Where’d My Galley Go?: Book Reviews Gone Awry

I have a confession: I know what happened to my galleys. I know what happened, because I have been on the other end of this customary transaction between book publishers and book reviewers. I have been the intern of my own recent nightmares, arriving at a desk piled to my chin with mailers full of review copies sent by publishers from across the country, all of whom are hoping that someone in my office will notice their upcoming title. They want anyone other than me to get a hold of their galley. I’ve dragged the recycling bin over, a daily morning routine, and begun the frenzied process of popping open envelopes, tossing the press releases, and sorting through every submission to find the rare few to pass along to the book review staff. I’ve been the intern slightly-more-than-glancing at a galley and placing it impassively in a donation bin like I’m not at all worried about what this might mean for me as publisher of books.
At a small publishing company like Ooligan Press, getting your books noticed can be a challenge. With a small run of galleys in our arsenals and no official access to expensive resources like Cision, our project teams rely on elbow grease and good old-fashioned research. We invest hours researching media outlets and book reviewers to help our books land in the hands of the people who are most likely to notice them. But even with the most intentional of strategies and a phenomenal book with, say, Barbara Kingsolver’s name at the top, there are no guarantees that your book will receive any reviews. You might get ten, or none. There will be a moment when you beg of the universe, “please let us get just one book review,” and it won’t seem to make sense. Maybe you’ll just get the one.
When you punch in Google searches for things like “how to get book reviews” and “small press book reviews” and the definitely-not-panicked “do book reviews matter?” much of the resulting articles and blog posts offer guidance for authors hoping to self-publish. As a small publisher, you might find yourself at a bit of a loss. There’s plenty of advice for individual self-publishing authors—most of which doesn’t apply at all, in much the same way that the publicity strategies enjoyed by large corporate publishers also don’t apply. (We’d all love to supply a superstar dedicated publicist with an endless supply of year-in-advance review copies to pull strings with, but alas.)
When your resources for review copies and galleys is limited, you grapple often with this question: How much do book reviews really matter?
On the one hand, it’s silly not to try to get them from the most traditional sources, even when it seems like the chances of your galley ending up in an intern’s donation bin seem incredibly high. The only way your book makes it into the coveted New York Review of Books, the arts and culture section of your diligent local weekly, or even into the print magazine that seemed like the perfect fit is if you take a chance with your resources and give it all you’ve got, just like everyone else.
As a small publisher, you are one of your book’s biggest strengths. Identifying a title’s strongest qualities and matching it to the literary communities that champion those qualities is your most valuable resource of all, and you can use this to leverage more publicity for your authors and your books. You must give greater consideration to every media group, every publication, and every single potential reviewer you direct your materials towards. Sometimes you have to make tough calls and arbitrary-seeming gambles, like NYT or LA Review of Books? Willamette Week or The Oregonian? We may not have the luxury of sending galleys everywhere, nor even the luxury of knowing precisely the correlation between book reviews and sales. As small publishers, we’re always thinking in a kaleidoscope of big and small scale, weighing our shifting options, and meting out what resources we have in the most innovative ways we can think of. Do book reviews matter? Maybe. But, as is often the case with small publishers and presses, there’s no single correct and true way to do the thing—even if you’re wearing your Barbara Kingsolver on your sleeve.

Meet Write to Publish 2016’s Presenting Sponsor

With Write to Publish 2016 coming up at the end of January, we thought we would introduce you to the conference’s presenting sponsor, Desert Palm Press. Founded only a few years ago by Lee Fitzsimmons, the press published its first book in June 2013. Since then, it has signed eleven authors and published twenty-four books. The press has five new books expected to come out within the first few months of 2016.

Desert Palm Press began when Fitzsimmons, an editor at the time, was contacted by several authors who had been turned down by more traditional publishers. Feeling that these women had stories that needed to be told, she began the press (after a bit of careful research, of course). Desert Palm Press seeks to publish stories that present strong female voices, and its marketing team fosters a readership that values that perspective. The team has made a niche for itself in the world of lesbian romance, and it has since ventured into science fiction and fantasy (with both horror and nonfiction novels in the works, as well).

Desert Palm Press has everything you could hope for in a small independent publisher. Thanks in part to its size, its team has thoughtfully curated its author list and offers its authors a more collaborative experience with editors and graphic designers. Fitzsimmons is careful about growing the press slowly so that all of Desert Palm’s authors receive the attention and focus they deserve.

This collaborative approach is certainly working to its authors’ benefit; several of their books were shortlisted for the 2014 Rainbow Awards, as well as for the 2015 Golden Crown Literary Society Awards. Eight more books have been nominated for the 2015 Rainbow Awards and the 2016 Golden Crown.

At the moment, Fitzsimmons is happy with the press’s accomplishments and steady momentum. Because its team is so careful about expanding, the press is not currently in a position to search for new authors. However, they are optimistic about reaching that point in the near future.

The team takes on authors and staff members from all over, even though Desert Palm Press itself is based out of California. These long-distance collaborators often work on a more freelance basis. One such example is Ooligan’s own Kellie Doherty, who is both an editor and an author for Desert Palm Press. Kellie’s first novel, Finding Hekate, will be coming out in early 2016.

We are pleased with the depth and diversity that Desert Palm Press’s support will lend to Write to Publish 2016. With such a unique sponsor, we expect this year’s conference to be interesting and informative. Come join us on January 30, and learn about the current state of the publishing industry and what it could mean for a new author. We hope to see you there!

Interview with Publisher Chris Morey

Chris Morey is the owner and publisher of Dark Regions Press, a specialty horror publisher located in Portland, Oregon. Chris Morey has edited the works of Clive Barker, Joe R. Lansdale, Tom Piccirilli, and Jeff Strand, among many others. He participated in Write to Publish 2015 as a panelist, speaking on crowdfunding. Here, he touches on some subjects covered in the Write to Publish panel as well as describing how he got into the business and what happens behind the scenes of a small publishing house.

You took over Dark Regions from someone else, correct? Was the business already a success?

My dad, Joe Morey, founded Dark Regions Press in 1985. In the 1990s he started Dark Regions Magazine, which lasted for many years up until 2001. When I took over the business in August of 2012, I would call it a success in some respects. Financially it was struggling, but professionally and creatively it was thriving. Dark Regions Press is a well-respected name in the specialty publishing industry, and we have published some fantastic books by many talented authors. The problem is that specialty publishing has a huge amount of overhead, so when I first took over the business, things were challenging financially at first.

Did you hire the current staff? Are they all full time, part time, freelance? How were they found: online ad, friend of a friend? What sort of rates do they get paid?

Yes, I hired just about everyone except for F. J. Bergmann, who does a lot of our proofreading and some design work. Some are full­ time, part ­time, and freelance. Most everyone works virtually, except for Scott, who I pay $11.00 per hour to pack and ship orders in the shipping office. Nicole works as my financial advisor and bookkeeper, and she works at an extremely reasonable rate of $12.50 per hour (it helps that she’s my girlfriend). Others get paid on a per­-project basis, and it varies greatly, but I try to pay everyone a reasonable rate and pay in a timely manner. I found Scott through a Craigslist ad for the shipping position, but other than that it’s all through networking or people I already knew.

When you took over the company, did Dark Regions already have money to invest in new books? Did you use your own money? Bank loans?

My dad gave me the balance of the business accounts when I took the business from California to Oregon. With books already in production and bills coming soon, it wasn’t much money, and it basically gave me the chance to survive for a month or two until I started generating sales. For the first six months there were a lot of ups and downs, but I didn’t take any loans . . . and we survived.

Has crowdfunding helped Dark Regions defray the costs of publishing? Has it paid for all printing costs, or do new books—even after a successful crowdfunding—still require an investment?

Each time I’ve underestimated the costs of each crowdfunding project. As you add up the shipping costs, the costs for all of the extra add­-ons, to get everything manufactured . . . things tend to add up quickly. Still, I consider crowdfunding the preorder 2.0. You take a preorder, you give it a professional sales page presentation, you instill a sense of urgency and a new level of interactivity with your customers, and as it turns out it’s a more successful e­commerce model to generate conversions. People become invested emotionally in the projects because they realize that they have a direct impact on it becoming expanded for everyone. It’s a great experience.

Do you plan to crowdfund all of Dark Regions’s books eventually?

No, well, it depends. Here’s the thing: Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns are loud. If we started pushing a campaign every month, it might very well fatigue our customer base. However, I have seen publishers successfully implement a crowdfunding platform into their own websites as a means of preordering the books, which I think is very interesting. We might adapt something like this in the future, but for now we’re going to stick to mostly old-fashioned preorders.

You use Kickstarter, correct? Why Kickstarter? Have you thought about hosting crowdfunding on a publisher-focused site such as Pubslush?

We use both Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Actually, as of writing this we are running our third Indiegogo campaign for our new anthology Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror. Indiegogo is nice because it offers an option called “Flexible Funding,” which means that if you don’t hit your goal you can still keep the funds, whereas on Kickstarter you could be $1,000 short and lose everything. Granted, we’ve never had a problem reaching our goal amounts . . . but it’s a comfort. Also, Indiegogo accepts PayPal as payments in the campaigns, and those payments come through immediately instead of after the campaign’s completion. This allows you to use funds generated by the preorder of the product to pay for creative costs and other costs during the campaign, which can be a big relief. I’ve looked at Pubslush and certainly like the platform. However, the truth is that when it comes to sheer numbers, Kickstarter and Indiegogo get a lot more traffic than Pubslush, and a decent chunk of our funds come from people who discover our campaign through the crowdfunding platforms themselves. Still, Pubslush is a great platform, and I hope it continues to grow.

Do you have a distributor for Dark Regions? Do you buy ISBNs for your books?

Yes and yes. We are now distributing our titles through Ingram Content Group. We are new to their catalog, so we’re still in the process of adding all of our currently available titles. However, if interested bookstores search for Dark Regions Press in the Ingram catalog, our titles should pop up. Prisoner 489 by Joe R. Lansdale and illustrated by Santiago Caruso has been selling particularly well through Ingram. Absolutely it’s a must to buy ISBNs. The price breaks from Bowker for these ISBNs are ridiculous, though, so we just jumped at 1,000 of them for $1,000. Otherwise you’re paying as much as $25.00 for an ISBN.

Were you prepared for taking over the press? Anything that surprised you after taking over the business? How did you come to take over the business? Were you already working for the company at the time?

I thought I was prepared, but honestly I had a lot to learn. Many things that I never dealt with I had to learn on my own, so I definitely made my fair share of mistakes. What surprised me was the sheer number of delays. It seems like everything takes longer than it should. For a while it drove me insane . . . but now it’s just . . . life. My dad was getting too stressed out by the business; I wanted to grow it, and he wanted to keep it smaller, so he handed it to me and, I went off. Like I said before, it was rough at the start, but I’m feeling really good about how far we’ve come. In 2014 the business more than doubled its revenue from what we made in 2013, and it showed a profit. 2015 should be even better.

Thanks, Brandon, for the questions, and I hope everyone keeps a look out for the new publications coming from Dark Regions Press. We have some exciting projects coming out this year, including titles from Richard Laymon, Brian Keene, Clive Barker, and more. Pay us a visit at DarkRegions.com.

Freelance Design with Adam McIsaac

At Ooligan Press, the students are privileged to write essays about topics that matter to them, and to investigate the industry that will be their future home. Publishing is a big, complicated business, and there are always areas of interest not covered in classes. For my bookselling class during the winter term, I wanted to investigate some of the nuts and bolts of how publishing houses function, especially smaller houses that hire freelancers instead of having a full-time staff.

Adam McIsaac, who also spoke at Write to Publish 2015 about book design, was kind enough to provide me with a more in-depth view of the freelance design industry. While not a freelance designer by trade, McIsaac works as creative director for Hawthorne Books and as director of Sibley House, a Portland cooperative of publishers and designers.

Are freelance designer fees similar to editorial rates? Thirty to sixty dollars per hour?

They’re low, I know that, but it depends on the experience of the designer. I bill by project, not hourly, and I’ve been a designer for almost thirty years. My fees are predicated on an hourly of $150.00, and I usually get within spitting distance of that. I’m pretty fast, been at it a long time. Some titles I might make a profit of anywhere from 5 percent to 30 percent on, and others I’ll take a bath. We did a guidebook recently and ate $10,000 of hours because I knew the book needed to be a certain way in order to sell; guidebooks are complicated, typographic problems, and the publisher couldn’t afford that. But we had a good relationship, and I wanted the book to be right.

I have a friend who designs art books in New York, and I think her design fee for a decent-sized book for the Museum of Modern Art works out to around $7,000, which is nothing, or next to it, anyway.

Are cover design and interior design charged at the same rate? Are they generally two separate projects?

They are for most publishers, and my sense is that internal is a lower rate. For Hawthorne, we charge a flat fee per title that includes both.

Keeping in mind that there can be a lot of variation between projects, what is the average amount of hours or fee charged for a cover design (e.g. around $2,000, give or take $500)? Does it take a similar number of hours to complete an interior design?

I think that for a regional press, $2,000 per cover is probably the upper end. Most presses are fairly parsimonious about that: they can see their way clear to, say, $1,200 for a cover, and that has to include whatever external asset (photograph, illustration, etc.) is used. At Hawthorne, we have a separate budget for those things, but try not to use it if we can.

What sort of time span does design usually take? For example, does cover design usually take a month on average?

On average, ten to thirty hours for a cover; twenty hours or so for composition of the guts, including revisions. The guidebook I mentioned above took close to a hundred hours for the guts, but there was a lot of revision and a couple of false starts in terms of content.

What’s the best way to find a designer?

That’s the toughest question on the list. Everyone—including design firms—has trouble finding good people. But the AIGA is fairly reputable. You have to be serious to pay the dues, so most—but not all—of the people you’ll find there are competent.

But I think Behance is a pretty good resource, and getting better. There are tons of good, young designers on there, and most of them are fairly assiduous about documenting their work.

Is there anything to watch out for when choosing a freelance designer?

Beyond a base level of competence, fit is probably the most important thing. That doesn’t mean you have to like the designer personally, but you should feel like they’re listening to you. You should also make sure that you’re listening to them: you are not your customer. A good designer will know that and works as a proxy/liaison between you and your customer.

But you should make sure that they write pretty well. If they can write, they can read, and you can’t do this kind of work without being able to do both.

Is there anything that I didn’t think to ask that you think someone starting a brand new publishing house should know?

Writers are in the business of writing books. Publishers are in the business of selling books. Writers work very hard and for a long time on one project, and during that process they will develop ideas regarding what they think the book should look like. But they’re writers, not salespeople. I’m not saying that writers shouldn’t have an opinion, but they bring a lot of personal baggage and subtext (because they’ve slaved away for sometimes years on a book) to the process that usually won’t matter in terms of getting someone to pick up a book in a store.

As a publisher, you have to treat their book with the utmost respect, but you also have to do what you think needs to be done in order to get the book to readers. You’re a businessperson, not a priest. We have been very fortunate in that the writers whom we’ve had the honor to serve have—with very few exceptions—been very happy with the way we’ve framed their work. We’ve also been fortunate to have worked with publishers who had the final say in the matter.

Finally: design and production value matter. A book is an object, and it is a product. Certainly, the text is the most important thing about it, but it isn’t the only thing, and if that were so we would only read ebooks. There are legitimate publishers who shit out books that look and read like the worst of the self-published shelf at Powell’s. To my mind, that shows a disrespect, bordering on contempt, for both writer and reader. You should make something that people will want to care about and keep. That means spending a little more money up front with absolutely no guarantee that you will see a return. But if it were easy, everybody would be doing it.

Seal Press

by Mary Breaden
In 1976, the same year that Seal Press was founded as an independent publisher of books “by women, for women,” the first class of women was inducted into the United States Naval Academy, Barbara Walters was named the first woman co-anchor of the nightly news, and a record number of women authors were published.
Recently, I interviewed Krista Lyons, current Vice President and Publisher for Seal Press, which is now one of the only remaining presses dedicated to women.
Lyons first noticed Seal Press while she was earning her BA at UC-Santa Barbara.”I couldn’t believe how amazing Seal was,” she said, recalling her initial look at the publisher. “Many of Seal’s earlier titles were really groundbreaking and even transformational within the second wave and third wave movements.” Lyons still feels a “passionate connection” to this independent publisher “that was able to make its living only publishing women’s voices.”
Seal Press’s selective acquisitions process means that most of the manuscripts that come to Seal Press are submitted as proposals by agents. Only about one percent of the manuscripts from the slush pile end up being accepted. As a former acquisitions manager here at Ooligan, I was interested to hear about this independent publisher’s selectivity. A similar problem seems to exist across slush piles, which is that an author will submit their manuscript without following the press’s submission guidelines.” A lot of people don’t take the time to review what it is that we do,” Lyons agreed.
After Lyons and the other deciding editors accept a manuscript, she and the executive editor will provide developmental edits for the 26 to 30 books that Seal Press publishes each year. “I started out as an editor,” Lyons said. “I want to make sure I’m still hands-on in the field.”
Though the numbers of women at the senior levels within publishing are small, Lyons said that, overall, the industry seems to employ more women than men. She considers the numerous middle management positions that are held by women within publishing as similar to the much of the workforce in the United States.
Lyons said that she wished that Seal Press was larger and could publish more women writers. She recommended that both established and aspiring women writers become involved in writing communities with other women, such as She Writes, an online community of women writers, and the OpEd Project, an organization that encourages women to submit their opinion pieces for publication.
Lyons said that unpublished women need to be confident about sending out their work and should not fear rejection. “We get in our own way a lot,” she said. “The more encouragement women can receive from one another, the better off we’ll be.”
Regarding Seal Press’s target audience, Lyons describes an “evergreen” popularity among readers that seek out certain books in the press’s backlist over many years and subsequent editions.” We do have to publish some books that are more frontlist-oriented in keeping with current events and trends,” Lyons said. The audience that Seal Press is striving to please, however, will search for the books that they know this publisher will produce.
One of the most important lessons that Lyons has learned about the publishing industry is to be flexible. “[Publishing] is a really vibrant industry,” she said. “It’s important to know that there’s a lot of change in publishing all the time….That can be difficult for someone who’s drawn to words and to careful crafting. The industry changes so fast and you really have to be OK with that. That’s something to think about before you get into the industry. Being resilient and flexible is probably the most important quality [of a publisher].”
An earlier version of this post originally appeared on the PDXX Collective.