Kate Douglas signed with BookEnds in 2001 when we were just a fledgling agency. In fact, while we opened our doors in 1999, we still considered ourselves a book packager and didn’t make the decision to become an agency until 2001. So really, Kate was one of our first clients.
JF: What made you decide to take the risk on a fledgling agency and agent?
KD: You were recommended to me by one of my good friends, author Patricia Lucas White. She passed away, unfortunately, not long after I’d signed with you, but I trusted her judgment. I think she had met you at a conference or maybe just heard about you. I was desperate to find an agent, but terrified of getting a bad one. I believe it really is true that, for an author, having no agent is better than signing with a bad agent, and I had watched another friend deal with the bad kind. In those days, it was hard to do your “due diligence” during an agent search, because not every agency was online. BookEnds had a website at that point, but I don’t recall a lot of information beyond your history as book packagers. I think you still had a partner then, too. You’ll have to correct me on that, as I honestly don’t remember.
JF: You are right. At that time I was working with my partner Jacky Sach. She stayed with BookEnds until 2010.
KD: I was somewhat computer savvy. I had my own website and was already published as an ebook author, which meant that I had an online presence and a loyal following of readers, some of whom still read my books, which is a huge compliment. Still, we weren’t considered “real authors” because no one believed ebooks were going to last.
Goes to show you how prevailing thoughts can be so wrong!
There was a lot of fear and misunderstanding about epublished authors, a lot of the same negative energy that many indie published authors are dealing with now, but in 1998 when I first signed with an epublisher, I had to accept that I would not be considered a “real” author by any of my traditionally published friends. It hurt, but that was the way it was, and this is where my head was coming when you accepted my proposal for LAST OF THE O’ROURKES. I still remember that phone call. My hands were shaking by the time I hung up!
JF: I do remember enough to know that we never sold that first book I offered on, LAST OF THE O’ROURKES. But it was definitely a career highlight of mine that it was your book, WOLF TALES that launched Kensington’s Aphrodisia line for erotic romance. I’d love to hear what some of your personal career highlights were.
KD: If I thought the phone call from you about O’ROURKES was exciting, the one I got from you as I was pulling into the parking lot at Safeway with my grocery list all ready to go was truly a highlight. I had been writing for almost twenty years, publishing with small presses, working as a newspaper reporter, trying to write something that Harlequin might publish. What really made this a truly special sale is the fact that I originally wrote Wolf Tales just for me, and for my good friend Margaret Riley who was starting her own publishing house, Changeling Press. She asked me to write something to start the company off with a bang. Her instructions were to break all the rules, and if anyone has ever read Wolf Tales, they’ll know that’s exactly what I did. Her company started out in the black with that serial—I wrote short 15k stories that came out every few weeks. M generously released me from the contract when Kensington offered, and those first five serial stories became the first Wolf Tales.
Another highlight was my first royalty check—that first book sold out before it was officially released and had to go into reprints. Wolf Tales eventually had eleven print runs before it finally went to ebook only. I have a screen shot somewhere of my book sales at Barnes and Noble, and Wolf Tales novels and Sexy Beast anthologies had the top ten spots in paranormal sales. There was also the mention on GERALDO, and CNN MONEYTALK. If only it were all happening now in the era of social networking—I could have been the next “50 Shades” phenom! (Dream on, right? 😉 )
JF: I have to admit, when 50 Shades became such a huge media phenomena I spent a lot of time ranting around the office about how you were first.
This was an incredible time for both of us and, so readers are aware, let me quickly explain that Sexy Beast was a collection of anthologies featuring three different authors. In addition to full-length Wolf Tales books you were also publishing one Sexy Beast Wolf Tales story every year (at least every year).
Enough from me. You often refer to me as a pit bull. I always assumed affectionately 😉 but in truth, what would you say some of my (or any agent’s) skill sets are that have helped you grow a career? Maybe to put it differently, I like to think that an agent brings to the table more than just contacts, that there are things we can do that maybe you don’t feel you have the knowledge or ability. What were some of those things for you?
KD: Laughing here about the pit bull reference. Honestly, it was as much awe as affection. You never backed down, and you had no qualms about telling me when I was flat out wrong with whatever I was currently in a snit about. It didn’t take you long at all to figure out that while I don’t do change very well, I’m always willing to listen to your ideas—after I think about them for a while, and figure out how to make them work. I appreciate the fact that you managed to catch on to my convoluted thought processes and were willing to work with me and around them. I admire your ability to disagree in a positive manner. I quickly learned to value your input when we’d start talking about the various stories over the years. You have the ability to make me see things about my work that I’m totally oblivious to! I often tend to have a narrow focus on my writing, and you always see the big picture.
And regarding that pit bull comparison…I “vaguely” recall a bidding war for my DemonSlayer series that ran right up to Christmas Eve. You hung in there with two publishers bidding for my proposed three book paranormal series until very late on a Friday night when everyone at the two houses in question really wanted to be heading home for the holidays, and your persistence brought me the largest contract in my career—for four books, not three. Definitely a pit bull!
JF: As the years have gone by our relationship has understandably grown and changed. Both our families have grown, you added grandchildren and BookEnds went from two agents to 10. What are some surprising things about the author/agent relationship you think new authors would like to know?
KD: So many things that I didn’t know! It’s really a very special partnership, but that only works with the right agent. First, don’t ever sign with an agent you don’t trust. Trust is so important in an agent/client relationship, and if you have the least sense of any misgiving, walk away. And I’m not just talking about trusting an agent with your finances. I’m referring to the trust that comes as an agent helps guide your career. Your agent wants you to succeed because that’s how their business prospers, and they have lot of tools in the chest that new authors don’t—their experience with the business from all angles—the writing, the marketing, the market itself. Contacts with editors and what they’re looking for, inside knowledge about the various publishing houses. Things that we, as writers, don’t always take into consideration.
And most important, never hesitate to ask questions. I was such a newbie when I started out with Jessica, and I will never forgive myself for not asking more questions. When I got my first copy edits—no editorial notes at all from the editor, but I just figured that meant she really liked the book—there were things I saw in that first Wolf Tales that I wanted to change. I didn’t know that, at that early stage, I could rewrite parts I didn’t like, and unfortunately there are still parts of that book that make me cringe. I didn’t ask Jessica about it because I didn’t want to bother her. That was stupid on my part, because intervention might have changed some of the things that I didn’t realize were truly wrong. It took me a long time to realize that my agent worked for me, not the other way around, though I will always see it as a partnership.
I didn’t learn until I was well into the series (Wolf Tales went to twelve novels, and nine novellas in anthologies) that my editor, after the first couple of books, never read them. I found out when I asked her a question about the plot of one of my stories and she said she didn’t know, that she didn’t read them until after the copy edits were done. Then I learned later that she didn’t read most of them at all. That’s not typical, but it will always leave me wondering how much better those early books could have been with good editing. I should have taken my concerns to my agent, but again, I didn’t want to bother her. (I bother her now. A lot more than I ever did before…)
Another thing I wish I’d known is that I should have had more faith in myself. When an agent accepts an author as a client, it means that she sees something in that writer that will help her own business grow. If I’d had more faith in Jessica’s belief in me, I probably would have saved myself a lot of anxiety over the years. I was very lucky, though. My first agent was and still is one of the best in the business, and it’s been such fun watching BookEnds grow.
I discovered romances in the 1970s and fell in love with the genre, but didn’t write my first book until the mid 1980s. It’s still in a box somewhere, thank goodness, never again to see the light of day, but we all start somewhere! By the time I signed with Kensington Publishing, I was 55 years old and I’d been at it for over twenty years without success beyond my epublished books.
Not long after Wolf Tales was published, I made my very first trip to New York, meeting Jessica (I think for the first time in person) and having lunch in the financial district in Manhattan with my agent, my Kensington editor, a couple of executives from Kensington, and the vice president of marketing from Barnes and Noble. This was quite literally the kind of day I’d never dreamed of, and I was having a wonderful time.
Except that the VP from B&N kept looking at me and sort of smirking, and I finally asked him what he was laughing about. His answer still makes me smile. He said, “You don’t look like you write those books!”
As I said earlier, Wolf Tales broke a lot of rules, but I replied that no, I looked like what I was, a 56-year-old grandmother with a good imagination, and then he really laughed. I asked him what he expected, some sweet young thing in a sexy red dress? I think I decided then and there that I would just own my sexy shapeshifters and all their broken rules, their interracial and often graphic same sex relationships. I also realized how lucky I was to have found an agent willing to take a risk on a new author with a rather outlandish series that broke rules even most editors wouldn’t have touched.
Counting my ebooks and the story I’m working on now, I have written and had published almost 70 books, 38 of those with NY publishers. I just turned 69 and as fate would have it, I’m writing my 69thbook. I’ve slowed down the past couple of years due to some health issues and a recent move, but the ideas are still there. I’ve got a story I really want to write, something that’s a bit different, and once I get something together, I imagine I’ll be tossing it at Jessica. I know I can trust her to tell me the truth. In today’s world, there’s nothing more valuable to a writer’s career than a partner who is honest, who knows the business, and has just enough pit bull in her genes to pull it all together and make it work. I can’t believe we’re coming up on 18 years, and Jessica, you certainly don’t look old enough to have run this company for twenty years!
Congratulations to you for BookEnds’ success and amazing growth over the past two decades. And kudos to you for finding such an amazing staff who help you make it all work so well. Wishing you another twenty plus years of continued success.