In keeping with providing you writer types with the best intel on the industry and honing your craft, we continue to introduce you to new and seasoned voices. Up today in our LitChat segment is co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of City Owl Press, Tina Moss.
Tina Moss is a USA Today Bestselling Author and business professional with over a decade of experience in the publishing industry. Starting in 2006, she began her career penning narrative fiction shorts for women’s magazines. Since then, she’s written several novels in popular, mass-market genres. Earning a Master of Arts in English Language and Literature from Brooklyn College, she shares her love of books by working in academia and focusing on teaching the next generation of literati. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Clinical Psychology. With extensive design, business acumen, and editing expertise, she brings a critical eye to all aspects of book production. As a social media savant, she emphasizes the importance of strong marketing and advertising for every City Owl Press book.
LS: Thanks so much for joining us on the site today! We’re thrilled you are here. Let’s start simply: you moved from writing and publishing to spearheading one of the fastest-growing independent publishers in the past few years. What prompted you to shift from solely writing to writing and publishing?
Yelena [Casale] (City Owl Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Editor) and I started in the traditional publishing world as authors. While going the route of querying, we landed an agent for our co-written book. However, after two heart-breaking acquisitions rounds at major publishers before ultimately getting turned down twice, we started to look outside of the traditional publishing. Although small presses existed at the time, we did not see an option that we loved. So, as the saying goes, if you want something done, do it yourself. We knew that together with the right combination of networking, resources, research, and hard work, we could create a press that would be both ethical and fair for authors to bring the best books to readers.
LS: Given that you have moved into working on City Owl full-time, and now you’re focused on publishing more so than in the past, what lessons have you learned?
You will never have enough time, and everything takes longer than you think it will. I have always been the type to do it all myself. Not because I don’t trust others, but I never want to ask someone to do something that I’m not willing to do. That “do it all” mentality has come to bite me in the rear. The reality is when you’re running a business, you need a team. No business is an island, not even if you’re self-publishing. So, it is my firm belief that surrounding yourself with good people, and being willing to let them do the things they do best, is the key to success.
LS: What has been the biggest surprise you’ve discovered about publishing since you opened City Owl?
The support and camaraderie from the City Owl authors has been the best surprise. We knew that authors were supportive of each other, but the early days of the internet were… not the friendliest. Even today, we see spats and hiccups in the writing community. However, the good far outweighs the bad, and our owls are amazing. They read and review each other’s books. They lift each other up with a virtual pat on the back and encouraging words. They promote and shout out release days, sales, and cover reveals. It is truly humbling to see the kindness, compassion, and friendship among this incredible group of individuals.
LS: What is the most challenging aspect you face as a publisher?
We firmly believe that other books are not competition but motivation and inspiration. When we see a book that we love top the charts that didn’t come from City Owl, we feel energized to push harder. However, getting books from the production line into the hands of readers is by far the most challenging aspect of publishing. When you have a fixed advertising budget, you have to get creative in how you promote. You can’t take on the mega-giants in the industry because they’ll just outspend you. However, you can make genuine connections with book bloggers, social media influencers, librarians, booksellers, and of course, readers. In the book world, it is all about connecting with people.
LS: Many authors tend to rush to get their work in the hands of agents and publishers. What advice would you give to a novice writer just starting to query?
You are at the beginning of your journey. And this is a marathon, not a sprint. Enjoy every second of it. Every victory from finishing the first paragraph to typing “The End,” from sending out the first query to signing a contract, from the editorial rounds to holding your book in your hands, are milestones that should be celebrated. Sometimes when we’re so focused on the next step, the next big thing, we can easily lose sight of how far we’ve come. Don’t lose that sense of wonder and enjoyment that writing brings.
LS: The scope of the industry is ever-changing. What have you done with your publishing house to keep up with these changes?
Adaptation is the name of the game. If you cannot deal with change, then publishing is not for you. Marketing strategies that worked today, may not work tomorrow. Trends that were hot this week, fade out by the following week. You need to be okay with never quite having the ground under your feet. Failing is also common. We’ll try a new advertiser, and it fails. We’ll take on a book that’s a hot trend, and it tanks. These are the realities of the industry. The important part is that you keep trying, and do not let failures or changes get you down.
LS: What makes City Owl different from other houses?
We are not perfect, but we are always striving to be better today than we were yesterday. We approach every book with the author and reader at the forefront of our minds. We do not want to be around for a “one and done” book deal; instead, we want to be there for the author over the span of their career. And while we would love that an author publish all of their books with us, we are supportive of our authors diversifying their books in whatever way is best for them. We are people–editors and authors–first before we are a business, and we place empathy, compassion, and understanding as the core values of our business model.
LS: How has being a publisher changed your individual work on how you produce your own manuscripts?
If we’re honest, our careers as authors have taken a backseat to our company. While we would each love to produce more books, we are not upset by our choices. We have grown City Owl Press into a company that we are highly proud of. When you run a small business the beginning years are always the toughest. Now that we’re approaching our seventh year in business, we are hopeful to get back to our writing roots. Knowing how every step of the process works allows us to look at our book projects with fresh eyes and see if what we’re writing best serves us, where we are today, as well as our readers.
LS: What is your biggest hope for your house and your authors?
In an ideal world every author at City Owl Press would be living out the dreams they have for their careers, whether that be writing full-time, hitting bestsellers lists, being shelved in bookstores, or getting their books into the hands of as many readers as possible. We are always moving our benchmarks toward higher aspirations. While we celebrate each new opportunity or partnership, we don’t rest on those victories. We set our aim high, shoot for the stars, and if we fall back to Earth, then so be it. However, we’ll never stop making the leap because we want our small press to be the one that’s talked about as the model for all that follow. To us, that means always putting authors and readers first while continuing to grow and expand in an ever-changing publishing world.
LS: Finish the following sentence: My dream would be to publish the next book that readers talk about for years to come, the book that stays with you and you return to again and again, the book that holds that special place in your heart. That is not the same book for every reader, and that’s the true beauty of publishing. We get to put out “that book” with every new release, and each book becomes a special treasure to a reader who needs it.