A Look Inside Publishing with LionHearted Publishing, Inc.

Editor’s Note: The Fiction Forum does not endorse any of the publishers interviewed for the site. Please research any publisher thoroughly before signing a contract. If you are an author who has been published by LionHearted Publishing and you would like to share your experiences, please email You should be prepared to share contact information, name, book title, and consent to be quoted. –July 14, 2003

Interview with Mary Ann Heathman,
CEO and President of LionHearted Publishing, Inc.
Conducted by Dawn Seewer, September 2002

How did LionHearted Publishing, Inc. get started?

In 1994 we, my husband and I, wanted to start a company that would:

1) empower creative individuals, mostly women-authors, artists, editors-who bring such fun and joyful stories to readers,

2) produce uplifting content for the planet-content that gives positive role modeling examples of relationships going through tough challenges but always finding a happy ending,

3) manufacture a product in an environmentally responsible manner by doing smaller print runs plus electronic publishing of all of our titles, opposed to the current publishing industry stats of destroying 57% of all paperbacks unsold and 35% of all hardbacks-dumping them in our oceans and landfills-unnecessary, and poor planning of trees as a resource!

4) leave our titles “in print” to give authors a longer period of time in which to increase their earning potential-currently new talent in the publishing industry has approximately eight days of book store shelf exposure before the title is “stripped” and replaced with the next weeks batch of incoming books. However, top-name authors seem to be exempt from this process. Unfortunately, avid readers have already read all of these top author’s old titles and eagerly seek something fresh and new. Despite the fact that new authors are rarely given a chance in the publishing world, we felt there was enough talented new authors that could run rings around some of the established names in the industry and we hoped readers would appreciate knowing about these new authors and their wonderful books. Thus we have successfully branded LionHearted’s books as always being a good entertaining and romantic read, no matter the author. Our readers now trust us to produce top quality, entertaining, compelling, page-turning romantic fiction-and we do!

Where did the name “LionHearted Publishing” come from?

Divine Inspiration…actually, an Angelic “command” would be more accurate.

Tell me a little bit about your staff. Who’s behind LionHearted?

LionHearted is located in Lake Tahoe, Nevada and was founded in January of 1994 by Mary Ann Heathman, who serves as President and CEO. Kim Heathman, the co-founder, serves as Chief Financial and Operations Officer. We have a wonderful staff of editors, preview readers, independent artists, and computer geeks, who all work as independent contractors. We love the creative empowerment used by many of the leaders in the computer industry-a philosophy of letting people work the hours they want, they days they want, as long as the work gets done! So, if we were about empowering authors to be creative, we felt we also needed to empower our own editorial, artistic and management staff.

What type of publisher could LionHearted be categorized as?

We are a bit hard to categorize in the industry, but then so was Miramax in the film industry, and look at them now. We are a paperback publisher of romance novels. We print in the traditional paperback size and price range of all the NYC major romance publishers, i.e. mass-market sizes with mass market prices, not trade size book prices. But, we also publish ALL of our titles in ebook format. I guess, like Miramax, we are a “mini-major.”

What criteria do you use to determine whether a manuscript should be accepted?

We have an industry-wide reputation for being very picky, very tough, yet very author friendly and gentle on new talent. If an author gets past the initial submission gauntlet, and is invited by an editor to submit a full manuscript, our independent editors will do an 11 page + editor notes evaluation on the work, giving the good, the bad, and the fixable to the author. This is an optional evaluation that authors can pay the editor for and get a copy of at any time. The last six authors whose works and been back and forth for close to two years we felt were still not “ready for prime time.” Our editors were worn out, and I’m sure the authors were banging their heads against the wall. They all finally ordered the editors notes, followed the editor’s recommendations, saw the work through the editors eyes and due to precise scores the editors gave on 55 different areas of the work, plus the editor’s notes-the next time the manuscripts came back in, we loved all six of them! All six are now under contract. One title is already released. Our evaluations work, and writer’s continually sing their praises!

How much of your personal tastes, like and dislikes plays into your acceptance criteria?

Quite a bit. I’m a story doctor, screenwriter and come from a background in the broadcasting/TV entertainment industry working for top creative talent. Besides all that, publishing and editing is very subjective and different editorial visions exist in all publishing houses…and changes a bit as editors come and go. I would strongly recommend that any submitting author read a handful of our titles closest to the type of sub-genre of romance in which they have written. Read before submitting, and I believe a bit of our “something more, something a bit different, but still a romance” will become more clearly defined in an author’s mind. It is pretty illusive to pin down, but it does show in our books!

Acquisition screening in any publishing house is like going to a museum of modern art with your best friend of 20 years. You can both stand in front of a painting with two very different degrees of appreciation, or lack thereof. This is normally why a smart author will follow an editor when they change houses as soon as the opportunity comes up to switch. If an author has an editor who loves their work, helps them make it better, the author is normally career savvy to stick close to that editor because other editors may never be so in tune with that particular author’s style and voice.

Are there are specific storylines or genres that lend themselves well to the LionHearted line of romance titles?

The romance relationship conflict must be the majority focus of the book. We reject most often because the author has gone too mainstream fiction and left the romance relationship behind. Mainstream story elements are not acceptable or fun for romance readers-too much horror, gore, abuse, drugs, degradation, gratuitous violence, etc. ALL of our books have the romance as the MAIN focus. Our readers never complain that our authors have “sold out to mainstream” with our titles.

The titles we select also have three common main elements.

1) Both internal and external conflict.

2) Characters that are real to the readers.

3) Point of view limited to the hero and heroine. (Yes, we are a stickler on POV.) On our web site we have posted not only our guidelines-which have some NEW submission procedures since Sept. 11, 2001- we have also posted three articles for writers covering conflict, characterization and point of view. Additionally, we give The Top 10 Reasons Editors Reject.

We are open to all sub-genres of romance, blending of sub-genres, etc. With a few personal exceptions- I don’t find romantic stories where the suspense or the mystery becomes the main focus of the book. I really like the romance and the relationship conflict to be the focus . If you think this limits what an author can do, and the number of sub-plots that can be woven in, you have not read any of our books! Go to our web site and download or or order a few paperbacks immediately! I would suggest THE ALLIANCE even if you dislike sci-fi…you will love this one because of the relationship focus and the many sub-plots!

Stephen King said it best-“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the tools to write.” If you haven’t read what we publish, how do you expect to know what our editors like? What I like? We don’t publish category…so don’t read category romance and expect to please our editors. Would you attempt to write a mystery without ever reading one? Would you attempt to write for Harlequin without ever reading handfuls of their books? Then don’t attempt to write for LionHearted without reading some of ours! Let me know in your submission cover letter which of our titles you have read -that way I’ll know if I need to recommend a different title to get across more easily how to handle point-of-view if that is your challenge, or recommend a title that is 500 pages long and shows how every word, every sentence, every scene is absolutely necessary for making the book a compelling page-turning historical. If you are challenged by redundant narrative, or weak dialogue I’ll know what title you should read to bust you out of your rut. Each of our novels and authors have different styles and voices, all with different areas of writing examples can be gleaned from.

Can you walk me through the process that you use to take a manuscript from submission to published title?

OMG…the internal checklist AFTER editing and proofreading is four pages long, single spaced! If authors only knew-and, I guess I’m about to tell them -publishing a book is not like going to Kinko’s! it takes almost the same time doing the preview reading, editing, proofreading, cover artwork and pre-press checklist stuff as it takes the author to write a whole book. The process is very labor intensive behind the scenes, and we really do try to produce a top quality end product in both ebook format and paperback. This is why publishers have pub dates 18-24 months out. If you’re going to do it right and make it look like top quality, it takes time and there are always titles ahead of yours in the process.

See our website for all the steps for Submission-it is quite specific. We seldom take a work without some type of revisions needed to be made by the author. It has happened maybe twice in over two dozen titles. Revisions for an author can take from a week at best, to two weeks to a month at average, to six months due to time constraints. Beyond that, it takes about 8-12 hours for the preview read and evaluation by the editor. It takes 40-60 hours to do an average edit, plus another 20-40 hours to enter the editing changes, plus 8-20 hours for the initial line edit and revision letter to the author. It takes another 10-50 hours for the cover art/design, and about 10-15 hours to proofread a work. It takes about two weeks or 60-80 uninterrupted (which never happens) hours to “flow” the book for pre-press. At any one point in time, the artwork might be almost done on one book, the proofreading being done on a different title, a line edit on another work, and “flowing” being done on one almost ready for press. All the while, the preview reading editors are going through their stacks of “editor requested” manuscripts. Out of every 100 we find about one we become serious about publishing, and maybe another one or two we are willing to work with the author on revisions to see if they can pull them off okay.
LionHearted offers some of the most beautiful cover art in the industry, can you tell us a little bit about how those covers come to life?

Okay, all the covers you consider beautiful I’ll take credit for , all the dorky ones I didn’t do. Seems fair…

The most “dorky” cover we paid a lot of money for…and from that point on we never used those six artists or computer graphic persons again…yes it took SIX artists to make what we consider our worst cover!

The more “wonderful” covers ideas come from some element within the stories themselves. We are not like most large publishing houses who have a stash of covers all done in advance, which they will eventually match up with some book. Only a handful of authors published by major houses have artwork specifically designed for their book. Artwork takes so long! We once waited nine months for an artist to finish a commissioned watercolor! Probably most authors don’t know that large publishers have artwork done in advance of acquiring titles because most of the larger houses do a pretty good job of matching their artwork with their books. However, we’ve all see the exceptions…wrong color hair on the hero, three arms on the heroine-yes, it’s true, and the heroine wasn’t even an alien life form.

I personally read and do the initial line edit on each work we have accepted. My staff and I have accepted that I’m the best at adapting to the author’s voice when in comes to making something smoother, etc. I don’t like to be the final editor or proofreader anyway-my experience of reading probably close to 10,000 romance novels in the past 10 years, along with all the editing and workshops I teach has helped me hone my “story doctor” nose for pulling together all the elements. I also personally send revision letters to our authors. Because I do this read/line edit, and because I was an art major in college, I normally have one or two images come to me as I read which I believe might portray the feeling of the book to the reading customer. I normally discuss the ideas with the author. However, most authors don’t have a clue what to do for cover art and leave covers totally in our hands. We have found that some ideas are easier than others to bring to life, while some we have to commission an artist to do (with precise directions) on exactly what we want, and how it should all be spaced to allow for the fonts, etc. Other times we have lucked out and been able to incorporate some of our vast collection of over 20,000+ royalty free images we own. We have also been blessed with two great male cover models (Cherif Fortin and George Haber) who love our company, our philosophy, our books and give us great, innovative and unique cover hero photos. Cherif is on ORACLE and ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? and George is on OUTRAGEOUS, CHARADES, FAMILY PORTRAIT and FOREVER, MY KNIGHT.

What type of marketing campaigns does LionHearted implement to ensure continued sales and growth for both the company and its authors?

A lot is done on the internet for marketing as well as promotion….we have found it most effective. Review sites are great for driving traffic-and all of our books get great reviews! Additionally, we have an established customer list that we email or snail mail periodically. We also run, or sometimes two or three of our authors will team up and run, promotional ads in Romantic Times Magazine or other trade publications. We encourage and support author signings, conferences, workshops, etc. We also make available top quality post cards of the covers to authors at a great rate for their own mailings, workshops, etc. We normally double the print run of the cards and use them to stuff in all books going out to retail and wholesale customers. Additionally, our authors seem to get great local press coverage-probably because for most of our authors we are publishing their first book! Gael Morrison, LOVERS NEVER LIE, just got a full page with photo publicity for her book signing as her books routinely became the #1 bestseller in her region of Canada. She routinely beats out King, Clancy, Nora Roberts, etc.

Where can you find LionHearted titles for sale?

I would recommend visiting our web site first as it is where our authors can make their highest royalty earnings on both ebooks and paperbacks: Some of our books are available on (they seem slow to post, we’re always pushing them to get titles up), also at Barnes and All of our titles can be special ordered in any B&N store, Borders, or any independent bookstore. We wholesale books to Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and our titles are also listed in Books-In-Print. All titles are available in paperback (mass market size) or as an ebook download.

What do you feel draws your customers in to purchase LionHearted titles?

Word of mouth endorsements from someone who has read one of our books…a customer, a reviewer, etc. We have a wonderful following of repeat customers who want to read every book LionHearted publishes-no matter the author. We can’t publish fast enough for them.
What is the average “shelf life” for titles? How does this differ from those books we find at our local bookstore?

Our titles never go out of print. This gives our authors the opportunity to earn more dollars over a longer period of time.

Who are your leading authors?

We have so many! We have been in business eight years and because the titles don’t go out of print, the “lead” author varies from year to year and with continued press coverage, author signings and such events continue to boost sales.

I guess I would say for paranormal/time-travel it is ORACLE by Katherine Greyle which won two PRISM Awards, two Holt Medallion Awards and was a RITA finalist. For Romantic Suspense it is LOVERS NEVER LIE by Gael Morrison which is the #1 bestseller in her hometown. For shorter length Regency it is Susanne Marie Knight with THE MAGIC TOKEN and LORD DARVER’S MATCH. For contemporary romance it would be ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? by Ronda Thompson, Finalist for National Reader’s Choice Award, and P.S. I’VE TAKEN A LOVER by Patricia Lucas White Winner of National Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Book of the Year, and UNDERCOVER LOVE by Lucy Grijalva, Winner of’s award for Category Fiction…three years after its initial release! For Historical Romance it would be FOREVER, MY KNIGHT by Lee Ann Dansby (the most “kept me up all night” book) nominated by Affaire de Coeur for Best Historical of the Year, and UNBRIDLED by Delores Fossen (the “sexiest hero I want to take home” book) Winner of Best Book by Scribes World. The list could go on…our titles receive rave reviews and have earned a tremendous number of awards-see each individual book’s web page at our site for full honors

In you opinion, what typically draws a writer to submit to a smaller publisher such as LionHearted?

The statistics of a new talented author getting picked up by a major publisher is 1 in 3,000. However, once an author has been picked up by LionHearted an author can get the attention of other publishing house editors. Major houses have learned over the past eight years that we only pick top quality books, whereas many other ebook publishers or small presses accept about 97% of what is submitted to them, LionHearted accepts about 1%. I also get a number of authors who tell me in their cover letters that they have never submitted to anyone else because they liked our philosophy, loved some of our books, and they felt we were more author friendly than the larger publishers.
Would you say that there is any difference in the quality between electronically books and print books? If so, what would those differences be?

Not in our titles. We publish all of our titles in both formats. Our ebooks open and look just like a paperback novel held in your hand-we established this visual quality appearance from our first venture into ebooks back in 1998-four years after producing only paperback novels. We were a paperback novel publisher first, who ventured into ebooks as one of the early pioneers…not the other way around. Most ebook publishers went into electronic books first, and a number don’t want to go into print-on-demand. We don’t do POD, but do actual print runs. Regarding quality, I believe that many ebook publishers in their eagerness to be bigger faster and to be all things to all people, took too many books and thus were not as discriminating and consistent as they could have been about the quality. I believe this is still true for some ebook publishers. It creates for a lot of mediocre reads. Many ebook publishers only put the manuscript through spell check and grammar check and then transfer it into the ebook formats. That is not editing, nor does it serve the author in the best light. I believe this attitude of “posting” rather than “publishing” was what led to the rapid rise and fall of about 48 ebook publishers in the past four years. The reading public did not support quantity over quality. Unfortunately, for a number of authors I think many likely wrote a pretty good book, but maybe it could have been a great book with a little more effort and polish and interaction from editors. I feel that LionHearted consistently has put out quality romance novels, and thus our customers have developed a trust in our editorial vision to pick and produce only the best of the best.

Unfortunately many smaller publishers fold within the first few years. What is LionHearted doing to ensure a home for itís titles and authors for many years to come?

How sad, but true. I believe we have seen about four dozen publishers come and go in just the past four years. Most were ebook publishers who didn’t realize all the work it takes behind the scenes and were eager to take author monies and post just about anything. A couple of publishers, Commonwealth Publishing out of Canada and Northwest out of Salt Lake, both highly touted among the romance writer’s association members as being good places to get published, and even were written about and advertised in such private member publications, ended up taking romance authors for a financial ride of we estimate close to $9 million combined for their semi-vanity contracts that produced little to few titles.

LionHearted is still here. We are not, nor have we ever been a vanity press. We are a royalty paying, advance paying, publisher of romantic fiction. From day one of LionHearted back in 1994, we knew we would eventually take some of the stories to film so that the message of positive role modeling in romantic relationships could get out to a broader audience than could be reached with just books. So, in 1998 we formed a sister company, LionHearted Entertainment, Inc. to develop some of our novels for film. This will produce further revenues for our authors, allow for increased publicity, advantages and longevity to all of our current and future authors.

Is there any other news you wish to share about LionHearted?

LionHearted Entertainment will produce motion pictures that are entertaining, thought provoking, and enlightening. Pictures that tell great stories and challenge and uplift the human spirit. Our aim is to be a leader in the motion picture production and return maximum profits to our growing number of like-minded investors. Accordingly, we will produce only pictures that contain the ad campaign elements necessary to ensure a strong box office. We will not create motion pictures that glorify violence, are saturated with gratuitous sex, riddled with obscenities or otherwise degrade humanity. Instead, we choose to produce and distribute pictures that inspire the mind, elevate the spirit and contribute positively to the growth of our society.

This is not to say that we will produce only family films. We understand that there are times when the portrayal of reality may result in a PG-13 or an R rating. We realize that, in the proper context, there is a time and place to deal with difficult issues. This is to say that we understand the potential impact that every scene may have on individuals, society and culture. We will approach all of our productions with the responsibility and awareness of the consequences of our decisions. We have an abiding interest in values and morals-which is why we deliberately chose romance novels as our story line and content focus. We believe that romantic novels are probably the last bastion of moral literature on the planet. Think about it. The hero and the heroine don’t fool around with other partners once they have met, they develop trust and faith in their partner, and despite their conflicts end up in love by the end of the story!

We believe that motion pictures have a powerful effect on our culture and society and, in collaboration with the television media, have completely redefined our culture over the past last half-century. We acknowledge and accept responsibility for the way our films will shape, define and inform the culture. The movies we create, like the books we publish, will become our legacy. We will strive to produce a legacy that will endure the test of time.

Thank you very much to Mary Ann for a wonderful interview. Best of luck to you and everyone at LionHearted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *