INTERVIEW WITH A PUBLISHER

Following last week’s great reply to my first question, here is my publisher Mark Stepp of Old American Publishing as we finish the interview with several specific questions about the business. Hope you enjoy it.
VB: What sets Old American Publishing apart from other small presses?
MS: Old American Publishing is my third publishing company. Publishing is a tough business. You either have to be crazy or rich to make this type of business work, and I’ve never been rich. Hardly any of our income comes from the books we publish. We edit and rewrite a myriad of products for Houston based oil companies under our other company name. It is a boring, tedious industry, but the money is good. That income allows me to pursue publishing as if I were a rich publisher. Like any company, we have operational costs, but most of those are absorbed by my parent company. For that reason, I am able to send most of the actual profits (when there are any) to the authors themselves. It’s nice to know that I can boost an author’s career and put money in her pocket. A publisher must always have his eye on the finances, though, and it is easy to lose a lot of money on a book.
VB: How and why did you start OAP?
MS: I originally began working with a Houston based publishing company that was funded by a group of local investors who thought publishing was the road to riches. Boy, were they ever confused. Fifty years ago, any kind of publishing was as good as money in the bank, but things have taken a drastic change in the last ten years. When the investors pulled out after three years, they owed me money. Instead of taking their money, I accepted the publishing company in payment.
VB: What specific genre do you publish?
MS: What we are good at is history books about hometowns. Our tastes are a little eclectic, but historical significance is our general theme. Now that we’ve gotten things better established and are not going to go out of business the way so many struggling publishers are, we’ve decided to expand a little. We plan to publish a zombie book sometime late next year. Right now we are finishing up a book on historic inns and eating establishments in the Oregon area. Our next project is a biographical sketch of pioneer women in northern Texas. We would always consider an historical novel, but we don’t really have a proper marketing program for fiction yet.
VB: What do you look for in submissions beyond the requirements of subject matter?
MS: I love a great query letter. It tells me the author can actually write, and it lets me know she understands the industry. New writers often have unrealistic expectations, and publishing is not a business for the feint of heart.
VB: How important is an author’s platform to you?
MS: If you are going to sell a book to a publishing company, you need to convince them that you can make them a lot of money. I know that sounds awful, but the truth is that we really cannot sell your books for you. You are going to have to market yourself and your book. If you don’t have a good marketing plan for your book, then no publisher with any sense is going to gamble on your book. It’s just a cold hard fact of life. An author’s platform (the latest buzzword for explaining how you are going to market your book) is vital to your success.
We send out press releases and sample copies to reviewers. Not counting personnel costs, postage and printing are biggest expenses. But you have to tell us who the local reviewers are and who (and why) needs one of your books badly enough for us to send them a free copy. I’ve had writers who turned in their manuscripts and then barely talked to us except to gripe about their royalty checks. Those people need to write for hire. When I realize a writer is that kind of person, I cut him off immediately and do not publish his book. I cannot afford to.
VB: Do you have a slush pile?
MS: No, a book is either in the editing phase or production. We do not sit on manuscripts.
VB: Typically how many unsolicited queries do you accept, and how many go on to publication?
Only one this year.
VB: Is there a particular type of book you are currently looking for?
MS: Historical books with a local audience. We do not cater to a national market.
Since we plan to publish an anthology next year of fiction stories about zombies, we’d like those short stories. We’ve decided to limit the scope to zombies in Texas or stories that relate to Texas in some way. We figure that will help us overcome some of our marketing issues.
VB: Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re excited about?
MS: The historic inns project is my favorite unpublished book at this time.
VB: What do you suggest hopeful authors send to peak your interest in their work?
MS: A great query letter. Tell me about yourself and why people in your area would purchase your book. If it’s a fiction book or a fictionalized account, convince me that we can make money from it with our limited marketing abilities. You might have written the best biography about Colonel Custer that anyone has ever seen, but I do not have any avenue for selling to mass American market. Keep it local.
A special thanks to Mark for taking the time to answer my questions. If you have a book such as he describes you’d do well to query him. Working with Mark on The Boston Mountains: Lost in the Ozarks has been a joy.
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About veldabrotherton

I'm primarily a writer, but I also speak and teach workshops and co-chair a large critique group. My brand is SexyDarkGritty and that applies to my western historical romances, mysteries, women's fiction and horror novels. After almost 30 years in this business, I still have something to learn and attend conferences to network with other writers, publishers, editors and agents.
This entry was posted in Mark Stepp, Old American Publishing, platform, query letter, The Boston Mountains: Lost in the Ozarks. Bookmark the permalink.

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