The Growth of Ebooks and Multiple Hats: 3 Questions for romance and erotica writer Jill Elaine Hughes

Years ago, when I was at the University of Cincinnati, I had a fun job tutoring undergraduate students at the English Department writing center. While I was there, I got to know several of the other tutors, including a promising young fiction writer named Jill Hughes. I remember talking with Jill about the differences between literary and commercial fiction, and discussing some of the more literary works of Stephen King. Then I got into UH, she went to the University of Chicago, and poof! We never saw each other again--until she made a post on Sara Gruen's facebook page. I immediately sent the friend request and was quite delighted to hear how her writing had evolved throughout the years, into a hot (in more ways than one) career in romance and erotic fiction. Jill's answers for this interview were so fantastic that I'm splitting the interview into two parts. For this part, we'll address Jill's multiple writing hats and her views on ebooks, and for the next, she'll dish about how she got into writing erotica (hint--an editor tipped her off!) and her views on the line between erotica and porn.

You do freelance work for magazines, you write plays, and you publish novels under two names. How have all these different "hats" influenced your writing? How do they feed each other?

I’ve always worn several different “hats” as a writer. Early in my career, I worked “day jobs”----as an editor, admin assistant, librarian, corporate copywriter, etc.----to pay the bills while doing creative writing at night. I also took freelance journalism assignments on the side. So I’m very accustomed to compartmentalizing my writing. In the early days, doing that was both a means of financial survival (in the case of both the day jobs and freelance assignments) as well as a way for me to maintain my sanity. Some of my day jobs were grueling, low-paying, and involved long hours, and could be creatively and emotionally draining. Knowing I could work on writing a play or short story manuscript when I got home at night often got me through hard workdays. It also taught me self-discipline (a must for freelance writers), as well as the ability to develop my writing style in a lot of different areas.

Right now I find that I’m most productive when I’m working on multiple projects at once. If I ever get “stuck” on one writing project, I just switch to the other for a while, and that helps me avoid getting the dreaded writer’s block. I also have to juggle a lot of tight deadlines as a freelance journalist, and I wouldn’t have built up the self-discipline to do that if I hadn’t spent so many years as a staff writer in corporate environments.

We've all been talking here lately about the advent of epublishing. What's your take on it, and where do you think publishing in general is going? And how has this changed your work habits?

I’m really glad you asked this question. The vast majority of my novels have been primarily published as ebooks. It’s a sizable and growing segment of the market, especially for romance and erotica, both of which I write. It’s also the only segment of publishing that is growing right now, and it’s growing by huge margins (sales are increasing about 200%-300% every year----really!).

Just like the rest of the media world has gone almost entirely digital, so too will publishing. It’s already happened for newspapers and magazines, and books will follow. Indeed, they already have. Granted, it’s taken a long time for it to happen---ebooks have been around for about 15 years now, and we’re just now reaching a tipping point----but with the recent advent of practical e-reader devices like the Kindle, Nook, and iPad, the ebook sales are really snowballing, and more people are reading ebooks than ever before.

Print books will never go away completely, but ebooks have already replaced large segments of the print market. The “pulp fiction” of the old days is now published almost entirely online as ebooks. Mass-market paperbacks are also starting to disappear, and several large commercial publishing houses (such as Dorchester, Harlequin, and Simon & Schuster) have started ebook-only imprints. Ebooks have the advantage of not having associated printing, shipping, and storage costs, and in theory, that means more money for the author. And if you work with some of the ebook-focused publishers like Ellora’s Cave, Samhain, Ravenous, and others, you will earn a much higher royalty percentage per copy sold than you would in traditional print.

But some of the “big” publishers are trying to keep all those extra profits for themselves and not matching the smaller houses’ royalty rates. That strategy has backfired somewhat, and now there are some New York Times-bestselling authors bypassing publishers entirely and self-publishing their own ebooks via Amazon’s Kindle self-publishing services-----and keeping all the sales dollars for themselves! Top-selling authors from J.A. Konrath to Stephen King are selling ebook-only titles, and making large sums of money. (Stephen King recently wrote a column about how he made $80,000 in 2 weeks from a single short story ebook on Kindle he would have happily sold to a print magazine for $1000 just a few years ago). The ebook earnings potential for authors is huge----but so is the competition.

For a long time, romance and erotica dominated ebooks, but now there seems to be a shift towards publishing horror in ebook almost exclusively. Many of the big horror imprints (like Dorchester) have gone ebook-only. Samhain recently launched a horror ebook imprint as well. And there are also several small science fiction and fantasy ebook presses, many of which also do print.

Another great thing about epublishing is, it’s allowing a lot of new authors whose work wouldn’t be noticed by the big print publishers a chance to break in. As an example, my current novel release TENDER IS THE KNIGHT (currently available from Decadent Publishing, is what you’d call a “niche” book----it’s a romance novel set in the Renaissance Faire/Medieval Reenactment world. A lot of the big print publishers liked this book, but thought it was targeted at too small an audience. But this type of book is perfect for the smaller epublishers, who don’t need to sell as many copies as Random House in order to make a profit. A lot of writers who first made strong showings in ebooks (like Lora Leigh, Stacia Kane, Maya Banks, and others) have gone on to become nationally bestselling authors with the big print houses.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Jill. And stay tuned, everyone, for that last question, where Jill will erase the line between erotica and porn and teach us all how to write really good sex.


Maureen said…
Fascinating interview, I look forward to the second part.
Ann Mayburn said…
Right now I find that I’m most productive when I’m working on multiple projects at once. If I ever get “stuck” on one writing project, I just switch to the other for a while, and that helps me avoid getting the dreaded writer’s block

I do this too! It helps to have two different worlds to go play in. Oh Gods, I'm a menage writer.-lol-

Very well done article. It's always interesting to learn the background of someone you know through the publishing world. I'm impressed by the time and dedication you've given towards learning your craft. Well done sweetie!

Now back to picking which of your books I want to read on my Kindle. ;)Hmmm, Power Plays. Love the cover. ;)
Thank you for this valuable information, Jill. As an emerging author, I found this interview very enlightening.
Hales said…
Great blog! Yep I was pretty disgusted when I went to get a print pub house dig copy of a book I wanted and it was 15 bucks. I went onto my fav epub sites and got three great novels for the same price as that one.

I too work on two thingsat one time. I don't have a huge history in literature besides having a high affinity for words and word weaving. That's what I call novels and stories- word weaving an art simiilar to looming tapestries or quilting and blind cross stitching.

I know many authors who are now taking their back listed works from print ages ago, re editing and putting them out on amazon and smashwords too.

Thanks for sharing :)
Meg Mims said…
great interview! didn't know that about King, wow...
Meg Mims said…
great interview! didn't know that about King, wow...
Kathleen said…
Thanks for an informative, and interesting interview! I believe e-pubs are here to stay!

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