Pride Publishing (an imprint of Totally Entwined Group) gave me my first break. I love working with this organisation, everyone is so wonderful and helpful. Which makes me exciting to announce that CEO of Totally Entwined, Claire Siemaskiewicz, agreed to be this month’s interviewee.
So read on for a chat packed with advice and insights into the world of mm romance.
What has been your highlight of 2022?
This year has mostly seen a focus on building new relationships with apps, gaming companies, new marketing initiatives and building innovative publishing platforms for our own authors and for fiction authors and readers across the world.
We’re due to launch Fictionwide early 2023 which we’re really excited about and I’ve spent a lot of my time developing that platform this year. So, getting that to the stage where it’s ready to launch has been my highlight as it’s been a project in the making for a few years.
What does 2023 have in store for Pride Publishing?
We’re looking to increase submissions for Pride in 2023. Any authors thinking about submitting manuscripts should consider series over single titles as we’ll have a heavy focus on series in 2023.
We're continuing some strong series in BDSM, billionaire, paranormal (wereshifter), so we’re looking forward to see how those perform.
As well as some higher heat LGBTQIA+ romances, we’d also like to see more diverse pairings/characters – we’ve had some really exciting FF books and non-binary characters, so we’re keen to take that further too.
Are there any trends you think we will see in M/M romance?
BDSM and paranormal stories (wereshifters in particular) seem like they'll be popular for a long time yet. More recently, we’re seeing a lot of interest in MM billionaire romance, and the fake relationship trope. We're seeing more MM films (Bros, Spoiler Alert), which suggests to me that more mainstream, feel-good, rom-com type stories will become more popular.
What inspired you to start Totally Entwined Group/Pride Publishing?
I saw a gap in the market and realised that eBooks were going to be huge in publishing and I wanted to start up a digital first publishing house. This was before eBooks were even embryonic in publishing—when they were just PDFs and mobis on a desktop or laptop—and very few publishers had even considered them as an option for readers (some 17 years ago.)
I had always been a huge fan of romance fiction and I had discovered a US digital publisher of romantica. I fell in love with their books, but thought their editing was poor. So, I reached out to them and told them so. They asked me if I’d be interested in taking an editor test, so I ended up doing proofreading for free reads for them just for a bit of fun. That got me thinking about this market and where publishing was likely to head in the future. I had some discussions with them about setting up a UK/European division for them and as my husband was playing around with web development I asked him to put a bookstore together.
That came together really fast and when things didn’t go where we’d thought they would with the other publisher, we said ‘Why not just do this ourselves – how hard could it be?’ (Laughing at myself here! Because then came the sixteen-hour days and a very steep learning curve.) But we did do it ourselves and we loved it, and we put everything into it.
We were the first digital first publisher in the UK and Europe. We started with one imprint (Totally Bound Publishing) which had all genres and sub-genres, launched with eight books and six authors. We restructured a few years down the road so that all of our imprints would come under one group and so Totally Entwined Group was born and everything else followed on from there. Pride Publishing was the second imprint to launch when we recognised that GLBTQ romance needed its own space, attention, and store because it was so popular, and we wanted to give it its own special focus.
Is there any advice you would give to a new writer looking to be published?
It can seem so daunting when you’re just starting out, so arm yourself with knowledge. Read around your own work, see what's doing well with readers, and what you like about the books that are doing well. Can you take some of that and make it your own, can it help you find your niche? Once you find your niche, stick to it.
Read things that are completely different to what you write, too, don’t get stuck in an echo chamber with no new ideas. As well as building up your knowledge, you would also benefit from building a community, people you trust to give feedback when you're ready to share your work, and to shout about your book when it's ready to be released. Work on building relationships with established authors, too – they started this journey once, too.
A big decision is whether you want to be self-published, work with a publisher, or a mix of both. Talk to other authors to find out what works for them/what might work for you. Try to work out what's important to you in your publishing journey, and how can you get that – whether it’s from a publisher, by self-pubbing, or a mix of both.
What works for one author won’t necessarily work for another, so find your own style, your own path, and make something special!
I think most writers (including me) find the promotion daunting. Do you have any tips for writers on how to make themselves seen?
There are so many things that author can do to develop their brand. But first and foremost an author really does have to see their craft as a business. It’s not enough to write a book and send it off to a publisher, or to put it up on a self-publishing platform, sit back and hope for the best. You need to engage with readers.
Some of the basics but absolute essentials - Social media is key and there are plenty of platforms where you can make your mark. You just have to be a bit creative and let’s face it, you’re writers so you’ve already got that in the bag. 😊 Video is more popular that static images and there are plenty of tools available online to create them to generate interest in your books.
You should build a newsletter following of fans of your work and send them regular mailers that are engaging and fun. Readers like to hear about you as well as your books. Make use of your peers newsletters and do swaps with them too.
Ads can be pricey but if you have a budget it’s worth considering Facebook, Amazon, Tiktok or Bookbub (or there are plenty of cheaper options similar to BB that won’t have as much traffic but will still build your reader base.) Make sure you’ve got a lead magnet to give away, to entice readers to buy more of your books. Set up promotions on your older series titles when you have a new release coming out and plan that in conjunction with your ads/newsletters/social campaign.
And back catalogue is king! The bigger backlist you have the more read-through you’ll get when you run your campaigns and the more you’ll have to work with. For romance, always series over a single book release and bigger is definitely better! (Romance readers like value for money and bigger stories.)
What is a typical day like for you?
So varied! There’s isn’t a typical day really. It very much depends on what we’re working on as to where my focus lands. I have a ‘to do list’ as long as my arm. I tend to juggle a lot and that can be anything from business strategy and project management to developing new platforms, or developing new relationships with retailers, distributors, apps, gaming companies etc to working alongside our publisher, artists and authors for any day-to-day requirements. And so much more!
If you could have three famous people round for Christmas dinner, who would it be and why?
The Queen of England – fascinating inspirational woman who I admired and respected immensely.
Claude Monet – incredible techniques in landscape art.
Hugh Jackman – because yum!
What was your favourite Christmas present ever?
The gift that sticks out in my mind is from when I was a child and my parents got me roller skates. I loved them so much! I even loved them after I smashed my two front teeth out flying headlong into a pole after skating down a hill!
If I invited you to a fancy dress NYE party, who would you come as?
I’d probably go as something like Catwoman, Madonna, Jessica rabbit. Oh no – already done those. Let me think of something else…