By Liesa Malik
“I’m so excited that people want to hear what I have to say,” said J. Ellen Smith, publisher and owner of the Champagne Book Group, as we talked together about our upcoming Colorado Gold conference and other writing thoughts.
Champagne Book Group publishes both electronically and in paperback formats, and Ellen will be coming from their offices in High River, near Calgary, Alberta to speak about the publishing process, meet new talented writers, and accept pitches at the Gold Pitch Sessions. She expressed a small concern, however, that writers use a professional attitude during the conference time.
“I’ve always prided myself on being approachable,” said Ellen, “but please treat us smaller publishers with the same courtesy as the large press. Don’t shove a book at me and demand that I read it.”
A few other signs that shout out “newbie writer” to Ellen include:
- Submissions with a copyright symbol on them. “I don’t need to be told this work isn’t mine,” said Ellen. “Why copyright something that hasn’t even been edited yet?”
- Interrupting. Getting interrupted, especially when Ellen and another editor are in conversation, is a real put-off. There are ways to find more appropriate opportunities during the few days we have together. She chuckled on this thought. “Once, at my very first conference, some woman followed me into the bathroom and kept shoving her manuscript under the door. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept shoving it back.”
- Inebriation. “It’s a red flag to me when I see someone who has had a few too many.” Ellen says she understands that the conference is a celebration of writing and writers, but makes a point to remember that she’s out representing her business at these affairs, and wants to be prepared to conduct business with a clear head always.
Still, Ellen has sympathy for new authors and will be looking forward to meeting them. “As a guest, they like to work you to death at these conferences,” said Ellen, “but that’s okay. It’s an honor to be invited.”
She said if she sees 30 people in her pitch sessions, it’s likely she’ll ask for full reads from about five, sometimes a little more. Her role in these sessions is to help a person feel confident and get rid of their 3 x 5 cards. “‘Now,’ I say, ‘just tell me about your book.’ I want to see the passion of the author in the pitch.” She says that she knows the journey to publishing is difficult, having been a writer herself, and she’s anxious to find and encourage fresh new voices.
The path to publishing and publisher started for Ellen in her early school years, when she would write stories that she and a few friends would act out for others. “Skits and plays, really,” said Ellen. “As a little girl, I had a vivid imagination. My stories always had humor in them. It was fun to make our friends laugh.”
Later, Ellen became a nurse, but continued to write in her spare time. She had some success, but disappointment with contracts, quality of production, and publishing houses that were disappearing as fast as they went up, stole motivation from her.
One day at a coffee shop, Ellen’s friend, Penelope, said, “You’ve been complaining for years about this. Why don’t you get going and publish yourself?” They talked over the idea for a while, and Ellen continued to mull it over.
She found a small publisher in Calgary and apprenticed for a year with them, learning the ins and outs of the publishing business.
Finally, in December of 2004, with a website and $20 in the bank, Champagne Books started work. By April 2005, they were ready for a cyber-launch of their first four titles. “I totally believe in the old saying that you don’t run before you’re ready,” said Ellen. So, for six years, she kept working as a nurse as well as a publisher. The company grew and became a leader in e-book publishing.
Today, proudly loan and debt-free, Champagne Books has ten categories of e-book fiction posted and several more titles in printed form. The company believes that eBooks are the future of publishing, and Ellen and her team are ready to lead the way.