Interview with Publisher Mike O'Mary of Dream of Things

Sunday, September 15, 2013
Dream of Things is a book publisher and online bookstore. Dream of Things publishes anthologies of creative nonfiction and book-length memoirs. I have had the pleasure of working with and getting to know Mike O'Mary, founder of Dream of Things, and am excited to share this interview with all of you. Mike's dedication and positive attitude are refreshing and he is a pleasure to know (and I learned a lot more in this interview)!

WOW: Mike, how did Dream of Things come to be? How and why did you get started in publishing?

Mike: I started Dream of Things because I love creative nonfiction, and I wanted to publish anthologies that fill the gap between the Chicken Soup anthologies, which I regard as short and sweet, and the Best American Essays, which tend to be longer form. So the goal for Dream of Things anthologies is to publish essays that are not short and sweet, but short and deep.

One day I read an essay that I liked very much, and when I contacted the author, she told me the essay was an excerpt from her memoir. One thing led to another, and I ended up publishing Everything I Never Wanted to Be by Dina Kucera. Dina’s memoir has sold 15,000 copies to date—a real “home run” for a first-time author with a small press.

Today, Dream of Things focuses on memoirs and anthologies of creative nonfiction that align with our mission to publish “distinctive voices, meaningful books.” We publish 3-4 books per year.

WOW: Mike, what a great first time experience! How fabulous for both you and Dina! That's a great story and it's understandable why you would continue after such a success.

Can you give us the short version of your submission process and provide a link that would be helpful to authors who are interested in partnering with Dream of Things?

Mike: The submission process is pretty straightforward. There is a list of anthology topics on the Dream of Things website. If you want to submit an essay (2,500 words maximum) for one of those anthologies, you can submit it via an online form on the website.

For a book-length memoir, I ask authors to submit their best 20 pages. If I like what I see, I’ll ask to read the rest. You can submit the 20-page excerpt via the online form.

Here are some key links:

Dream of Things anthology topics:

Dream of Things submission guidelines:

Dream of Things form for online submissions:

WOW: As you know, I've worked closely with some of your authors on their blog tours and they all speak very highly of you, your process, and Dream of Things in general. It sounds like you've got a great system that works well.

What else sets Dream of Things apart from other companies?

Mike: Dream of Things is a “traditional” press in the sense that it is not a vanity press. I don’t believe an author should have to pay to be published.

But Dream of Things is also very “nontraditional” in some ways, mainly because the role of the publisher has changed. In a world where self-publishing is a viable option, the publisher has to go above and beyond what the author can do on his or her own. So to me, it’s about providing quality control and marketing expertise.

When I say “quality control,” I’m talking about things like professional editing, cover design, interior layout, e-book conversion, etc. Yes, you can self-publish. But if you’re going to do so, you’d better hire a professional editor to edit your work, and a graphic designer to do your cover and interior—and even then, you will have to grapple with the stigma of being “self-published.” So one of the things a good publisher can do today is to provide the author with the “umbrella” of an imprint, which ideally serves as the equivalent of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. And, of course, we’ll take care of the traditional things like getting the book produced and distributed.

More important, today’s publisher needs to be the author’s partner when it comes to marketing and promotion—because even if an author self-publishes a book and does it right, the author’s work is only half done. The author still faces the daunting task of marketing and promoting the book, and that’s very hard to do on your own.

Case in point: Don Dempsey self-published his memoir, Betty’s Child, and he did everything right: he hired a professional editor…he paid for cover design and interior layout…he arranged to have his book professionally printed and distributed…he even got some good reader reviews—people compared his book to Angela’s Ashes and To Kill a Mockingbird. But the book didn’t sell.

I saw that Don had a good book—and I also saw that it wasn’t selling. So I asked Don if he would consider allowing me to become his publisher. He agreed, we released a revised edition in February, and six months later, his book is in the hands of thousands of readers and he has 125 glowing reader reviews on Amazon. The difference is that we worked together to promote the book.

The other thing I’ll say is that Dream of Things is in it for the long haul. A lot of publishers are done marketing/promoting a book after six months or so. Then it’s time to get on to the next book. But at Dream of Things, I’m constantly looking for additional ways to promote or advertise a book. Everything I Never Wanted to Be was released in November 2010, but I just did another big promotion and newsletter advertisement (in BookBub) in August of 2013.

WOW: I'm glad you explained that with Don Dempsey as the example. I was curious as to why he had self-published first and then gone the traditional route. It all makes much more sense and it sounds like a happy ending for Dempsey and Dream of Things (and you know I love a happy ending)!

What can you tell us about marketing and different ways you help authors like Dempsey get in front of readers?

Mike: It’s very challenging for a small press or a self-published author to get noticed. But I believe e-books and the Internet go a long way toward “leveling the playing field.” That’s why Dream of Things is very aggressive about marketing the e-book edition of a new book. I release the e-book edition simultaneous with or shortly after releasing the print edition, I price the e-book aggressively, and then I promote the heck out of it via websites and e-newsletters.

(Note: People sometimes ask about the royalty on print vs e-book. It varies from publisher to publisher, but at Dream of Things, we pay a royalty of 10% of the cover price on trade paperbacks, and 50% of net receipts on e-books. So on a $15 paperback, the author receives $1.50. On a $2.99 e-book, the net receipt to Dream of Things is about $2, so the author receives $1. Obviously, the author gets more per book on the paperback, but in most cases, the volume of e-book sales more than makes up for the lower royalty per book.)

Here are some other suggestions for getting your book in front of readers:

  • Do a blog tour. I regard a blog tour as a foundational piece of any book’s marketing plan. You may not see an immediate impact on sales, but it helps to set a baseline for awareness of your book, and ideally results in reader reviews. Several of my authors have done WOW! blog tours.
  • Get reader reviews. Reader reviews are pure gold, so do everything you can to get family, friends and colleagues to post reader reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and elsewhere.
  • Use Amazon’s KDP Select program. There are pros and cons to the program, but the main thing is that you can use it to offer the Kindle edition of your book for free for a few days. It’s an excellent way to get your book into the hands of hundreds (if not thousands) of readers, which ideally leads to good word-of-mouth, more reader reviews, and PAID downloads.
  • Use websites and e-newsletters that target e-book readers. There is a cottage industry of websites, blogs and e-newsletters built around e-books. They cater to people who own Kindles, Nooks, iPads and other e-reader devices, and they represent some of the most cost-effective ways to reach potential readers. BookBub, Kindle Nation Daily, and Kindle Books & Tips have worked well for me, and there are dozens more that you could try.

WOW: No wonder you are so busy! It sounds like a lot of behind the scenes work is going on when you work with an author. I'm very impressed with how you embrace so many different types of social media.

You've already shared a lot and I appreciate your openness and honesty. What additional words of wisdom can you share with someone who wants to take their story to the next level and become published?

Mike: Peer review is very important. Have other people read and critique your book before sending it to a publisher or agent.

I think it’s also important to be a part of a community. The WOW! community is a great place to start. For memoir writers, the National Association of Memoir Writers is a great organization. I also encourage people to check out Jerry Waxler’s Memory Writers Network, which has hundreds of essays, interviews and book reviews intended to help memoir writers.

The most important thing I can tell you is that if you want your manuscript to stand out with a publisher or an agent, you need to make your book work on multiple levels. I see lots of memoirs that are well written, and do a good job of conveying the author’s experiences. But that’s not enough. The book needs to go beyond that. So think about how your book will be “categorized.” Yes, it will be categorized as a memoir. But ideally, it could also be categorized as a “self-help” or “motivational/inspirational” book. And in the best of all worlds, it will also be structured and read like a novel. Two great examples are Swimming with Maya by Eleanor Vincent, and Leaving the Hall Light On by Madeline Sharples. Each memoir deals with a tragic event—but each goes beyond that event to be a tale of healing and inspiration.

WOW: Mike, readers are going to think I paid you for such an endorsement of WOW! tours—I really want to thank you; you're so sweet. Working with Dream of Things and your authors (like Donald Dempsey and Eleanor Vincent) has truly been my pleasure!

Anything else you'd like to share for readers and/or authors before we call this a wrap?

Mike: This is a great time to be an author. There are more options than ever before when it comes to getting published. There are lots of indie presses out there, and you also have the option of self-publishing. So there is nothing to keep you from getting published!

With all of those options, it’s important to do your homework. Self-publishing is a viable option, but it’s a lot of work and it’s tough to go it alone. So make sure you know what you’re getting into.

And when it comes to indie presses, I feel it’s even more important to do your homework. What is their area of expertise? How long have they been around? How have their past publications sold? How do they distribute their books? What kind of marketing support can you expect?

Again, it’s a great time to be an author. There are many possible routes to publication. Your most difficult task may be deciding which is the best for you.

WOW: That's fabulous advice, and I myself have a goal of publishing by the end of 2014 so I personally thank you for all your insight and transparency. Thank you so much for all you do!


Interview by Crystal J. Otto

Crystal is a church musician, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Reedsville, Wisconsin with her husband, two young children (Carmen 6 and Andre 5), three dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, and over 200 Holsteins. Crystal and her husband, Mark, are expecting another son any day now. You can find Crystal blogging at:


Angela Mackintosh said...

Great advice, Mike! Thanks for the tip to use websites that target e-book readers. That's a fantastic idea. :) And congratulations on your authors' success! I've read several of the memoirs you publish and they are absolutely fantastic. You sound like a great partner for authors. I will certainly keep you in mind for my memoir!

Margo Dill said...

Thanks, Crystal and Mike for this extremely positive and inspirational look at publishing--with a lot of helpful tips, too. :)

Jerry Waxler said...

Thanks for the interview, Crystal. I love Mike's generous approach to life and to memoir writers.

Best wishes, Jerry Waxler
Memory Writers Network

Anonymous said...

Crystal and Mike, thanks for this great interview. As an author hoping to publish in the near-term, Mike's answers and advice are invaluable. It's my privilege to be a WOW blog tour participant and always look forward to working with you, Crystal.

Crystal Otto said...

This was such a fun interview; I'm glad everyone found it helpful! Mike is such a pleasure to work with!


Unknown said...

Crystal and Mike: Thanks for giving us all a meaningful discussion of important issues for authors!

Mike: I was surprised that Dempsey self-published first. The book I recently self published has not been performing well. Crystal is managing a blog tour for me right now, and I feel hopeful that the exposure will help in the long run.

My book would not be suitable to help you meet your current goals of publishing anthologies and memoirs. (It is a fictional story with a first person narrative.) But, do you have any special advice for a self-published author who would like to go Indie?

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