Friday, July 1, 2011

A Conversation with Acquisitions Editor, Sunny Frazier

Sunny Frazier is a mystery writer and acquisitions editor for Oak Tree Press. She speaks to writers groups and offers advice online to a group she calls her posse. She also dabbles in astrology, which has become the basis for her mystery series.

Sunny, what does an acquisitions editor look for in over the transom submissions?

First, I look to see if it's a genre we publish. We concentrate on mystery, romance, paranormal and Westerns. Next, I look at word count. Books are cost effective to print and sell between 55,000 and 85,000 words. Next, I google the person and see if they have any presence on the web. I want to know what they've done up to now in regards to their career. Then I look over the synopsis to see if it will fit in with our line. I will do a search to see how many cuss words are in the book, if there is a strong religious or political angle. We're looking for entertaining reads, not sex or violence.

Once I get past that, I look to see the level and quality of writing. I expect proper formatting, good grammar and spelling. Finally, I'm ready to read the story for plot and characters.

What are the biggest mistakes writers make when submitting to a small press?

Usually, they lack any sort of knowledge of the publishing world. They have no expectations of marketing or the amount of work they will have to do to make a profit. They've heard stories of huge advances, big royalty checks, book tours. A small press doesn't have that sort of money or resources. It's usually just a handful of people running the company. Often they think they are being ripped off because their expectations are so unrealistic. I try to weed those authors out ahead of time.

What in your writing background prepared you to serve as an editor?

My degree is in journalism, so writing has always been a business for me. I write for an audience, not for my own pleasure. I understand many people want to think of writing as an art, but I think in commercial terms. I've applied that to acquisitions. Can this book sell? Is this author flexible?Where is the target market? How do I reach it? I factor in everything before I make recommendations to Billie Johnson, the publisher.

How did your interest in astrology come about and how have you incorporated it into your work?

I discovered astrology at 19 from a strong reaction when I saw Alexandra Mark's book Astrology for the Aquarian Age in the dusty window of a book store in El Monte, [California], where I worked as a telephone operator. Everything in the book just made sense, although it involves lots of numbers and calculations--not my strong point. I put it all away when I joined the Navy (they don't exactly approve of such things). I really kept it under wraps for a long time, but every once in awhile I'd sense someone would need their chart done. The word got around in the sheriff's department where I later worked. Many of the deputies wanted their horoscope done to see if they would die on the job. Women wanted to see if they would find love.

To write about astrology was a tough decision. Would people take me seriously or think I was a kook? I figured if I was going to put it in my mysteries, I would come clean about what I physically experience when I cast horoscopes. Some are so difficult, so sad, that I have to go to bed to recover. It's not all fun and games. It's telling people things that they might not be prepared to learn. It takes a toll on me. In order for my character, Christy Bristol, to ring true, I had to go pretty deep inside myself and try to find a way to explain it to readers without losing them in jargon.

What are the most frequent questions asked when you talk to writers’ groups?

"How can I get published?" and "How much money do you make?"

How did your posse come about and how many members are there?

It started when I found people who queried me had potential but no clue as to the publishing industry. I market and research anyway, so I thought "Why make them navigate that maze?" I collected emails and started sending the group to sites that I found interesting or informative. I believe I can take 5 years off of a writer's career path if they just follow the lead. The title "Posse" is part of my law enforcement mentality. There's 40 of us who ride together.

What’s your current work n progress?

I'm working on the 3rd book in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries: A SNITCH IN TIME. As with the others, it has a real law enforcement story behind it. I'm also examining the friendship between Christy and her sidekick, Lennie. I also want to see if astrology can be used as a profiling tool.

What’s your work schedule like? And do you have a day job?

I'm retired. I get up, feed the cats, read my email and then pick up where I left off on the manuscript. I rest when my eyes get tired. I do acquisitions in the afternoon and sometimes late into the night. I work seven days a week and holidays. I don't have family obligations, children to worry about or a husband/boyfriend who needs my attention. The cats have to go outdoors if they become obnoxious. They don't know how to dial the SPCA to complain.

What about your social media links?

I blog at Buried Under Books and the Oak Tree Press blog, monitor Facebook, Crime Space, Book Blog, She Writes, Authors and Publishers, a total of about 35 sites. I don't twitter, have no cell phone and screen my calls. I don't allow visitors, although I can be persuaded to go to lunch if a friend is buying. My time and energy is invested in the authors who query me, authors at the publishing house, my publisher and the Posse. Sounds boring, but I couldn't be happier.


Clark Lohr said...

Great article from Sunny Frazier. ...who works seven days a week....and I can see why. Writing is hard, massively time consuming.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I learned something new about you--or maybe I knew and forgot--you once worked the phone company and so did I.

Love the way you tell it straightforward and not sugar coated.


Robert O'Hanneson said...

Great interview. I've known Sunny for about six months, and she's great at pointing people in the right direction. She knows the business and is willing to share all she has learned throughout her career.

Marja said...

Terrific article. Sunny's generosity toward authors says a lot about her character, and that's a good thing.

Um, at 19 I worked as a telephone operator in Covina, which is just minutes away from El Monte. How about that?

Melodie Campbell said...

Sunny tells it like it is, and it is an honor to be part of her posse, believe me.

From another former phone company manager and 911 operator...hey, I feel a story coming on -

jack59 said...

As usual your words cut to the truth Sunny but today I would like to share my joy at receiving a 4* review for 1/1:Jihad-Britain in Britain's largest circulation daily newspaper The Sun (4,000,000 + readers)It was described as 'A chilling read.'
OTP author in waiting

Anonymous said...

Good to get to know more about you, Sunny. Good interview. As a member of the posse, it was a pleasure to be included.

Sunny Frazier said...

Hey, working for Ma Bell was a good gig for a woman in the '60's and '70's. We were respected, had some power and I was given credit at shops all over town. I went back to being an operator when I got out of the service--many may not realize that the telephone company took back vets at the level we left. It was excellent money, especially on holidays.

P.S. I was the operator who took the last call on the old cord boards in Fresno. When I pulled the jack out, there was applause.

Sally Carpenter said...

Hi Suny, I know what you mean about obnoxious cats. I let my go outside when I write or else they stand in front of the computer screen. Seriously, thanks for the article. Sunny has a keen eye for finding new authors--she recommended my very first mystery for publication and Oak Tree Press will release it in August. Thanks a million! (is that how much my book will earn?)
Sally Carpenter
"The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper"

Lesley Diehl said...

Hey, my mom was a telephone operator. Sunny, you are one unusual person, a telephone operator, the Navy, law enforcement, and then this other aspect, astrology. And no cell phone. I admire you even more!

Anonymous said...

Sunny's commitment to OTP authors (and to the company, of course) is legendary.

I've never been a telephone operator, but I have talked on a phone.


Mark W. Danielson said...

Thanks Jean, Sunny. It's always good to see what people have to say about the industry.

Bonnie A Kelly said...

Sunny, you're great. If it wasn't for you I might never have gotten published. As a posse member I will be forever thankful for meeting up with you in SLO last year. My book came out as an ebook and Sunny and Billie selected it as the first book to come out in print at the new western imprint division of Oak Tree Press.
It should be at the printers now.
The money might be great, but to see my book published has always been my dream.
Thanks Sunny and thanks for always being there for your posse.

john M. Daniel said...

Sunny is an amazing woman, full of energy, full of knowledge about the publishing industry, full of good cheer, and generous with all of the above. Her posse has taught me a lot about publishing, and I've been a publisher for over 25 years.

WS Gager said...

Sunny: I wonder if the being an operator has anything to do with good dialogue...Something of a mystery but that is what Sunny is best at. That and being a great friend of writers. Thank you for all you've done! Thanks for having a great interview Jean!
W.S. Gager

Chester Campbell said...

Enjoyed learning more about your background, Sunny. Looks like you're doing a great job with Oak Tree Press. I know all about that seven days a week. I have some family obligations, but otherwise I'm usually at my computer, the PC in my office or the laptop in the living room. Glad to see affirmations of the impact you're having on new writers.

Sunny Frazier said...

Well, Wendy, being an operator taught me how to handle difficult people and multi-task. I was dubbed "The operator with the sweet voice." Did you know there are operator groupies? They would get our call number and send candy and cards to us. The bookies from Santa Anita race track were the best.

Lesley, I never set out to have an interesting life. It just happened.

Carol, talking on the telephone doesn't count. Nice try.

Thank you all for the kudos. Each OTP author is a part of my life--the most important part.

jrlindermuth said...

Sunny is an inspiration for all who cross her path. I'm glad to be a member of the Posse, too.

Bill Schweigart said...

I'm a new posse member, but it's been invaluable. Sunny culls the web for tips, resources, different perspectives, you name it. It's been a clinic. And she also issues badges, which I can use to make a citizen's arrest.... Actually, I just learned it is a crime to impersonate a law enforcement officer. It does lend authority though when I correct someone's grammar....

Jean Henry Mead said...

Sunny, speaking of the Santa Anita race track, I lived within a mile of there while working in Sears' customer service in El Monte, so you and Marilyn and I were in the same area at the same time. Small world!

Kelly Hashway said...

Very nice interview. I have to agree that writers need to do their homework before they start submitting to editors. Know the industry before you jump in. Great advice.

Penny said...

Loved the article Sunny. Thanks for breaking it down for newbies everywhere. You make an overwhelming task seem almost doable. Posse forever !

S. Connell Vondrak said...

Sunny, you bring a healthy (and needed) dose of reality into a writer's world. We all know that world is normally full of unlimited imagination.

Stephen L. Brayton said...

Good post. There are a few authors with astorlogy type books. If done correctly, then the mysteries can come across as, well, if not 'real' then not kooky. Imaginative and interesting.

marta chausée said...

Name four things not often present in interviews?

No apologies
Cats calling the ASPCA.

Count on Sumy Frazier to be both vivid and REFRESHING!

marta chausée, author, Resort to Murder mystery series

G Thomas Gill said...

Sunny's comments on marketing are true even for well established authors. I enjoy her no-nonsense approach to the business of publishing.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Stick around and read more of our posts here at Murderous Musings, Marta. We have plenty of honest, forthright, non apologetic posts. But you're right about cats not calling the ASPCA. We have humorous posts as well. :)

Anonymous said...

Great article. I love anyone who is upfront and direct and clear in what she has to say and in an editor, that's a real gift. I am so glad to be a part of the posse.

paula said...

I am glad that in your "retirement" you inspire and encourage so many in the posse. Thanks, Sunny.

June Shaw said...

Excellent article, Sunny. Yes, you are definitely a nice, helpful person no matter what hat you wear--editor, author, telephone operator, cat person..... And friend.