HOW DO YOU FIND YOUR AUTHORS?
The vast majority of our new titles come from existing authors recommending others to come to us, or from booksellers’ recommendation. We get a lot of the following kind of comments;
There is no other publisher I know (and I’ve been published by half a dozen, from Jonathan Cape to Harper Collins) who works as hard as you do on behalf of your authors. Those of us who’ve been in this ludicrously unprofitable business for years know that its a great way to lose money. Or;
I was a literary agent for 18 years, in trade publishing altogether for nearly 30. I’d like to tell other authors that how O Books operates is honest, truthful. Most publishers bullshit, say they will market your book, but actually only do anything for the top half dozen on their list, for whom they have paid an enormous advance. They do nothing (agents spend their time banging them over the head to do something) then tell the author your book didn’t sell, we wont buy the next. To say you can’t do it is honest, and to invite co-operation from the author, to make the author feel part of the process instead of some outsider who has no right to intervene is great. Or;
I have worked with many of the big publishers - Macmillan, Blackwells, Wiley, HarperCollins, Thorsons and so on, and none of them can touch you for enthusiasm and inspiration.
Which doesn’t mean they’re happy with the sales (who is?), but authors tend to stay with us. These are the positive comments, I guess there must be negative ones out there somewhere, but if you want to search for horror stories about us on the internet feel free; this comment from a recent new author might save you some time;
I do my homework. I’ve scoured the Internet, and I honestly have to tell you that I couldn’t find a single person that had a bad thing to say about you or your publishing house. Most impressive.
WHAT WE’RE LOOKING FOR
We focus on the "mid-list" rather than celebrity mass-market publishing on the one hand or highly academic on the other. We're looking for good popular writing; the new, non-generic, ambitious and risky. We particularly enjoy the books that cross boundaries and push out the envelope, that are in their way unusual or definitive (or both).
Traditionally we've always published a small number of books each year where we really like the text and feel they make a good contribution to the list but they are not "commercial", amounting to a few % of our titles. In 2011 we've changed the way we commission/acquire books. There is an initial screening process. Authors that make it through that are asked to fill in a full Proposal. Each Proposal gets a number of in-house readers' reports, visible to the author. Our readers are experienced, knowledgeable about the market, and often authors themselves. The reports assess both the quality of the book and its "marketability". We only offer to publish if we like the book. Depending on how many we think it could sell, we offer four levels of contract. The royalties are basically the same, but we can do less in terms of marketing investment for level 2 than level 1, for level 3 there's a small cost contribution, and a higher one for level 4. These are explained more fully at the next stage, if you want to submit a proposal. In return, we've pushed up royalties. On ebooks for instance we pay 50%, and authors can choose their retail price. The pattern of contracts we offer follows a bell curve, with occasional "1"s, mostly “2”s, some “3”s and occasional "4"s.
A criterion for getting published with us is being able to use a database, and to be willing to contribute to it. Manuscripts and proofs are exchanged through the database rather than by post or email. Your book will have several pages of its own on our database, with the scheduling and copy visible, you can add to it and amend it, monthly sales figures will be there, and all the marketing on every title is visible for you to see. We add around a thousand new “activities” a month to the database, several hundred new contacts, and send out about a few hundred review copies a month.
It doesn't matter where you live. Around half our new authors are from North America, the others from the UK and most countries where English is a major language.
We only publish titles for which we have at least worldwide English language rights. Our systems are based around all books being available everywhere, for review and for sale.
We do not reply to submissions through the post.
We can not re-issue books that one of the larger publishers has dropped, or a self-published book. Even if the publisher has declared it out of stock there will still be copies around with wholesalers and distributors for years to come, at heavily discounted prices, and bringing out the same book with a different ISBN invariably causes confusion and trouble.
WHAT WE OFFER
* worldwide sales and distribution in English language markets
* competitive royalty rates on printed books (starting at 10% of receipts and moving up to 25% on quantity) with 50% on ebooks and authors choose their price
* high discount levels to authors (starting at 50% and moving up to 70% on quantity)
* access to one of the most extensive publisher marketing databases, and author’s own monthly sales figures
* tracks to follow on similar titles
* response times (like on whether to publish or not) in hours or days rather than weeks or months
We do not work with;
• Phones (we do not have them on the desk)
• Emails (except in limited circumstances)
We do work with;
• Communications through the website
• The Forum
HOW DO I FILL IN THE INQUIRY
Say something about who it's aimed at, how you reckon it's going to sell, what your qualifications for writing it are and attach as much text as you have (upload a PDF of Microsoft Word file). It doesn't matter if it's not finished yet, but we can't respond to questions like "I've got an idea about writing a book, how do I go about it and would you publish it". If it looks to us like a good possibility, we'll usually respond in around 24 hours.
If this business doesn't sound as if it's for you, or if we turn the proposal down, I’m sorry we can’t help by recommending other publishers. We don’t know them. You have a wide choice; there are several hundred serious publishers in the English language world, 70,000 registered with the main databases, and the number who might publish the occasional book runs to a quarter of a million. The simplest way is to trawl the internet for other possibilities. The best sources are Literary Marketplace in North America, www.literarymarketplace.com, and The Writers and Artists Yearbook in the UK, buy online at www.acblack.com. And try the information sheet Getting Published from the Book Trust, www.booktrust.org.uk. There are dozens of other directories, books and online sources. www.bookmarket.com provides a useful summary of “how to get published”-type websites.
WHY WE CAN’T TALK TO YOU
In the good old days you would have lunch with your agent (if you could find one), who would have lunch with an editor, who would be the contact point for the rest of the company, with all queries handled by phone. Which is why editors usually manage a couple of dozen or so authors at a time. It is labor-intensive. But editors are expensive to employ. So the sales expectations have to be high. And when authors don’t make their numbers, the company drops them. (There’s an amusing article on this at On Switching Publishers; http://www.booktrade.info/i.php/27930).
Quite simply, we like publishing good books, irrespective of whether they’re likely to sell 500 or 5,000 or 50,000. We like want to keep all our authors in print, and keep working on the marketing for years to come. That means hundreds, thousands of authors (currently approaching 1500). We understand about the personal touch, most people working in the business are themselves authors. But more personal contact means employing more people, which means raising the sales level at which we could publish book. And it is more impractical for us than most businesses, because we are scattered around the planet in different time zones. We invest time and resources instead into areas that other publishers do not, like monthly sales figures for you to see; adding marketing contacts on the website (currently around 17,000) so we can improve the promotion for everybody; getting into the corners of the market globally; providing access for authors to all the information about their book, and their market.
So it is a choice. And actually, it doesn’t seem to stop strong relationships being formed. That, after all, is how several dozen of us gradually came together. Despite most of us within the business having never met most or any of the others.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I FILL IN THE INQUIRY?
We should be getting back to you within days. We either say “sorry, can’t publish”, or “interested, need some more detail” – which is the next stage, a Proposal. It doesn’t mean starting again from scratch, information from the inquiry is fed through, though with access to more information you may want to edit what you have already written. We send the Proposal out for Readers Reports, which you will see, and then we generally get back to you with a contract offer or not inside a couple of weeks. The website is tidied up regularly, and if we have offered a proposal, password or contract, and you have not got back to us in a month or two, the information will probably have been deleted unless you ask us to hold it for longer. Again, it’s not because were being uncooperative, but we get hundreds of submissions a month, several of dozen of those get to the Proposal stage, and we like to be clear about what we’re doing and when and move on, rather than having lots of "maybes" and loose ends everywhere.
We look forward to working with you. If we do, bear in mind that:
• We try and cover all the bases as best we can, but there are 20,000+ book retail accounts in the USA/UK alone, thousands of databases, tens of thousands of possible media/marketing contacts, millions of books competing for readers attention
• Much publishing success is down to luck/fortune/however you want to describe it
• Quality and quantity are far from synonymous; the best things in life are worth doing just because they are worth doing
• It is not worth losing friends/partners/children/house over getting a book published
• Do not quit the day job (or at least not until you have enough in the pension fund) - only plan on making money from writing a book if you made money on your last one
• Being an author can be lonely, and though we try and be friendly we are not in the business of emotional support - keep in touch with other authors, particularly on the Forum and all the various author websites (hundreds to choose from)
• When in doubt, keep working at the writing and doing what you can on the marketing, persistence often bears fruit
Thank you for reading this, and we hope to be able to work together.