I was recently interviewed by an aspiring college student studying publishing. I hope my answers didn't derail her career choice! Anyway, here's the interview...
How did you get into the publishing business? Where did you study?
My background is actually in graphic design—I received my Bachelor’s Degree from Rhode Island School of Design in 1990 and for many years I designed books and marketing materials for authors and motivational speakers. When one of my design clients came to me, saddened by her failed attempts to find a publisher and asked if I could publish her book, I began to research the industry. I was looking for the missing pieces from having a beautiful book in my hands, which I knew how to do, to having a book in bookstores. By the end of 1998 I had officially launched Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, and by then there was a bigger reason than helping my clients. I wanted to move from being a graphic designer to building my own brand, which I named after my kids (my then 15-month-old son and 6-week-old daughter). I learned about Bowker registrations, distribution, publicity, and what it really means to be in a bookstore, including overcoming major naïveté about "returns" (a term I thought applied to a bad customer experience). Over the last 16 years I continue to be a student of this ever-changing industry, trying to keep up with digital book technology and the incredible new publicity opportunities of social media.
How many submissions (on average) do you receive every week?
We receive 5-10 submission a week from all around the world, both agent-represented and direct from writers. We prefer submissions by email, about 2% will still mail us a big bulky package including the entire printed manuscript, which is the first red flag. The first interaction needs to be a pitch, which includes a book proposal with sample chapters and an offer to send the complete manuscript only if the publisher responds with interest.
On average how long does the publishing process take?
The schedule is actually based on the marketing plan—we set a “publication date” into the future to give us enough time for the editing process, to print advance review copies, to get endorsements, to pitch print magazines (which require 6 months lead-time), and for industry reviewers (who need a minimum of 4 months lead-time). And, we want to choose a good time of year, when the author and the book have the best chance of getting noticed.
What do you look for in the submissions you receive to be published?
It’s first about the author—how big have they built their platform? In simplest terms—when I google their name, do I find an author website? Do I see articles they’ve written in numerous venues? Do I see active social media pertinent to the author’s topic? Do I see the author’s consistent efforts to interact with his or her audience? Second it is about the manuscript—has it been peer-reviewed? Has it already been copy-edited and proofread? If it is non-fiction, has it been properly researched and accurate? Or, if it is fiction, does the writer have a dozen or more reader reviews? Or, maybe a professional pre-publication review from Kirkus (https://www.kirkusreviews.com/author-services/indie/). Third is about the book proposal—does it include a concrete marketing and publicity plan? This includes which venues the writer plans to pitch (what magazine, newspapers, news shows, talkshows, blogs, etc.), who the contact is that they will try, and what they will pitch (sometimes they will propose a book review, others it would be an interview including sample questions, others might be an excerpt) and when (based on lead-times of the venues and relevance/timeliness of the topic).
What distinguishes a manuscript that is decided to be published compared to ones that are not chosen to be published?
As mentioned in the last answer—the author’s platform, a marketing plan, and reviews of the manuscript—set apart those we will consider.
What does the current market for books/literature look like?
Here’s my view on “market”—it’s not about them (a mainstream audience), it’s about the author. I have always seen a book as a product created by an entrepreneur or writer in order to either further their career, or leave a life legacy, or the completion of a creative goal. Once you are a published author, you can use this as leverage—be it social or financial or for advancement on some level. I try to instill in my authors the perspective that it’s not about the book, but what they can use the book to accomplish in their lives. Becoming a best-selling author may happen, but it will only happen if an author is hyper-actively promoting themselves and this, in and of itself, can lead to opportunities for the author they may have never before imagined—from paid speaking invitations to employment offers to paid travel.
In the current market, are E-books or hard-copy books more popular? How did this change over time?
We sell equal amounts of ebooks and paperback at this point. Converting backlisted, older books into ebooks has been a great new stream of revenue. We’ve watched the ebook market grow from only the few ultra-geeks having e-readers seven years ago to almost 90% of people having some way to easily read an ebook. The immediacy of downloading the ebook as soon as you hear about it is a big draw for avid readers and researchers. We also make more money on ebooks than printed books when all of the hardcosts are calculated.
Do you offer any programs for young authors?
Yes, we have worked with many young authors—from children writing and illustrating children’s books to a college graduate who wrote a World War 2 novel from the perspective of her uncle, a fighter pilot. She is now doing speaking tours all across United States to veterans and WW2 organizations, and her book has been adopted in college courses including presentations she makes to students.
How do you find new talent in the writing industry?
Writers find Wyatt-MacKenzie through our authors, agents, consulting clients, media we receive, and awards we win. I don’t actively seek out new talent as much as individuals might be referred to us by someone who has worked with us, and most importantly in this industry, trusts us.
What is the biggest mistake you see writers tend to make in their submissions?
When writers send a manuscript and that is all. Our acquisitions editor will not even receive the manuscript from me until I have reviewed a marketing plan and seen, hopefully in the cover letter, a collection of links to work the writer has done online: their blog, social media links, and any other efforts which show me they have they ability to generate publicity and sell books.
What should one do/not do to have greater chances of getting published?
Technology has amped up the requirements of writers, but it also gives them a no-cost tool—it only takes energy and talent to build an online presence—to show me that they are already posting their writing for others to read, that they are brave enough to get out there and write reviews of other books, to comment on articles that apply to their passion, to leave a footprint of well-written, snappy, relevant and interest-worthy, comment-getting writing. Writers who believe that this type of interaction and subtle self-branding comes after the book have the least chance of getting published.
What really happens after a manuscript is chosen to be published (Are there contracts involved? Are a certain amount of books printed and shipped to warehouses? etc.)
Before I offer a contract I will have a long conversation with a writer about his or her expectations and share our expectations. We discuss their marketing plan, and I listen to their savviness in talking about the book and the market. I admit, I also look for chemistry between myself and the writer—publishing is a like a love relationship, you are in partnership with this person through a roller coaster journey of highs and lows. This is why we start with getting expectations in check. Then there is a 13-page contract, and often a discussion about sharing the rights, and what that means. I explain to writers that we are in this together and that from the moment they sign we share rights 50/50. If Paramount Pictures calls me and wants to buy the movie rights of a book, we share the rights deal equally, or if we sell rights to other countries, we share that equally as well.
Once the contract is signed, and the schedule is set, we then send the book through editing. The writer will work directly with the editor to get the manuscript ready to publish. During editing we will design the book cover, and then the book goes through layout and we print advance review copies. The author has the responsibility of pitching and sending out advance copies to collect endorsements, reviews, and media.
Then about 2 months before the “official publication date” we send the final version of the book (with the endorsements on the back cover) to the printer. Since we evolved to international print-in-demand distribution in 2007, there is no need for a large print run, the book is ready when ordered by bookstores around the world and every online bookseller. At this time we also upload ebook conversions for Kindle, Nook and iBooks.
During the publication month the author will hopefully be doing local publicity in her hometown newspaper and appearing on her local TV news, along with national appearances in major magazines and even national TV talkshows. From before the release date to years after, the author will be pitching the book to outlets reaching the market. This is why being a part of the community of your book long before getting a publishing deal is important—knowing the blogs, websites, facebook pages, youtube channels, magazines, reporters, producers and those who are reaching audiences that will love you and want your book.
What percentage of profits does your publishing company make from the manuscripts you decide to publish? Does it vary?
We pay our traditional authors a royalty of 7.5% of retail price. If a book sells for $14.00, an author would be paid $1.05. Distributor gets a wholesale discount of 55%, so they pay $6.30 for the book. It costs approximately $4.20 to print the book, so the profit from the retail sale is actually $2.10. This means the author and the publisher are sharing the profit equally from each sale! The publisher has paid for editing, proofreading, cover art, photography, printing advance review copies, shipping, final production plus publicity copies and efforts—this could total anywhere between $3000 and $6000. Publishers hope that a combination of retail sales, and sharing rights sales 50/50, will help recoup their investment. A foreign rights sale could range from $500 to $5000 plus 5% to 15% royalties over 5 to 7 years. A movie deal could start at $50,000 for an "Option" with the hope to sell the package for anywhere from $500,000 to $5 million!
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
You have the power to manifest your own publishing legacy—whether you work with a large publisher or you decide to go it alone and create your own self-publishing brand—the opportunity today to take your writing, polish it, package it, and distribute it to an internet audience is endless. By focusing your efforts on building an online platform (public facebook page, twitter page, youtube channel, blog/website) filled with relevant ideas on current trends and news, interesting comments you've written, plus your media-savvy personality, all in a professional manner—you can attract an audience, provide them with a product, an experience or a service, and eventually make money, or make yourself known (and then make money in some unexpected way).