My first attempt at a book was a proposal for a book on successful team management, submitted with grand hopes to the second largest publisher of business books and text books. The submissions editor was actually very nice to me, thanking me for my query, but rejecting on the basis that they were soon to release a book on that subject. He included a few pointers on what I could do to improve my query letter and named a couple of other publishers I might want to try.
Interpreting the Many Kinds of Publishers
When I submitted a pitch (which included a synopsis of the story and the first twenty pages) of The Wham Curse, to Poisoned Pen Press, the submittal editor was Mr. Monty Montee. He responded that he liked my story line and my story telling, and that he would like me to edit the manuscript for a list of problems he had spotted in my first twenty pages. I took a couple of weeks correcting some grammar and punctuation errors, shortening sentences and paragraphs, and making some changes to page and paragraph formatting. (If I remember correctly, this was the first time I had ever heard of using only a single space after a sentence; which most if not all publishers require.) When that edit was completed I submitted the full manuscript.
Mr. Montee thanked me and said he had a backlog of manuscripts, but thought he could get to mine in about a month. He then explained their process for accepting a manuscript would take months, sometimes up to 18 months before they would accept or reject. When he completed his reading and evaluation, he would either reject it himself, or submit it to three independent professional readers, each of whom would read it and provide him with a critique and a grade based on several standardized criteria. If the average of the three grades were above some point it would be published. In short he was happy with it, and gave it to the readers, one gave me a high grade, one gave me a poor grade, and one gave it about an average grade; but the total was too low for publishing. It took eleven months to get that bad news.
I asked him if there was any way I could get the critiques, so I could rewrite the story to eliminate the problems. He said that they don’t do that, but that he liked the story enough he would remove anything that would reveal the source of the critiques and send them to me. When I had rewritten it, he said to call him and I could resubmit it.
The rewrite took almost a year, and it was very difficult; in fact some of the identified “problems” were listed as a problem by one reader, but a strength by another. An example was that originally the reader knew from the beginning of the story who the murderer was, one reader absolutely hated this and another thought it was fun to know more than the investigators and to see the mistakes they were making. So, on that point I compromised and moved the identity of the murderer to about the middle of the book; now at the halfway point, the cops still didn’t know but the reader does. Finally I felt that I had taken care of every objection, and attempted to contact Mr. Montee with no response. I finally found out he had died. I didn’t have the heart to go through that long process with a new and possibly unsympathetic editor, so I decided to self-publish.
In the publishing world the general spectrum of publishers goes something like this:
1. Printers, who will print whatever you want and give the finished product to you for their fee, they claim no publication rights and give no services other the printing what you have provided to them. Think of something like a Kinkos or Staples.
2. Vanity press, which is really a printer who will help for a fee with some editing and cover work, but are paid for the book with no claim to royalties and who do little or no marketing of the book. The largest vanity press until it was put out of business by a class action filed on behalf of authors was Vantage. The promised printing and promotion, but took the money and printed; the large fraud judgment in favor of the plaintiffs put Vantage out of business in 2012. Things like this give the industry a bad image, but there are many honest businesses that make it clear what their product and service is. Two things mama told you: “If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably not true”; and, “Make sure it’s worthwhile before you pay any money.”
3. Self-publishers, who can provide the full services of designing, editing, marketing, and delivery for additional fees, but who charge you up front for printing, and still make something off the sale of each book. It’s important that the publisher makes money from the sales, so they have an incentive to promote and market. My self-publisher was Outskirts Press.
4. Small independent traditional publishers who actually contract with you for the publishing rights of the book, and publish it at their expense. To some extent they provide all the services of the big publishing houses also at their expense, including editing, design, marketing, distribution, advertising, and promoting. They pay the author a royalty on each book sold, and generally partner with them to promote the book. They usually do not pay cash for publishing rights or make an advance to the author based on future royalties. Oak Tree Press is in this category.
5. The large publishing houses have in-house staff who handles every aspect of publishing and releasing your book. They provide all the same services as the small presses; usually to a greater degree. They often pay their authors cash for rights or advances on royalties, royalties on books sold, and possibly all three. They also are more closely connected to the large scale distributors and retailers and offer an extreme advantage in sales promotion and national and international advertising.
Of these, many people have worked with printers or vanity presses to publish such things as baby books, wedding books, family histories, company histories, hand-books, instruction manuals, or repair manuals. They will print whatever you want printed, sometimes with a little advice to make it better, as long as you pay for it.
My experience with self-publishing through Outskirts Press with The Wham Curse was actually very good. The people were proficient at their jobs and were pleasant to work with. You can publish for very little if you reject most of the services offered or you could pay several thousand dollars if you decide to go for the premium services, promotion, and extras that they offer. I opted for the premium package and a few of the extra services, such as getting Kindle and Nook additions in addition to the standard Print and PDF e-books, and some additional advertising. I spent about 3000 dollars and feel like I got my money’s worth. It went to press very quickly with high quality printing, cover, paper, and binding. And at that time, I really could not have gone through another six months to get approval for a traditional press. The one thing I wish I had done is spend more with them for additional editing; but I was very happy with the finished product.
In the three or so months since I first queried Oak Tree Press with Saints & Sinners, they have been a joy to work with. Again the personnel are knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful. They are also patient, putting up with my lack of understanding the jargon of the business, and providing detailed explanations and encouragement. Of course the fact that I don’t have to come up with money to print the book is a huge plus. They pay an industry standard royalty, so I will make about the same per book as I do with Wham. They directly approach distributors and sellers to stock your book, and they will sell the books at a good discount to an author who wants to directly sell books themselves. They have a promotions department that works to get your book out in front of buyers; this is a must for a traditional publisher, since they must sell books to even get back the cost of printing. I won’t see my finished product until around May, so do not have first-hand knowledge of the quality, but I have examined other books they publish, and they were a very good product. While Oak Tree warns that going to press can take a long time, from the time we signed a contract to publication is only going to take about three months.
One last item on quirks of publishing: I submitted to multiple publishers the same week I did to Oak Tree. Two of them never acknowledge my query. Jolly Fish, publisher of Jennifer Griffith’s Big in Japan politely declined to review my manuscript with the explanation that it didn’t fit well in their type of book. Disappointing, yes, but one out of four was excellent considering that my record had been about one out of one-hundred-fifty. And I couldn’t be happier than I am with Oak Tree.