Q&A with Nancy Cleary, Founder, Designer, Chief Hand-Holder and Cheerleader at Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing
Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing is an award-winning independent press nestled on the Oregon coast in a tiny town called Deadwood. Nancy Cleary has spent over twenty-five years as a professional graphic designer and author branding expert.
Wyatt-MacKenzie has published hundreds of products over the last 18 years with a special focus on mom writers. They traditionally publish authors, offer unique advances, international distribution, and generous support in the areas of positioning, marketing, platform-building, and publicity. On the other side of the house, Wyatt-MacKenzie helps entrepreneurial authors self-publish or launch “Imprints” under the Wyatt-MacKenzie umbrella—the aim of which is to be the most empowered and transparent self-publishing model in the industry. Several WomenWritersWomen[‘s]Books members have been traditionally published by Wyatt-MacKenzie, including Amy Impellizzeri, Kate Brandes, and Brandi Granett
Thank you, Nancy, for joining us and taking the time to answer our readers’ questions. We’re very grateful and thrilled to have you!
NOTE> TP hereafter will refer to traditionally published titles. SP will refer to self-published titles or titles published under an imprint hosted by Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing.
ON SUBMISSIONS –
If an author is interested in traditional publishing, why should they consider Wyatt-MacKenzie over the Big Five?
Thanks for this opportunity, Peggy! Actually, I’m the biggest cheerleader for a writer landing her dream contract with a major publisher and getting a big ole advance. In fact, many times when I meet someone if a Big Five publisher has always been her ultimate goal, I’ll give her advice on improving her pitch/proposal and encourage her to keep trying. If though, the writer is coming to us having already published big, or they’ve specifically chosen WM (or they come back after trying the bigger houses), then they are in for an incredible publishing experience. From awesome cover designs to killer marketing items and collaboration on every creative brainstorm—I strive to over-deliver and squeeze every ounce of creativity into elevating my gals, their platforms, and their books, in every way possible.
I’ve walked this journey with many women and have served as hand-holder, counselor, sounding board, and career advisor. I relish in answering questions before they’re asked, and providing designs, ideas, and support just when it is least expected but needed most—from surprising an author with ARCs for every guest at her wedding, to presenting film options, to landing my gals in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and yes, even on Oprah, or telling her she’s won an indie award. I also try to bring backlist titles back to the forefront in new campaigns, new editions, and any new opportunities—the Big Five tend to turn their backs on authors after the newness (or profit) has worn off. I am always available for a call or Skype, and cheer my gals on for their next projects as well. I’ve gone from celebrating babies to graduations to grandchildren with some of my authors!
You offer a one hour consultation to help authors determine if traditional publishing or self-publishing/imprint is the best option for them. How much does that cost? What factors sway an author or your advice one way or another?
I’ve never actually charged a writer for a conversation about whether she should try for a traditional contract (with WM or a big house) or if she should take the leap and publish on her own. There are lots of factors. If the author has been previously published and aiming to get her rights returned from a list of other publishers, then she might be a better candidate for an imprint where I can help her put all of her titles securely under her own roof. Authors who have a series are also great with their own imprint which, importantly, lets them keep 100% of their rights. In fact, any writer whose priority is to keep her rights is absolutely perfect for the Imprint Program—once branded, packaged, and promoted, she would be powerfully positioned for a big sale of rights and/or movie deal down the road, which I am happy to advise on as well.
Wyatt-MacKenzie accepts both agented and unagented submissions. (From our readers, THANK YOU!) What format or information do you prefer for/in cover letters? Should an author send sample pages as well?
In the body of the email include a short pitch with a good hook, a quick overview of the plot, any advance reviews, plus links to the writer’s online presence. Attach the first three chapters and, ideally, the full book proposal which includes a marketing plan. Please don’t hesitate to send a friendly follow-up if you haven’t heard back in two weeks—I have a very strong spam filter.
If you pass on a manuscript for TP, will you still help that author through the SP process if she or he is interested in pursuing that avenue?
Absolutely. The reason I launched the Imprint Program nine years ago was for women with fantastic manuscripts who were considering SP options—I knew I could help in so many ways, especially keeping her out of the hands of money-grubbing know-nothing care-less middlemen. Sorry, I get little protective.
What is on your manuscript wish list?
My wishes are being fulfilled faster than I can wish them! I have an affection for magical realism, time travel, parallel lives, reincarnation, and psychic mediums—as seem in our titles “Lemongrass Hope” by Amy Impellizzeri and “Piper, Once & Again” by Caroline Zani. I love a good love story with a tangible twist—“Triple Love Score” by Brandi Grannet has Scrabble at its core, and “The Promise of Pierson Orchard” by Kate Brandes has fracking, yes, at its core. (laughing) Both are great, entertaining reads with that extra heart tug. And, I’m not afraid of the dark side of love, life, and struggle. “The Wrong Kind of Indian” is a thinly-veiled novel about a Native American woman in love with a Mumbai man slated for an arranged marriage, and it’s ripe with hot language, alternative sex, eating disorders, and addiction. Try me on anything with a strong angle, a clear and even creative structure to the story, and fresh, excellent writing.
What do your eyes skip to in the letter? What elements make you want to read more? What elements put you off?
First, start with a personal salutation. I am swamped by rapid-fire blanket pitches and quickly delete any emails addressed to “Dear Sirs” or “To Whom” which don’t acknowledge me, how they found Wyatt-MacKenzie, and why they are specifically pitching us.
Then, I want the first few sentences in the body of the email to sound like the deal announcement we would make when signed—the market, the plot line, the hook, the reason readers will want to read it.
Big blocks of text turn me off. Be succinct in a quick pitch—I want to see a writer has media-savvy and can say a lot with a few words. I also like a brief overview of the writing and editing process, and any reviews the manuscript has received.
A full book proposal can be attached including: a marketing plan with who they plan to pitch, when they will pitch (4 months before pub, etc.), what they will pitch (media angles, segment ideas, interview topics, excerpts, etc.), and how (do they have a contact, in preferred communication?); and a list of potential blurb-writers.
Is Wy-Mac equally interested in manuscripts that have previously been self (or small independent)-published and that have never been published?
If a book has been previously published and the publishing option chosen is still viable, chances are I would give the author marketing advice and brainstorm some publicity ideas with her. Our only traditional re-release of a previously self-pubbed book came to us after an agent picked her up and then presented a package to me with a few unique factors: the agent repped some of my literary heroes; I had a powerful personal connection with the writing and a phenomenal phone call with the author; and it had been eight years since the first well-reviewed release.
Should a writer mention that they read this interview?
Yes! I have an overflowing folder of proposals; pitches that show me a writer is paying attention—to what WM is doing—often receive a response within 24 hours.
ON CLIENTS & MANUSCRIPTS –
What are some common problems you see in the work you pass on?
I expect a manuscript to be peer-reviewed—essentially read by as many people before me as possible. I am impressed when a writer has workshopped a manuscript or worked with an editor through the process. The first page could make or break my decision to read the rest, so a strong start to a story is essential.
I expect a writer to have an internet presence and online acumen. It’s a problem when a writer says, “I’ll start social media / website once I get the book deal.” Ideally the writer should be google-able, and understand the ins and outs of online communications of all kinds, and be ready to seize opportunities instantaneously. As much as I love the idea of a recluse off-the-grid writer, if they are not active online chances are they may not be able to adequately promote the book.
What does the editorial process look like at Wy-Mac for TP? We’ve all seen self-pubbed novels that scream for a copy editor. Do authors under your SP arm go through the same editorial process?
We have a talented team of professional editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders. Each manuscript is evaluated for the depth of work that is needed and we create an editorial plan with three to five stages. And yes, when available, our pros can work on a freelance basis for our consulting clients.
Do authors at Wyatt-MacKenzie have input on their covers? Do you design covers for the SP clients or is that something they are responsible for?
Book cover designs are my passion and favorite challenge of the process—to make an author fall in love with her story all over again, and not want to stop staring at her beautiful creation. I will keep going with cover design sketches until I get the “Wow. I LOVE it.” response.
Yes, the cornerstone of my consulting program is the design, branding, and positioning, which is all included for imprints. I learned long ago that “the thing” in life I have to give is my talent for design. When I stopped charging money for what I loved to do is when my business exploded—as a publisher I design everything for my authors, and as a consultant I don’t tell them what to do, I do it.
What sort of marketing and promotional support does Wy-Mac offer?
We provide as much support as creatively, emotionally, and financially possible. We have a 6-month pre-pub marketing plan in our contract and our “advance” includes up to 50 printed ARCs (and we often send more!). We outline, month by month, the activities the author should be doing, and we support her through every step—from brainstorming blurb writers and how to contact them; to preparing an advance review package with the printed ARCs, sellsheet and press release; to creating marketing items such as bookmarks, postcards, big posters, presentation graphics and promos, logos for campaigns, and any graphics she needs.
The months leading up to a release we encourage authors to get local media and help fine-tune their pitches. I advise on how to turn every effort, event, and accomplishment into a marketing tool with photos and social media, and to parlay local successes into national attention.
Meanwhile, I am pitching the industry, watching editorial calendars, and creatively getting my gals in front of the biggest outlets out there. (My success rate for responding to “HARO queries” is quite high—check out our media page!)
For years after release we include titles in new campaigns, and watch for media queries and opportunities. We also enter our titles in the independent book awards, which can catapult authors into a new stratosphere of interest, options, foreign translations, and pretty bling for her cover.
Say, the manuscript is golden. Outside of that, how would you prioritize the relative importance of each of these attributes for an author’s career:
- Social media platform – website/Twitter/Facebook/Insta/etc.
- Professional/personal platform – ie, Lisa Genova with Alzheimer’s or a cancer survivor with a character who has cancer, etc.
- Detailed outline for Book 2 (or ideas for future stories)
- Small publishing credits in magazines and journals
A social media platform is important—but not in the way of numbers, rather in showing me she knows how to use her choice of outlets as tools. I love to see an author’s personality, her book’s unique angle, and elements which attract her audience shine through her posts, shares, likes and comments. It’s essential to be savvy in all new avenues of book marketing, and social media is one of the biggest. I respect publishing credits and professional background info, but I don’t need any details on other book ideas, focus only on what is being pitched.
What percentages do TP and SP authors receive from their book sales?
Our traditional contract pays 7.5% of the retail price on print—note that this is not net, this is a concrete number that is very easy to calculate and equals almost half of the net profit. And for eBooks, we’ve always paid 50% of net—whatever the final amount that is paid by the vendor, which changes based on device, download size, and promotions.
To be clear, our imprints keep 100% of their royalties. We are never a middleman; they have their own accounts directly with the distributor. This is the only way is should be for anyone who pays for publishing, in my opinion. (And, in the opinion of the late, great self-publishing guru Dan Poynter who famously said, “If you pay, you are the publisher.”)
Does Wy-Mac offer advances to their TP clients?
I say we offer “unique advances” which are non-monetary, but also not deducted from sales. In my little indie world, the investment I make in a traditional book in terms of time, energy, talent and hard-earned consulting-cash is quite substantial. I like to view this investment, along with the pre-publication support I provide, the publicity advice (which could save an author tens of thousands of dollars in publicists), and the graphic design (to not only help support the book, but also the author’s writing career), as equal to a pretty damn good advance. (laughing)
In my past life, (20 years ago) as a graphic designer and branding expert, authors would pay me their $5000 advance and I would help them with their website, their marketing materials, presentations, conference signage, branding, planning and publicity (this is what their major publishers expected them to do with the advance). Now I do all of this as the publisher without compensation, but instead for the chance of earning back my investment through sales and rights.
I would much rather allocate any additional available capital into promotional efforts! The author takes the risk, right along with me, of hitting it big and having all of her hard work and years of writing pay off—above and beyond holding her book in her hands, which she gets to do whether we sell a single big rights deal or enough copies to break even.
I wouldn’t still be a publisher if I was only in it for the money. I have two full-time jobs—my consulting work pays for my traditional titles. (smile) But I have built a legacy for my kids—their names are on apps, books, ebooks, and audios that have entertained and educated people around the world. And, as they both become adults, they’re studying to carry on the tradition. Wyatt (18) is in his second year at Oregon State University studying graphic design and MacKenzie (17) has done video workshops at the Art Institute of Portland, won photography awards, and illustrated children’s books. That’s how much I care about my authors—my heirs will bring their own new ideas, technologies and talent to our list!
What distribution channels and review publications are open to authors if they work with Wyatt-MacKenzie?
Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, Foreword Reviews, Midwest Book Review, as well as The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, and many more have mentioned, featured, and reviewed our titles over the last 18 years. We distribute internationally on demand through Ingram, plus we have long-standing accounts for direct orders from B&N, and work directly with universities and libraries through Follett, Coutts and MBS—my fax machine still hums with purchase orders from old systems.
We no longer do big “proactive” bookstore pushes—ie. pitch to big chain book buyers 9 months ahead of time with publicity plans, and then print 15,000 books which are pushed out to 104 Barnes & Nobles, with an extra $1500 for a face-out option for one day. We’ve been there. We’ve done that. We lost our shit. Pardon me. The author was hugely successful—she sold just over six thousand books as she executed her national media tour. Then, two months later, the books which did not sell came pouring back in and we drowned in a negative $32,000 distributor debt for years. Even on a small scale, stores are desperate to send back what doesn’t sell, and bookstore returns negate actual sales, which can be devastating—emotionally, logistically and financially.
We absolutely act “reactively”—when an author gets major publicity, with on-demand distribution we can ship 4 books or 40,000 in a day and never miss a beat! We don’t have to worry about the time or cost of going back to press and deciding how many to ship and where. I still have agents who question our use of on-demand distribution, I cheerfully share my experience.
Does the Imprint option include assisting your SP authors in finding placement in bookstores and libraries?
Yes, our Imprint Program gets SP authors set up with their own accounts directly with Ingram for international distribution (IngramSpark or LightningSource). I teach my Imprints about the reality of “being in bookstores” and show them the path to getting into libraries with industry reviews, indie book awards, and participation in co-op advertising in catalogs and at conferences.
Say, a client sets up an imprint, does Wy-Mac help them with the business side of things, such as setting up a LLC?
Yes, my program is comprehensive, and has become very structured after having taken 170 people through it. I include a step-by-step guide book and three scheduled phone calls (with me) to talk about the ins and outs of the industry, every step of the process from setting up their company, to editing, packaging and promotion, and how to “think big” and view their book as one piece in a writing/speaking/teaching career.
Many of our readers are curious about their return on investment between SP and TP. What do you suggest they consider? What does the data show?
Authors in traditional contracts have a hell of an ROI (smiling)—for no monetary investment, they get a beautiful product which has been carefully crafted and printed, and hundreds of hours invested by a professional to increase their visibility, build their personal brands, and elevate their writing careers.
My goal as a great consultant has always been to help authors recoup their investment. I shower my imprints with opportunities and ideas, and show them how to position their book as part of something much bigger.
For planning purposes, what costs are involved in SP beyond the Consulting Program you offer?
Consulting clients should keep in mind the costs of substantive editing, copy-editing and proofreading; these are the biggest expense. Ebook conversion should come in around $200, and the cost of setup with international distribution (with returnability) is about $300 for setup of ARCs, final books, and two sets of proofs. They should also reserve a marketing budget which includes printing ARCs, and final giveaway review/media copies, along with online advertising opportunities. The cover design, the interior layout, the design of marketing materials, and the creation of a publishing icon are all included in my program.
What advice do you give an author to prepare them for their launch?
I try to help authors keep expectations in check—a big launch is great, but we’re in it for the long haul, and need to maintain a level of effort beyond pre-pub and the week of release. It’s awesome to have an Amazon #1 when everyone in your network buys the book on one day, but it’s more impressive to maintain an Amazon sales ranking above a certain threshold for months, even years on end, and to see new Amazon and Goodreads reviews consistently pop up.
For the launch—have a team to help spread the word, set up a blog tour which offers something great to the blog owners in order to reach her established audience, and celebrate with a launch event at a chosen bookstore, or better yet the local library or a catered party at an event hall. Having a book launch party—with big posters for photo opps, video reviews from party-goers, and happy photos of happy people drinking themed book cocktails—gives an author great social media shares, provides b-roll for media, and projects a positive energy and experience that attracts more media and customers.
Cola or Coffee?
Hiking or Swimming?
Neither. Unless in Maui, then both.
On the Field or In the Stands?
Now, or in my prime? Back in Massachusetts, where I grew up, I was an avid basketball player, the soccer goalie, and I ran hurdles in track. Now, even the stands hurt.
Gelato or Cupcake?
Cupcake, if it’s chocolate.
Newspaper or Magazine?
Magazine. I’ve had a few of my own, lifetimes ago—Mom’s Business Magazine where I featured at-home mom entrepreneurs and BlueSuitMom Magazine which catered to working moms in corporate America.
We can’t thank you enough, Nancy, for your insights and advice. People like you are bright lights in this industry. Welcome to the WWWB family!
SUBMISSION GUIDELINES are delineated here.
Interview by –
MM Finck is a writer, essayist, and book reviewer. She oversees WWWB’s Interviews and Agents’ Corner segments. Her women’s fiction is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the contest chair for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association 2016 Rising Star writing contest for unpublished authors.
Her work has appeared in national and regional publications, including skirt! magazine. When she isn’t editing her novel, #LOVEIN140, you can find her belting out Broadway tunes (off key and with the wrong words), cheering herself hoarse over a soccer match (USWNT! – 2015 WORLD CUP CHAMPIONS!!!!), learning to play piano (truly pitifully), building or fixing household things, and trying to squeeze more than twenty-four hours out of every day. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Li.st (@MMFinck), and Litsy (@MMF). http://www.mmfinck.com