Publisher’s Q & A
· How long has Oak Tree Press been in business?
· What books are you looking for? What books are you definitely NOT interested in?
· What do you charge a writer to publish his/her book?
· How many books are authors required to buy?
· Do you charge a reading fee? An Editing Fee?
· What about the copyright? What about intellectual property rights? What is Oak Tree's policy?
· Do you pay an advance?
· Is Oak Tree Press connected to any literary agency?
· Does Oak Tree Press accept queries by email? What about simultaneous submissions?
· Does Oak Tree Press publish poetry?
· Are Oak Tree books sold in bricks-and-mortar bookstores?
· I heard that bookstores won’t stock small press or POD books. Is that true?
· How long will it take before my book is in print?
· Does Oak Tree Press ever do hardcover books?
· Does my manuscript have to be complete in order to submit?
· Does Oak Tree Press arrange for book tours?
· What marketing does Oak Tree Press do?
· What else does Oak Tree Press do to support its writers?
· What about Kindles and other eBooks?
· What about new directions? Future plans and goals?
· Who are Oak Tree Press authors?
1 How long has Oak Tree Press been in business?
Oak Tree Press was founded in February 1998 in Claremont, California. In 2002, when Publisher Billie Johnson decided to return to my home town in Illinois, the company moved with her. Since then, OTP has operated out of a small town near Springfield, IL.
2 What books are you looking for?
We’re always on the lookout for good mysteries, ones that engage fast. We also want to grow our other crime-related imprint, CopTales, which considers material we think is too edgy for Dark Oak, police procedurals, true crime and memoirs of law enforcement officers. We definitely want to add to our Timeless Love list, and are aggressively seeking romance titles.
We like to add non-fiction, especially “evergreen” titles – ones that will endure through many seasons.
Oak Tree Press is one of a few publishers who will consider memoirs, especially memoirs of folks who are not famous, and this is because the publisher really enjoys reading them…but the author needs a really well-thought-out marketing strategy.
We are looking for Westerns to stock our new imprint, Wild Oaks – stories of the Old West, which we launched last summer.
In the spring of 2011, we will issue our first children’s book. We’ll be looking for other kid’s titles, but we are moving very carefully into this new area.
In addition, the Publisher has long wished to launch a political/current affairs imprint, so we look for titles in this area. Then, of course, there is always that "special something" book that you can’t quite describe, but you know it when you see it.
3 What books are you definitely NOT interested in?
There aren’t a lot of absolute NOs, but there are a few. First, no science fiction or fantasy novels, or stories set far into the future. We have no beef with these novels, the Publisher simply doesn’t like to read them and can’t imagine trying to publish a book she doesn’t want to read. So, if your novel has a Star Trek or Star Wars likeness, you’ll be wasting your postage to send an inquiry. Likewise if yours compares to Zena, the Warrior Princess or one of the Harry Potter books. I know there are terrific books in these genres but they just aren’t our cup of latte.
Next, novels substantially longer than our stated word count are not considered for paper books, regardless of genre. We look for manuscripts of 70-90,000 words. If the story really charms us, we will bend some on either end of the range.
With the advent of eBooks, we can consider longer texts for that venue.
Books which advance right-wing politics, embody a racist agenda, contain gratuitous sex or violence, especially against women, or depict harm of animals will not be considered.
This is not a hidden agenda. These points are covered in our guidelines and any appropriate company literature, plus any market listings which allow space for listing specs.
4 What do you charge a writer to publish his/her book?
There is no charge. Oak Tree Press does not ask an author to contribute to production costs of books. We select manuscripts that we believe can compete in the book marketplace, and develop them with our own resources, which includes our money.
5 How many books are authors required to buy?
OTP’s contract contains the option for authors to buy as many books as they want, anytime they want, but there is no minimum requirement, and the purchase of books is not a condition for publication, or anything else we might consider in the process of producing and distributing a title.
6 Do you charge a reading fee?
7 Do you charge editing fees?
No, and we don’t refer writers to specific editors or book doctors. If a book needs more editing work than we can realistically do in-house, we usually don’t choose it for our list.
There is a pattern here: NO FEES…NO FEES…NO FEES!
8 What about the copyright? Do you ever give it back to the author?
The copyright is always registered in the name of the author.
8a What about intellectual property rights? What is Oak Tree's policy?
Various intellectual property rights are negotiated between Oak Tree and the author as part of the "signing the contract" process. The rights OTP will ask for, and the minimum array of rights that OTP will accept and still want the deal, varies from project to project.
Keep in mind that there is a reason why it's called the BOOK BUSINESS...it is still a business. Obtaining and maintaining intellectual rights is the raw material of a book business. OTP takes the long view on the books it publishes. We intend to, and do, maintain availability of our books for years, and we support our books from previous seasons. This means that we continue to hold the rights. An author who is looking for a one or two year situation is best off to NOT sign the Oak Tree agreement.
But, if an author really wanted his rights back after a while, why wouldn't you just give them back?
See above. It is a business decision, and based on our current policies and philosophy, it is unlikely that we will simply give back the rights, upon request, in the majority of cases. Oak Tree publishes a lot of first time writers, and we pay for all the pre-press tasks. One Hundred Percent of the money on the risk line is ours. In exchange for taking this risk, we want the long term because we believe this enhances our chances of getting a return on investment. Some books take a while to catch on. Sometimes other options to exploit the rights surface down the road, as the eBook revolution has done.
If an author asks for his rights back, we take a moment to evaluate, to learn what circumstances prompted him to make this request, and see what can fix things. Usually we are able to resolve any issues to the satisfaction of both parties, and more forward. However, after making more than 200 author agreements, there have been a few situations where the best course was to part ways, and when we came to that conclusion, we terminated the agreement and returned all rights to the author.
9 Do you pay an advance?
Up to summer 2010, we had not offered any royalty advance in our contract. Advances are generally estimates of what the first year's royalty would be. It is very difficult to estimate what sales for a first time author might be, so we simply stuck with reality and paid the royalty based on the period's sales.
However, as we have grown and changed, we have begun to make agreements with experienced authors who have established fan bases, proven sales track records, and we have updated our contract offers accordingly.
10 Is Oak Tree Press connected to any literary agency?
We will consider queries from literary agencies, but there is no special relationship with any agency, nor is there any "edge" or preferential treatment for agented submissions. If we like the book and it fits our list and requirements, we will offer to publish whether it is agented or not.
But I heard that this publisher was connected with Johnson Warren Literary Agency. What about that?
Past tense is correct. Johnson Warren Literary Agency (where the Johnson was Billie Johnson) existed between 1996 and 1999. This agency was originally the James Warren Literary Agency, of North Hollywood, CA. After Mr. Warren passed away, the agency continued to operate under the management of his colleague, Alice Hilton. In 1995, Johnson took an internship with Hilton, and when they parted company a year later, Johnson acquired the Warren agency, and adjusted its name to include hers. With the ambitious goal of pitching books to the movie industry, JWLA filed for and obtained signatory status to the Writer’s Guild of America (west) and started taking meetings…or at least that was the plan.
Once Oak Tree Press launched in February of 1998, it was clear there simply weren’t enough hours in the day to pursue both businesses, and, while Johnson loves movies and the whole movie-making process, she knew she had to go with the books. JWLA stopped accepting queries in the spring of 1998 and by the end of 1999, had concluded all its commitments and was closed. It has remained closed from that day to this, totally and completely, no spin-offs, no re-birth under a different name or banner.
If you are reading or hearing discussion of JWLA as it relates to Billie Johnson and Oak Tree Press, you are AT BEST, getting information that is TWELVE YEARS old, and most likely contains inaccuracies, and perhaps is even totally false.
11 Does Oak Tree Press accept queries by email?
Yes, though I prefer to have them come to Query@OakTreeBooks.com rather than our general email address.
However, we never open unsolicited attachments and we don’t surf to websites to read sample chapters or whatever. The email query should be essentially the same as a paper one…without the paper, of course.
12 Does Oak Tree Press consider simultaneous submissions?
Yes, we do. Sometimes our review period stretches on, and so we feel that it's unfair to expect the author to just sit on his hands until we get to his material. It's nice to be informed that we're looking at a simultaneous submission, however!
13 Does Oak Tree Press publish poetry?
Not usually. We have done one poetry title with an author who was very strategic about her marketing plan, and the results were good. However, we don’t see poetry books as a growth area for us.
14 Are Oak Tree books sold in bricks-and-mortar bookstores?
Yes. Bookstores may order books via Ingram Book Company, Baker & Taylor Books, Follett and several other distribution companies and in-house distribution companies such as BN Purchasing. Shops may also order direct from Oak Tree Press.
15 I heard that bookstores won’t stock small press or POD books. Is that true?
No, not true. However, it is sometimes a hurdle that must be overcome. OTP studied this resistance on the part of the shops to find the sticking points. Then we took steps to ensure as far as possible that our books did not carry these burdens. And where there are problems, we get involved, contact the retailer, provide information, whatever it takes to push through the resistance.
What are these sticking points? And what did you do to eliminate them?
Probably the most deadly point is the issue of returns. Many small press and POD publishers do not accept returns. It’s painful to accept returns, and we can see why some publishers refuse to sell on that basis. The books are rarely re-sellable as new, pristine copies and it knocks a hole in the revenue that invariably hurts.
By the way, some authors believe that if they autograph a book, that it cannot be returned. This is not true. Shops will return them regardless.
The next touchy item is the discount…in other words, the wholesale cost the shop pays. There are customary percentages in the publishing industry, and when a small press quotes a substandard percentage, the shops often back off.
Oak Tree Press meets both these objections. We accept returns (though I reserve the right to grumble about it to my pals and my cats) and we keep the retailer’s discounts in line with industry expectations.
Are there other sticking points?
Yes. Low production value, such as an amateur-looking cover or bad trim or poorly done binding will work against getting placement on a bricks-and-mortar’s shelf. An outrageous suggested retail price, an odd-sized book, and the lack of a clear category -- all add to negatives on the part of the book buyer. OTP strives to avoid these negatives.
We have always worked with a professional cover designer, and several years ago, we also went “outside” with a professional text block designer, who does a stellar layout.
Less flashy, but still vitally important, we work tirelessly, daily even, to maintain our meta data in dozens of book industry data bases. Almost everyone is online with some data base, either Ingram, R. R. Bowker, and in-house systems such as Barnes and Noble has, so keeping our details up to date and accurate is vital.
Further, we join things…professional associations and groups, marketing and promotion concerns, and distribution companies. We sign on to be a vender with any distribution outfit where terms can be agreed upon. We participate in the Barnes and Noble small press program which considers books from indies -- title by title. An approval here, at the minimum, can get the title into their in-house data base and stocked for BN.com, and beyond that, can list it for stocking locally, regionally, or nationally.
So, how is this working out?
We have some successes, and some retailers won’t budge. It’s still a push, title by title, store by store, but we do it just the same.
However, consider this: With Borders in bankruptcy and closing stores all over the planet, ditto for Davis-Kidd, ditto for Joseph Beth, and Barnes and Noble is looking for a buyer (clearly they need a money partner) – this just to name a few of the troubled bricks-and-mortar retailers – one has to wonder why getting our books into bookstores is such a sought-after item. Can’t we make the case that these stores are in trouble because their business model has not kept pace with the buying habits of the reading public?
Perhaps the idea of having your books on the local shop’s shelf is a badge of honor, and we are all for that! Like all of you, I am thrilled when a retailer agrees to stock our titles. But, we need to start adjusting our thinking to be more consistent with the actual trends in the book business, and those trends DO NOT favor bricks-and-mortar outlets.
16 How long will it take before my book is in print?
Oak Tree Press’s contract obligates us to publish within 18 months of signing.
Most of our 100+ titles came out 9-10 months after signing the contract, although a few books ran very late. We tried bringing out a couple of titles really fast, a month or two after signing, and found that to not work well at all. We have found that a release 6-9 months after contract works best, so that is our target, extraordinary circumstances aside.
17 Does Oak Tree Press ever do hardcover books?
Yes, we have done some books in hardcover, although the majority of our titles are trade paperback. We have also produced a few titles in mass market size.
18 Does my manuscript have to be complete in order to submit?
Probably. Our Acquisitions Editors may consider unfinished material if they choose. If your query falls into the categories where I review personally and it spurs interest, I’ll ask for the full manuscript. I don’t care for synopses and rarely have requested the first 2-3 chapters only. After reading 2-300 queries per month for more than a dozen years, I have come to know what I want to read, and I know what will fit on my lists. When I get the whole manuscript, I want to read it to the end or until it loses my interest. A partial just doesn’t get it. I might flex a bit on this point for non-fiction, for example a how-to book, but it is highly unlikely that I’d offer a contract on an incomplete book.
19 Does Oak Tree Press arrange for book tours?
No. We don’t have the staff to handle this most time intensive task. We will help where we can, but we don’t take this on as a full project.
Further, we don’t refer authors to PR firms or Media Consultants.
20 What marketing does Oak Tree Press do?
We do everything we can to promote our titles, and we are always on the hunt for new options. First, we maintain our web site and give each author a page, and provide an online bookstore. Frequently, we will "domain name" the book title or the author name on his behalf and forward the traffic to his page on our site.
We have a company blog where authors can post and comment on each others’ book biz experiences, challenges and successes.
Our titles are listed on Amazon and BN.com. From time to time, we run Google Ads and Facebook Ads. We also advertise in magazines and catalogs like The Leading Edge which serves the New Age market. We sponsor our clients on Mystery Writers’ Corner, pay for links from various sites to our authors' sites, or to have listings on sites for writers or conferences.
We have exhibited at various book expos, the LA Festival of Books several times, Printer’s Row in Chicago and have displayed at Book Expo America a couple of times, and have used the exhibiting services. However, we have backed away from this the past couple of years, thinking there were better ways to get value for our money. We do like local fairs and festivals, often treating our authors to booth space instead of attending in person.
We also advertise in programs for writers’ conferences and book expos, sometimes for the general company, or one of the imprints, or a specific title…depending upon the target market. We like these opportunities as they are a win-win...we support our author and the conference.
We attend writers conferences as often as possible, and we often send free books and materials like bookmarks, card, sell sheets for the “goodie bags” or the information table.
We enter our titles into contests. We have a “favorite bookseller” program which creates a relationship between the author and his local bookseller, smoothing the way for stocking and hosting author events.
We print collateral material for the author’s use as well as our own…business cards, postcards, bookmarks, sometimes T-shirts, stickie notes and the like. And we provide our authors the giant pizzazz green bookmarks which describe our FREE BOOK for a REVIEW program…this is designed to increase peer reviews on Amazon.com. Once a reader posts a review, he emails us and we send him a free book.
21 What else does Oak Tree do to support its writers?
We push hard for reviews, both pre-publication and post. In some cases, we issue an Advance Reader Copy edition (in paper) of the book, and distribute copies to media, retailers, esteemed authors and others to solicit reviews.
We subscribe to an email marketing program and distribute frequent promotional memos to retailers, libraries, media, and consumers. We also use this same program to email information and instructions to OTP authors, detailing policies, upcoming events, announcing new authors coming on board, new titles being released, conferences and meetups and more.
We are about to complete our first professionally-done catalog of titles which will be used in info packs and media kits and other outreach to retailers and media.
Several of our more experienced authors also step in to help, for example Sunny maintains a mail list she calls The Posse, which she uses to flash out news of topical blogs and other internet destinations for authors to post or comment or list their titles or be featured on another blog.
When our authors attend a conference we work with them and the on-site booksellers to be sure their books are in the dealer room.
22 What about Kindles and Ebooks?
Two years ago, we stepped up our Ebook game, and began to aggressively convert the files of paper books to Kindle format. In March of 2009, we launched our Kindle-only program which took ebook rights only, and placed the book on Kindle, no cost to the author. We were quickly swamped with clients for this and in the fall of 2009, we closed this offer so we could work through the backload. A year and 50+ Kindle only titles later, we are about to open things up again, and our plan is to take 2-3 new Kindle only titles per month.
Our Kindle only deal calls for a 50/50 split of the proceeds of each Kindle copy sold.
We have a more extensive program for Ebook editions of our paper books. In addition to Kindle, we have relationships with NOOK, and several other Ebook sites on the internet, plus the Apple Store.
We are very optimistic that Ebooks are going to grow in popularity and market share, and OTP intends to have our titles available in multiple formats.
23 New Directions – Future Plans and Goals
Our primary goal for this year is to substantially increase our number of titles in print, as well as adding to our Ebook catalog. We plan to do 36 paper titles this year…one every ten days, which some days seems daunting, but so far we are on pace.
We also will be issuing our first children’s book, venturing in to new territory, and I hope to explore the idea of doing some books in a library binding and pursue that market more energetically.
We want to build our new imprints, and add strength to our Timeless Love line as we continue to expand our crime fiction under the Dark Oak and CopTales banners.
24 What are your pet peeves?
Perhaps my most extreme pet peeve is receiving queries on projects which we’ve clearly advertised we don’t want — science fiction, fantasy, epic tomes, bigoted diatribes and so on. Second to that is a practice I call "over taping," or the use of yards and yards of tape, or worse yet, the filament tape so that it takes forever to open the package. Finding story pitches on my voice mail is also annoying, as are calls and emails which follow up queries WAY too soon.
25 Who are OTP authors?
Good question…and I think you can learn a lot about a publishing company by considering its authors. OTP authors are a diverse group…men and women, young and…er…mature, hailing from all over the US and with an amazing array of day jobs, experiences, skills and talents beyond writing.
To recap the "day jobs" of our authors: We have seven police officers, a retired DEA agent, four attorneys, three college professors, one college president, two business executives, one ad exec (now retired), a restaurant manager, a rancher, a TV journalist, a health care lobbyist, two forensic scientists, a consumer advocate, five publishers/editors, twelve journalists/writers, four teachers, a technical communications specialist, a professional fundraiser, and the managing director of a municipal arts center ...and this is just a partial list.
Another thing we are proud of is the number of multiple titles we’ve done and have in progress with our authors. One author has five titles published, one in review and another manuscript in progress…both destined to be OTP books. Our relationship stretches back to 1999. Another author has done four books, three from an in-progress series, and we just agreed to re-release the first four from her series. Another author has done four books with us, as well, three authors have done three each, seven authors have done or are in the process of doing their second OTP titles.
That these writers stay with us as they continue to expand their careers…we think it speaks volumes!