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Welcome to Heartstrings.Thanks for stopping by. I am a mother, a grandmother, and an author of historical western romance and contemporary romantic fiction. Ethan's Heart, book one of The Blackwood Brothers' series won the 2017 Maggie Award for Excellence. Book two, Escorting Darby Bloom, features Blackwood brother Isaac and will be released in December 2017. Stay tuned for more books in this series. If contemporaries are more your thing, check out Carly's Rule and Dusty's Fate. They are both Amazon Best-Sellers.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Interview with BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books' Debra Dixon, President/CEO and Deborah Smith, Vice President and Editorial Director.  

Meet these ladies in October at the 2012 Fiction Writers' Bootcamp sponsored by Ancient City Romance Authors.  For details, see the At The Event section of this blog site or the web address at the end of the interview.

Debra Dixon has published with major publishers, written ten books, contributed to twelve anthologies, and served as Vice President of RWA, and her popular GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict workshop spawned a book that has become a how-to-bible for writers.

These days, she's better known as Publisher for BelleBooks and it's 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.

Deborah Smith is the New York Times bestselling author (A Place to Call Home, 1997, Bantam Books) of more than 35 romance, fantasy, and women's fiction novels.  Her most recent success is The Crossroads Cafe, a Top 10 Amazon Kindle bestseller in ebook.  She is the winner of numerous awards including a career Achievement Award From Romantic Times Magazine.  A Place to Call Home was named one of the Top 200 Best Romance Novels of the 20th Century by Romantic Times.  More than 3 million copies of her books have been sold, worldwide.

Since 2000, Deborah Smith has been Vice President (and a founding partner of) BelleBooks (now primarily known as Bell Bridge Books.)  Based in Memphis, Tennessee, Bell Bridge Books is a successful small publishing company featuring popular fiction.  More than 25 Bell Bridge titles have been bestsellers in ebook.

1.  What is your bestselling genre right now?

We try not to lock into a "trending" mind-set.  We've seen that just about every genre can do well with the reading public.  So, we focus on finding great authors, who can write amazing books, and worrying about genre later.

2.  Is there something you don't currently have in publication that you would love to acquire?

We'd like to acquire more time in the day!

3.  Do you work with new/unpublished authors or prefer authors with a backlist?

We are primarily a publisher of original fiction.  That is our focus.  We publish original fiction every month.  But, because of the changes in the industry and the number of authors who now control their Big6 backlist, we have developed a large reprint "list."  We have a somewhat different approach to backlist management, which is why so many authors are working with us.  It's not about tossing the books up as fast as possible.  Our focus is on creating the right branding and packaging for the author as well as assessing the content for all the little fixes that might be necessary to freshen an older work.  We generally launch backlist as part of a complete publishing program, which includes originals by the author.

We have established relationships with the various ebook platforms and print distribution that most authors just can't duplicate.  That's not to say that authors can't be successful self-publishing.  This program is a different animal and well-suited to authors who like the collaboration of publishing and need to focus on creation of frontlist titles instead of managing or relaunching backlist themselves.

4.  What can an author do to impress you and set her/him apart from the rest?

Write a great book, concise query and readable synopsis.  Voice is critically important.  The voice has to be on the page from the opening.  Editors don't have time to "warm up" to an author's work.  The author has to engage us and make us sit up straight in amazement right from page one.

5.   What would you consider the most important advice or tip you could give an author on submitting to BelleBooks or Bell Bridge Books?

Be Patient.  Even though we're a small press, we gets lots of new queries every week.  It's impossible for us to respond to them immediately.  It may be 2-3 months before an author hears from us.

6.  Would you consider adding a genre or a time period that you do not currently work with and why?  (Examples:  Historical Western Romance, Victorian Romance, Colonial times, WW II, Erotic Romance.)

We never say never.  The only thing we don't actually anticipate publishing is erotica.  That has to do with erotica being a very well-served market.  A publisher our size can't be all things to all readers.  We have to pick and choose what we publish very carefully.

7.  What sets BelleBooks and Bell Bridge Books apart from other publishing houses?

Deborah Smith:  The founders and Managing Directors are all authors.  We try very hard to be more author-friendly than the bigger publishers.

Debra Dixon:  To our author-centric philosophy add our long time commitment to discoverability and the long tail.  We have author after author break into the Amazon Top 100 on the full paid list.  We're putting up great numbers for authors and finding readers.  Publishing is about building careers, building readership and we never lose sight of that fact.

8.  Once a book is accepted, how long before publication?

We operate within an 18 month window, which means that publication is usually within the same 12-18 month time frame that Big6 specifies.  Some books might publish a little faster, but most books these days are scheduled quite far out.  Books will have to go through a revision, line edit, copy edit, proofing, etc.

9.  What designates a title being selected for audio, and how many titles are selected per year?

Happily, due to our involvement with Audible.com, it is now possible for us to submit all of our titles for auditions.  The program works by connecting publishers and producers/narrators.  We sort through their auditions and, after consultation with the author, select a narrator for each book.  That producer/narrator is responsible for every aspect of recording.  The finished audio is sold via Audible, Amazon and iTunes.  As of March 2012, we have about 45 titles in production and about 10 released titles.

10.  How much say does an author have in selecting the audio reader? 

See above.  We send auditions to the authors and let them choose.

11.  What designates a title being published in hardback or large print?

We're always "working" the titles, selling into foreign translation or large print.  There is no pass/fail for whether a title gets the full court press.  We want to create as large a footprint as possible for our titles.  So we go after these types of "subrights" sales for every book.  However, in the case of an exceptionally long book, its chances at a large print deal are diminished due to the cost of producing that in large print.

12.  Do you accept submissions for short stories and anthologies?

These are invitation only, but we occasionally do short story collections.  We have one coming out in May 2012--SWEETER THAN TEA.  Some of the authors were from the open call.

13.   You have published several children's books.  Are you still acquiring?

Children's picture books and middle grade are specialized markets.  We are no longer acquiring in those categories unless we're continuing an existing series such as Bill Allen's "How To" fantasy series or Maureen Hardegree's "Haint" series.

14.  What trends do you see in publishing?  

Deborah Smith:  Continuing growth of ebooks and continuing decline of paperbacks.

Debra Dixon:  That's the big story--the rise of ebooks and the change in how readers find books.

16.  On a more personal note, what is your favorite thing to do in your spare time?

Deborah Smith:  Knitting.  Deb Dixon got me hooked last year at a conference.  Now, I'm rabid about it.

Debra Dixon:  I adore knitting and usually have a couple of projects going.  One project is always a pair of socks which is small and great for travel.  There's a waiting list for socks.  But the one thing that I must do regularly for my sanity is quilt.  I'm a rabid quilter.

17.  What is your favorite genre/type of book to read?  (Personal question, not publishing)

Debra Dixon:  Both DebS and I are very eclectic readers.  I tend to like a longer book that I can sink into versus a short breezy book.  Although it all depends on mood!

18.  Name three things you cannot live without.

Deborah Smith:  Husband Hank, our critters (two dogs, six cats, numerous goldfish) and Deb Dixon.  Seriously, we've informally adopted each other.

Deb Dixon:  She's taken my answer!  I'm very attached to my husband and son and Deb Smith.

19.  Since you are both writers, what advice can you give, one writer to another?

Deborah Smith:  Don't do it for the money.  You have to love writing and be happy doing it no matter how it pays off financially.  Publishing is a tough business.  Writers who love the craft and stick with it generally tend to achieve success.  Warning:  Writing is never going to be a get-rich-quick business, despite the "overnight success" stories that titillate writers occasionally.

Debra Dixon:  This is an amazing time to be a writer.  Success is created by "butt in chair."  Get better.  Write more.  Decide what success looks like, and spend the time to understand the business.  Writers have options, but not all options are created equal.  Getting published quickly isn't always the smart move.  Self-publishing isn't for everyone.  Big6 isn't for everyone or every book.  The "mid-major" publishers are different than small, boutique publishers.  Choices mean the author has to do some business planning and soul-searching about how to pursue this dream.

Thank you ladies for the great answers and advice.  Looking forward to meeting you both in October at the 2012 Fiction Writers' BootCamp.

If you are interested in reading more about BelleBooks and Bell Bridge Books, please click on the following link to visit the website.  www.bellebooks.com

If you are interested in meeting these awesome ladies, they will be the guest speakers and the editors for ACRA's 2012 Fiction Writers' Bootcamp.  This years' theme - "Mardi Gras on the Beach" held in St. Augustine, Florida, October 5 & 6, 2012.  Yes, it's Mardi Gras in October.   Please click on the Ancient City Romance Authors' website link for more information.   ACRARWA.COM

Don't miss this awesome opportunity to meet two of the founding members of BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books.


  1. My debut romance novel, No Foolin', will be released by Bell Bridge Books in November. I love the Debs! (DD and DS as we call them) and I can't wait to see what they're able to do for my book. Some of the authors have create an author loop, and everyone is just crazy happy to be publishing with them.

    1. I've heard such wonderful things about them from some of their authors. Thanks for leaving a comment.

    2. You know we pay advances and royalties, so we're "technically" paying our authors to say lovely things. LOL!


  2. Great interview. What's missing here is the Belle Book/Bell Bridge Book author's viewpoint of these two women. As a BBB author, I've seen first-hand how hard the Debs work. Their long-tail marketing efforts pushed my first book, How to Slay a Dragon to #1 in children's fiction seven months after publication. While this is my first deal with a traditional publisher, many of the BB/BBB authors have published with several, and their one universal opinion: the Debs are the most author-friendly people in the business.

    1. Thanks for adding some info on the author's view point. I love it!

  3. The Debs are amazing! I can't imagine the hours they work and see why they want more in the day. :) My first book was released March 2011 and I have another coming out June of this year. BBB has made my publishing journey a great one.
    And Lisa--I love the author loop!
    Vickie--thanks for the interview.

  4. Lindi, What an awesome comment about your publishers. Sounds like they go above and beyond.

  5. This is a super interview. I am looking forward and so excited about this year's ACRA Mardi Gras conference in St Augustine. I've been hearing and reading so much about these ladies, and of course Debra Dixon's GMC is always close at hand. I cant wait to meet the Debs in person!

    1. I have had my GMC since 1997. I wrote the daet inside the cover. This book is timeless. In fact, check out the "Off the Wall" section of my blog, you'll see it's one of the technical books I can't live without.

  6. I've known, loved, read and respected the Debs for ages and ages. Granted, their ages are less than mine, but we've all been writers forever. I was really lucky to get the rights back to seven of my best books. Lucky I got them when I did because now that publishers are able to keep book in print by putting them into digital format, it's becoming more difficult to do that. But with those seven in hand I did a lot of research, gave a lot of thought to finding the best way to give the books new life. I'm thrilled to have placed them all in the book-loving hands of the Debs to be published by Bell Bridge Books.

    THE LAST GOOD MAN is first up, and the kind of attention the Debs and their staff have paid to its publication is absolutely unprecedented for me. The book (previously hardcover and mass market paperback) will be available in all new formats--digital, audio and trade. I've been consulted every step of the way, but it's the Debs who made it all work so beautifully.

    But I didn't realize they were both rabid. No matter. I'm not scared. We'll just do shots.

    1. Kathleen, Congratulations on the new life for those 7 books. Thanks for leaving a comment. I've heard great things about the Debs.

  7. I'm in awe of the Debs, and very grateful to be a part of the Bell Bridge stable. Just a nice place to be in my writing career. I could not be happier with my book and the publishing process with BB. Good interview. Knitting - I never would've guessed.

    C. Hope Clark
    Lowcountry Bribe: A Carolina Slade Mystery, Feb 2012
    Bell Bridge Books

    1. Hope, Seems like all the authors love being published with BB and working with the Debs. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  8. Love love love this and I make no secret I love me some Debs & BB!

    Going to share this interview!

  9. Kathryn,

    Hmm. I think I've heard this before about the Debs & BB. LOL. Thanks for sharing the interview. They will be our speakers for our 2012 Fiction Writers' Bootcamp held in October. We're excited.