Monday, December 13, 2010

Six Questions for Jay Hartman, Editor-in-Chief, Untreed Reads

Untreed Reads "is dedicated to bringing the best new fiction and nonfiction ebooks to readers throughout the world." The Untreed Reads Blog provides news and updates covering "everything in the world of ebooks." From the publisher: Untreed Reads was started in February of 2010 by Jay Hartman, a twelve-year veteran of the ebook industry and K.D. Sullivan, an author with multiple books in print on proofreading, editing and structure. They are one of very few publishers who place an emphasis on publishing short stories that stand alone rather than in anthologies. In addition, they also publish regular full-length content in both fiction and nonfiction. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: According to a report by Foner Books (, “[g]rowth stagnated for booksellers in 2008, and overall book sales barely moved according to the government.” In addition, I’ve read a number of articles concerning the difficulty authors are having securing book deals. In your opinion, what is the current state of the print book market?

JH: There's simply no doubt that the print market is rapidly on the decline. Each month we see a decline in print sales, while sales of ebooks typically GROW by the same percentage. Expenses are very high, bookstore chains are having difficulty keeping up and folks just aren't willing to pay nearly $30 for entertainment. Print is never going to go away completely, but I do think it's an endangered species. I had an interesting conversation with someone a few weeks ago who felt that print would disappear in our lifetime. I wouldn't say it's that drastic, but I think given another two generations or so print will definitely be on the ropes.

And, the big publishers simply aren't willing to take chances on new authors. Unfortunately, they can't afford to. Ebooks are a totally different ballgame, which is one of the reasons why we chose to focus on that aspect only and not produce print editions.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a manuscript?

JH: Number 1 has to be "Is it written well?" Did the author take the time to get it properly proofread? Developmentally edited? Is it grammatically and structurally sound? I'm not saying it has to be perfect, but it really should be in the absolutely best possible shape. If you want somebody to be proud of your work, you've got to have that pride first as an author.

Number 2 for me is "Have I seen this before?" Rehashing old plots and stories that have been done a million times just isn't that interesting. Does the world REALLY need another girl-meets-vampire novel? If you're going to take on a popular choice, be sure to bring something unique and original to the story or in the way you tell the story. I especially like the stuff that just can't be pigeonholed into a genre. One of the things we say in our Submission Guidelines is that if you've tried to submit it somewhere else and they couldn't figure out how to position it, then that's the work we're looking for. Cutting edge, clever, innovative works will always grab me. So will making me laugh out loud.

Number 3 would be "Does the author understand their target audience?" I get a lot of great query letters telling me everything about the story and who will like it, and then I sit down to read the manuscript and find the query letter was actually much better. A great query letter shouldn't be what sells the book, the content should. Really understand who it is you're writing for, and make sure your story is geared that way. Don't tell me that you've written a great YA story and fill it with situations that are unrealistic or inappropriate for that age group. Don't say "this will appeal to fans of tennis" and then provide a title that wasn't properly researched and uses tennis terms incorrectly. Don't try to write for a market, write for a market you actually know. Your work will be much more honest, real and believable than trying to latch on to a trend.

And, be sure you understand what the publisher's target audience is. Take the time to look at the titles a given publisher has released and see if your work is truly a good fit for that house. Read excerpts, purchase a title or two, etc.. Authors NEED to do their homework before submitting. Running down a list of publishers and sending it to everyone isn't the right approach if you want your work to be taken seriously.

There really is a 4th, and that's "Did they read the Submission Guidelines?" If a publisher says they don't publish religion, don't send them a religious book. If a publisher says you must send an attachment in DOC format, don't send it inline in the email or in PDF. Publishers see hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts, and the submission guidelines are established to help everyone move through the process smoothly. If you don't respect the process, chances are you'll get moved to the bottom of the pile or-worse-deleted.

SQF: What major mistakes do authors make when pitching their books?

JH: Making the pitch better than the story is the biggest problem. Also, don't tell me the whole story in your pitch. Part of the fun of it for the publisher is discovering the work without knowing all of the nuances.

Don't pitch something you know the publisher doesn't sell. For example, if you see in our Submission Guidelines that we don't accept poetry, it's not very likely I'm going to make an exception for your poetry anthology.

Don't say things like "It's like Stephanie Myers meets J.K. Rowling" or "This is the next Stephen King." I guess I can't speak for other publishers, but if what I wanted was a Stephanie Myers or J.K. Rowling title I'd be negotiating with their agents for exactly that. What I want is a really great John or Jane Smith novel that might appeal to similar readers.

Most of all, be gracious. Mind your manners and say "thank you" and "please" and be professional and courteous. Demanding that you hear back within a certain time, threatening to go to another publisher if you don't get a response and so forth is completely unnecessary. And yes, I've actually received those types of submissions.

SQF: As an ebook publisher, what services do you offer writers beyond the creation of the book?

JH: In our case, it's a lot about the knowledge of the industry. I've been working in the ebook world for twelve years. I got started from a journalism standpoint in the field writing content for During that time, I spoke with heads of publishing companies, developers of reading devices, devised surveys to take the pulse of the ebook community that was eventually used by some major publishers and so on. A lot of publishers are trying to figure out how to make ebooks work. We had the advantage of already understanding that market BEFORE we decided to start publishing.

And, because we understand the market, we also understand how to sell into that market. Untreed Reads has one of the biggest distribution nets of any ebook publisher, with nearly 60 retailers worldwide. We continue to partner with developers such as Kobo to help establish new ways to market ebooks. We do educational work for authors through our work with events such as Litquake and the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference.

Most importantly, we don't let go of our authors once the ebook is published. We're there to help nurture them through their next work, give them career guidance, help them navigate the legal world of publishing, help explain tax implications, give them ideas for publicity and so much more. One thing that I'm very adamant about is being as hands-on with my authors as I can. I answer every email I receive from my authors and I do it as soon as I possibly can. I want them to feel that they're respected not just as authors but as human beings. Maybe it's clichéd to say that my authors are my family, but I have to tell you that nothing would make me happier than sitting down to a giant dinner with all of them around the table. I'd trade in a spot on a bestseller list for that opportunity any day.

SQF: What is your advice to new, unpublished authors looking for a publisher or agent?

JH: Agents are great, and we work with a lot of really terrific ones, but please know that it IS possible to be published without one. The landscape has really changed and it's entirely possible, particularly in the ebook world, to get a contract without going through an agent.

Listen to advice publishers give you on rejections and don't take it personally. I try to give authors advice on every piece I turn down to try and strengthen the work. I've published works that I rejected once and came back to me after revisions. Just be gracious about it and understand that much like anything else writing is a PROCESS and rejection is one aspect of that process. Columnist Dan Savage always says you'll keep having failed relationships until one doesn't. The same thing is true with submissions.

Don't take the first contract offered to you. Do your homework. Thoroughly investigate the publisher under consideration. If you're offered a contract, go through the entire thing to make sure you understand which rights you keep and which ones you're giving up. If you don't understand something, ask either the publisher to clarify or seek out an attorney. Let me say this part very strongly: A PUBLISHER WHO SAYS YOU HAVE TO GIVE THEM MONEY TO PUBLISH YOUR BOOK IS NOT A PUBLISHER! Never, ever, ever sign a contract with a publisher who wants money from you.

In ebooks, don't take a royalty percentage less than 50%. There's no reason why an ebook publisher can't offer you 50% royalties, and that will soon be the standard.

Protect yourself. Know your rights and learn to navigate the systems. The more educated you are about the business side of writing, the better your publishing experience will be.

SQF: What question do you wish I’d asked that I didn’t? And how would you answer it?

JH: What excites you the most about your role as an editor?

For me, it's the chance to discover new talent. I love finding that author that people haven't heard of and unleashing their talent on the world. There are so many good writers out there who haven't had a chance to be seen or read, and I'm blown away by the quality of the writing I get in. All I can do is shake my head in wonder that somebody else hasn't snatched them up already, but then be extremely thankful that this is somebody I have the honor to work with first. Publishers love to be excited by great writing, and when it comes from a new voice you just want everybody to read it.

The other aspect of that is the writer who is established in one genre, but really wants to write in another. I have a few authors who normally write in romance or erotica, but came to me to spread their wings a bit and follow their other passions such as literary fiction or fantasy. The results are usually spectacular. There is nothing more rewarding than giving those authors a chance to express a hidden side of their creativity. It's a win for both the author and their established reading base, and it's bound to bring them even more readers as they explore new territory.

Thank you, Jay. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 12/16--Six Questions for Patrick McAllaster, Editor-in-Chief, Emprise Review


  1. This is really insightful. I really like what Untreed Reads have doe with Discount Noir and I'll be keeping an eye on what they publish.

  2. I worked with Jay on the Thanksgiving anthology and he really knows the business. I've never seen anyone promote as well as he does.

    And a "here, here" to his advice of not taking the first contract offered to you. As difficult as it is for an aspiring writer to turn down a contract, read it carefully. Some of them are just plain awful! You want one that respects your talent.

    Lesley Diehl

  3. Great Q&A! Jay Hartman continues to be so knowledgeable (and optimistic) about "the now" of the publishing industry - and all that's to come in the future. He's a tireless advocate in promoting good storytelling, and I so admire his enthusiasm. Thanks for the inspiring post!

  4. Good sound advice from someone who knows whereof he speaks. And, Jay, if you ever get everyone assembled for that big dinner, count on my being there.


  5. A fine interview! Only Jay Hartman could work that much information into such a brief venue. I have four stories published with Untreed Reads, and I can't commend them highly enough for their professionalism, dedication, and "hands on" approach, even patience when dealing with at least one (moi)who has been known to mope a bit from time to time. UR also had the foresight to snag a top-notch cover artist. The covers are as beautiful if not more so than any print book. Thank you for interviewing Mr. Untreed Reads.

    And, Jay, if you ever get that dinner pulled together, let me sit next to Victor...

  6. Great and insightful answers from a man who definitely knows what he's talking about. I am proud to be associated with you, Jay.

  7. Great insight. An education for publishers and authors.

    A.Holes & Dr.R.Aston
    Illogical Detective Agency

  8. Definitely a good and informative interview.

  9. Sound advice, Jay. Much of it would have saved me a few hard knocks a few years back. And yes, it must be a fantastic feeling to help new writers make their dreams come true. Congratulations on a fine interview.

    alan chin

  10. Very interesting interview, Jay, full of useful information and advice. As a writer of both novels and short stories, I appreciate your input.