...Interview Sunny Frazier, Acquisition Editor for Oak Tree Press
I’ve written before about how I got a publishing contract, and one of the things I wrote about was how refreshing it was to talk to independent publishers. One of the most refreshing (refreshing? okay, we’ll go with that) editors I spoke with was Sunny Frazier, the acquisition editor for the well-regarded Oak Tree Press. Sunny was super friendly and incredibly savvy, two traits a writer is lucky to find in publishing. In addition, she’s written two mystery novels, so she understands both sides of the business. Before publishing, Sunny worked in a Sheriff’s Department for seventeen years, and both of her novels are loosely based on cases she worked on during that time. If you have a novel to sell and you’re interested in the independent publishing route, I definitely recommend reading this interview, and maybe taking a picture of your cat (not a euphemism).
Given the changing publishing landscape, what path would you recommend a writer take with his or her first unpublished manuscript? The traditional route (query an agent, etc.) or a different one?
I don't see the agent system having much value anymore. In fact, some agents are developing their own publishing houses to get clients published. They don't seem to have much pull with Big Publishing, and independent houses like to deal directly with authors. Contracts are standard, so there's no negotiating. Authors have incredible control of their careers now with the advent of Kindle publishing and Create Space. Self-publishing is no longer looked down on. So, why would an author choose to split profits with an agent who has done something anyone can do themselves? I often recommend new writers get SOMETHING out there to start promotion. Many publishers don't have a problem bringing previously self-pubbed manuscripts under their imprint. Get your feet wet. Plus, some manuscripts do better as e-books: novellas, short story collections, memoirs, experimental prose, poetry, and the avant-garde. Print publishers often find those works risky and difficult to cover the cost.
Is there a marketing approach (Facebook, Twitter, e-mail alerts, blogging, etc.) that you've found to be most successful? Or, conversely, not as effective as its reputation?
I don't tweet, I only guest blog and I refuse to follow the herd when it comes to marketing. What I find works for me is to give readers and writers what they really want: information and publicity. Instead of talking about my books, I showcase other Oak Tree Press authors with the Friday Round-Up. Every week I list everything they've done in marketing. What I'm doing is giving out promotional info to savvy authors on sites they can utilize for their own promotion. Readers become familiar with book titles and the genres we publish. I also have the Posse, a marketing group I created to teach people how to promote. I glean sites and info that will further their career path so they don't have to navigate the maze of information. It also builds a strong internal support system for newbies. I do have a massive fan base where I post URL's to my guest blogs and interviews and I drive traffic to the sites where I appear. My theory is that if I'm generous with my time and information, people will return the favor by buying my books. So far, it's working.
(Ed. Note: You can subscribe to the Friday Round-Up, or find it on the Oak Tree Press blog.)
Is there a common mistake writers make when querying Oak Tree Press?
I can tell if someone is just doing multiple queries and not checked out Oak Tree. What I'm hoping for are writers who have read our guidelines, looked over our titles, followed our blog, gotten a sense of who we are and what we publish. It would even be wise to order a book to see the quality of the product. Do your homework! The query that really gets my attention is from the author who has taken the time to investigate my website and picked up bits of info. If a military or law enforcement vet has written a book, that person would grab my interest by mentioning the fact. This is a people business where personality and friendliness can sway me. If you figure out I'm a cat lover, mention your pet (send me a photo). You'll stand out and I will invest more time and interest in you.
What are your thoughts on "publishing house loyalty?" If a writer has success with a book published through a small publisher and is consequently courted by one of Big Six, do you think he or she should jump at the opportunity?
This is a tough one. No publishing house wants to feel like a stepping stone because we're trying to build our own reputation with a good stable of authors. We are incredibly loyal and it's nice to think loyalty will be returned. We've had authors buy back the rights to their books, and that helps cover the cost of what we invested in their careers. However, in my experience, authors are often convinced their work is too good for a small publishing house by people who don't really know the industry. When they make their move, they often end up with no publisher at all. In the case of Oak Tree, we find authors are leaving their publishers to sign with us. We must be doing something right!
You've worked on both sides of the fence, as a published writer and acquisitions editor for a publisher. What should writers know about the business side of publishing?
First, that sometimes our rejections have nothing to do with the quality of the manuscript. An independent publishing house is limited to how many titles we can put out a year. Second, we have to produce novels in the genres we are strongest with in our marketing. Third, while we love discovering new authors, we do need them to have a grasp on the industry they are entering. Fourth, we operate in the red on each book until enough sales are done to cover the initial production cost. Authors begin making profit before we do. And finally, we can't make this work without authors making every effort to sell their book along with us.
You've written two mysteries based on your experiences in the Fresno Sheriff Department. Is there a third book on the way?
I'm diligently working on the third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery. I've put my own work aside to build up Oak Tree and get others into publications, but my New Year's resolution is to try and put myself first. My fans are getting impatient to see more of Christy's adventures.
A SNITCH IN TIME is not based on a real case like the other two, FOOLS RUSH IN and WHERE ANGELS FEAR. But, the setting is a foothill town in the Sierras that we patrolled. The "snitch" in the title is based on an informant who would only confide in me, not the detectives. That ruffled a few feathers. The deputies are patterned after men I worked with. Names are changed to protect the obnoxious.
(Ed. Note: Ha!)
I try to explore a different aspect of astrology in every book, some way Christy finds to use casting horoscopes to her advantage. In this book, she attempts to use the practice as a profiling tool. I wasn't sure I could pull it off, but amazingly enough, my calculations worked. I'm sure astrologers will come after me for this one!
Is there a genre you're interested in writing that you haven't yet?
Actually, I have a middle grade book I researched and wrote 30 years ago, just out of college. When I was a kid, I was always interested in where food originated, so that's what I wrote about. I took real history and historical figures and combined the facts with fiction. The book introduces Prince Henry the Navigator and covers the voyage Vasco de Gama made to India for spices. I'm going to pitch it as "Pirates of the Caribbean meets The Food Channel." When I originally tried to sell the book, I was told "Children don't want to read about pirates, they want to read about space travel." Tell that to Johnny Depp.
Thanks, Sunny! As I wrote above, and have written before, if you’re interested in publishing your manuscript, check out independent presses like Mitchell Morris, Oak Tree, Rhemalda, etc. They’re leading this new wave of publishing, and the benefits writers receive (more individual attention, creative marketing, etc.) are substantial. Wait, there’s nothing “sub” about it. The benefits are stantial!
Next Week: A Blog Post in Which I Discuss Editing. Doesn’t that sound boring? It won’t be boring.