the reader a new experience that works seamlessly to help them “find their reads.” So, that’s what I’m looking for is the next big browse idea.
CIR: As a writer, what do you enjoy most and least about the publishing industry? And as a publisher?
Debra: I can’t speak for writers these days because that’s not my focus and career. As a publisher, I love the fact we can discover, nurture and launch amazing authors. I like a challenge. Everyday is a new experience. Something new to learn. Something new to master. Publishing is never dull. It’s always a puzzle, and I like tinkering.
CIR: As an editor, what would you like to see more of?
Debra: Amazing voices. That answer makes writers want to stab themselves, but we are looking for strong voices. We’d love to see more suspense, thriller, cozy, humorous romance with a big book feel, dark fantasy and urban fantasy. We love YA, but older YA and new adult.
CIR: Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to submissions?
Debra: Folks that don’t read the guidelines. That shows they haven’t done their homework. Don’t submit a cozy mystery to me unless you’ve seen me at a conference and I’ve asked for it. Otherwise, observe the guidelines on the website, which clearly show which genres I’ll review, and choose the right editor. When writers can’t follow simple instructions, you do wonder how they could possibly handle a revision. I’d also say that submitting work you have already self-published is counter-productive.
CIR: Is there a consistent, common mistake you see made in queries?
Debra: Writers don’t follow directions. They assume that they are an “exception” to the publisher’s stated needs. (i.e. Don’t send us poetry even if you think you have the most awesome poetry ever. We don’t publish poetry.) For the writers who do follow the guidelines, they often tend to start the story in the wrong place. It’s almost as if they need to clear their “writing throat” before they can begin the story. Or they don’t trust themselves enough to deliver the story and they waste precious page space on boring backstory.
CIR: This fall, when you join us at the Colorado Gold conference, any thoughts on how to make it fun for you and the nervous writer during pitch meetings? (Would kittens help? Or pre-pitch calisthenics for the writers?)
Debra: Chocolate. Although a kitten would be lovely. Or a puppy I could hold while they are pitching. Who isn’t happy and receptive while holding a puppy? Just makes you happy. But here’s the real scoop: I’m there because we want to find amazing writers. All a writer has to do is talk about their story. I want to listen. So, toss the nerves and remember that no one expects a writer to be brilliant at talking their story. Editors are happy with writers who know the broad strokes of their plot and their character growth. Start with that. There is plenty of time for an editor to ask questions once you give us the meat and bones.
CIR: Speaking of kittens, BelleBooks’ website includes photos of “Pets Who Live with Writers.” Do you have pets in your household?
Debra: We’re all pet lovers. My dog is Sweetie. A foundling who had 8 puppies under my house during some construction. She was barely a year old and I defy anyone to help a new momma raise 8 puppies and then give her away! We weren’t looking for a dog, but, seriously. . .what’s a girl to do? Her name is Sweetie because I said, “Come here, sweetie.” And “It’s okay, sweetie” so much that she thought it was her name.
CIR: Would you care to share a few titles of upcoming releases from BelleBooks?
Debra: Would I ? Sure! I’m very excited about STRANDED a science fiction anthology featuring NYT Bestselling author Anne Bishop. The first in a new epic fantasy series by Jim Melvin. In romance we’ve just published Lynn Kerstan’s THE GOLDEN LEOPARD and seven-time RITA winner Barbara Samuel’s amazing THE SLEEPING NIGHT.
CIR: What are you currently writing?
Debra: This interview, various back cover copy drafts and a strategic plan review.
CIR: How did your writing evolve? Were there specific experiences that made your writing change?
Debra: Writing evolves because you put butt in chair and do it. The experience of putting words on a page will change a writer and almost without exception for the better.
CIR: What inspired you to write GMC?
Debra: Someone paid me to do it. Seriously, it never occurred to me that anyone would want to read that book until a publisher began badgering me to create the book.
CIR: What one piece of advice do you wish you were offered when you first began seeking publication?
Debra: Writing is hard. Run. Can’t run? Learn. This is a marathon and not a sprint. Careers are built. They don’t magically happen even when it sometimes seems like they do.
CIR: What do you wish I’d asked you?
Debra: If I will talk fast. The answer is yes. Keep up.
CIR: Now, in accordance with our CIR M.O., I would like to ask an off-track question. When you were twelve years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Debra: A writer. I think that’s when I wrote a sequel to GONE WITH THE WIND because that ending sucked out loud. (I was a lover of satisfying endings even then.)
You can learn more about Debra and her writing on her website. For additional information about BelleBooks and Bell Bridge Books, including submission guidelines, visit BelleBooks, Bell Bridge Books, or their blog.
Thank you again, Debra! We look forward to seeing you in September!
Interview conducted by Janet Fogg
Janet is the author of Soliloquy, an award-winning historical romance, and co-author of the military history bestseller, Fogg in the Cockpit.