SQF: There’s been quite a bit written about the demise of the paper book and the decline in the number of books published. What is your view of the current state of the book and the book market?
MO: I believe that print-on-demand, ebooks and other recent developments in publishing are going to lead to even more publishing opportunities for authors. If you want to get published, your chances of doing so are better today than they have been at any time in the past. You can get published online, by small publishers, by large publishers, or you can self-publish. Books are being produced on traditional offset presses, in digital short-runs, via print-on-demand, and now in multiple e-book formats. These are exciting times.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a manuscript?
MO: In creative nonfiction for our anthologies, I look for stories that meet our requirement of being “short and deep.” The goal with Dream of Things anthologies is to fill the gap between popular anthologies that publish stories I regard as “short and sweet,” and the Best American Essays series, which I love, but which tend to be longer. So the goal for Dream of Things anthologies is to be not short and sweet, but short and deep. With depth comes authenticity. The result is stories that are easier to swallow because they are authentic, and easier to digest because they average 1,250 words in length.
For other books, I look for something unique or unusual. Example: Everything I Never Wanted to Be by Dina Kucera is a memoir told from the unique perspective of a ninth grade dropout who is currently working as a grocery store clerk while also trying to make it as a stand-up comic.
I also look for authors who understand that they will have to be deeply involved in promoting the book. If the author thinks the book is going to sell itself, I’ll pass because we’re both going to end up being disappointed.
SQF: What major mistakes do authors make when pitching their books?
MO: Well, I get mostly short creative nonfiction, not book-length proposals, but here’s what I see…
With the submission of creative nonfiction for anthologies:
- Not following submission guidelines.
- Sending stories that don’t fit the anthologies' topics we’re currently accepting.
- Sending an email with a link to a submission (rather than submitting the story via our online form or as an email attachment).
With book proposals:
- A cover letter that is too long. You need to be able to pitch your book in 3-4 paragraphs, not 3-4 pages.
- Sending the whole manuscript instead of just a chapter.
- Sending pitches for books that don’t fit our focus as a publisher.
- Sending a cover letter that is obviously generic. (At least add my name to it!)
SQF: Of the books your company publishes each year, how many are by previously unpublished authors?
MO: In the last six months, Dream of Things published three books:
- Everything I Never Wanted to Be is a memoir by a previously unpublished author.
- MFA in a Box is a book on creative writing by a creative writing professor who had previously published three books.
- Saying Goodbye is an anthology of creative nonfiction that includes essays by 31 authors. It was the first publication ever for one of the contributors. The other 30 had been published somewhere else at least once, everywhere from the local paper to national magazines. Four of the contributors had previously published book-length works.
In the coming year, one of the goals at Dream of Things is to publish the writing of at least 100 writers in three anthologies. I expect many of the contributors will be relatively new writers, and an anthology is a great place to get a publishing credit.
SQF: What is your advice to new, unpublished authors looking for a publisher or agent?
MO: My advice is to keep at it. Get some publication credits any way you can…in anthologies, magazines, newspapers, online. Of the 31 contributors to Saying Goodbye, only one was a brand new writer and only four had published books. The vast majority of the contributors had multiple publishing credits in magazines and anthologies, which will only help them when they pitch to a publisher or agent.
Still, it’s tough for a new writer to get a publisher or agent. Obviously, your chances are probably going to be best with a small publisher – and the good news is that they are popping up all over. But even with a small publisher, make sure your pitch and manuscript are absolutely as good as they can be, and that you can articulate what makes your book different.
SQF: What question do you wish I’d asked that I didn’t? And how would you answer it?
MO: We’ve talked about some things that authors need to do differently, but we should also ask about things that publishers should do differently.
With the rise of print-on-demand, ebooks and self-publishing, the role of the publisher is changing. The publisher is going to be more of a facilitator than a gatekeeper. The gates have already gone anyway. It’s easy to publish and distribute your own book.
The notion of publisher-as-publicist is an antiquated notion, too. Most authors are already responsible for most of their own publicity. The only exceptions are best-selling authors who arguably don’t NEED any more publicity.
That leaves the publisher-as-facilitator or the publisher-as-partner – and I would argue that in addition to helping the author with editing, printing, distribution and marketing, the highest value the publisher of the future can provide will be quality control. In an era when it’s easy for an author to go it alone, maybe the best thing a publisher can offer is the opportunity to be associated with a brand that has some integrity.
Notice I said “associated with,” not “published by.” I think that’s where publishing is headed…an “association” of good authors…a commune of sorts that forms an “umbrella” over your publishing venture. If you’re an author, I think this is going to be a good thing. It will be easier to get published, and your royalty is going to be bigger.
Thank you, Mike. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
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