Salary: Below Minimum Wage
Qualifications: Can you read?
Even if I'd seen an ad like that beforehand, I think I would have still applied for the job.
There was no Help Wanted sign at Oak Tree Press. Instead, there was an overworked publisher, a stack of queries and limited staff.
I'm a person with a bad habit of looking at the status quo and asking myself, “How can this be done better?” I'm not sure if that speaks to my leadership skills or just the fact that I can't leave well enough alone.
In the Navy, I was told “Never volunteer.” I ignored that sage advice just like I ignored many of the edicts I was taught. Accessing the situation, I told Billie Johnson “How about letting me handle acquisitions?”
Boxes of slush poured in via UPS. To prevent my spare room from becoming a warehouse, I decided to go green. Only electronic queries would be acceptable.
I instituted a timely response to queries. I know authors are taught “The query letter is the most important letter you will write.” There are even workshops on the topic. I don't read the query (sorry aspiring writers!). Instead, I look for two things: genre and word count. If neither apply to our guidelines, I send a rejection letter. I don't believe in generic rejections, just like I don't believe in generic authors. I will tell writers where they missed the mark.
I then google the author. I'm looking for a “Q” rating, the number of times the writer's name appears on the Internet. I'm searching for a website or any attempt to build a platform. Is the author serious about a career? Have they been interacting with cyber/social/professional websites and blogs? Or, do they feel their job is simply to write?
Too many writers tell me they are going to market once their book is contracted. I believe marketing starts the minute you decide you want to write a novel. Name recognition is key. When regularly commenting, contributing and following blogs, peers and professionals notice. This is how to attain future reviews, interviews and blurbs. I would rather publish novel with a strong marketeer than a bestseller from an author who has no intention of promoting.
The days of the publicity machine are over. A small press expects an author to be savvy in marketing with skills in place. This is where Oak Tree may be different from other houses. As we grew from 12 titles a year to the current 36, contracted authors started functioning as a “family.” We don't market as individuals, but as a group. Loyalty to the house and to each other are key.
In researching for this piece, I discovered that most jobs as acquisition editor expect a masters degree in English; I have a BA in journalism. An acquisition editor at McGraw-Hill is expected to bring 20 books into publication; I've brought in 15 in my first year. On the low end of the pay scale, acqui-editors make $30,000; I get paid after bills, authors and cover artists are paid.
On the other hand, the perks are phenomenal. I was flown to Puerto Vallarta to speak to a writers' group; traveled to Victoria, BC, to scout for our first Canadian property; spoke at the largest junior college in the US; and my mystery novels are used to teach genre writing in community colleges in NJ and California. Plus, I head up The Posse, possibly the most “novel” force in marketing on the Internet.
All because I saw a need, lent a hand and had a heart.