In the Ask Omar section every month I will take readers questions and I
will answer them directly. Send your questions to email@example.com Stay tuned the 15th of every month for the new questions. Below features a recent June 2011 interview with SSW Magazine at a literary event in Detroit, Michigan.Enjoy.
A Conversation with Omar Tyree
I recently sat down with Bestselling Author Omar Tyree at a book signing. We spent about 15 minutes talking over the current state of the industry, his latest project that’s scheduled for a July release and he offered some advice to new authors starting out.
Q: So what brings you to the “D” today?
A: “I have a management group and they search for different opportunities for me to present my professional skills on a national level. But I haven’t been in Detroit for a while so I was excited to get back up here.”
Q: When was the last time you were here?
A: “I think the last time I was in Detroit may have been 2008. That’s a long time for me because I typically make the rounds of all the cities. I may skip a city one year and come back the next. So three years is a while.”
Q: So how many cities do you typically hit in a year?
A: ”In a year on tour we typically can do 15-16 cities. But then during the rest of that year I might hit 30 cities because you have other events that may not be during the tour season but it may be another event that someone else is having they’ll invite you to so you go ahead and go to those events.”
Q: So how has it been for you in terms of book sales?
A: ”I feel like an old relic now because there are so many new folks in the game. Which is great for them but for older content I’m going into a different area. For the last four years I’ve been trying to muscle my way into film. It’s a very tedious process because you feel like you’re stuck in traffic on a road with so many books coming out. So to elevate above that and to stand out again you need a helicopter. And films are the helicopter. I’ve been saying that to African Americans for a number of years now. It’s crowded and when it gets crowded the people get frustrated and you don’t have that excitement you used to have with the content. It’s going to take films and the execution of films to get us excited again.”
“At one time people used to get excited when summertime came around because they knew there would be five big books coming out from five big authors. That just hasn’t been the case in recent years. Terri McMillan’s book had a big buzz to it last year. Outside of that no books really had that big bubble or buzz like they used to. We had that whole seasonal thing. Everybody had their month where the whole nation was ready for them. But now it doesn’t have that same type of appeal.”
Q: Do you think the industry is changing in that respect?
A: “Not without film, I’m putting an E-book out next month called, “Corrupted,” which deals with the publishing industry. I’ve got an editor who’s like the last man standing, because a whole lot of black editors have lost jobs over the last few years. So many self-publishing authors have kicked the tails of the major publishing houses. So the major publishing houses are asking, “Why are we publishing black material if we’re going to be competing against every up and coming who has a couple of dollars to put out their own work and compete against us. And people are saying, “well, there’s room for everybody, “not when you’re counting dollars and cents. Especially if you don’t have those mega monster [hits] that can make things happen. So now you’re looking at more non-fiction books being published. The biggest book over the last few years was Steve Harvey’s book, “Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man.” He was on Oprah’s show, he was on Tara Banks show and he has his own radio program. That book has sold 2 million copies in hardback. Those are phenomenal numbers. But that’s where it’s at right now, the celebrity books, the reality books, reality television it’s just the next level of the game so we have to figure out a way to compete with that visual marketplace and the celebrity marketplace that I saw coming a long time ago. “
Q: So how does an up and coming writer deal with that sort of thing?
A: “Well a lot of up and coming writers are able to make a living. But you have to understand that where they’re making a solid five figures, back in the 90’s we were making a solid six to seven figures. We were being signed for $400 to $500 thousand, and we were selling hardbacks. A lot of new writers don’t do hardbacks because they’re too expensive to publish and then you have to beat the audience over the head and charge them $25. So new writers are reluctant to charge that unless they have a publisher behind them and publishers aren’t getting behind you if they know you’re going to be eaten alive by a bunch of $13 books. And my book “Corrupted” deals with all the ins and outs and dark sides of the publishing industry.”
Q: So what is the difference in terms of your grasp of the industry between now and what it was like when you first broke in?
A: “No competition, I could do an event and maybe two other authors would show up whereas now if you throw an event you wonder how many are going to show up. Back then I was a true hustler, I didn’t care if you read the book or not as long as you bought one. Somewhere in the middle of my career I started caring about what people felt about my books and so I continued to advance with new subjects and topics.”
Q: So what’s your number? Where are you in terms of total book sales?
A: “Steve Harvey sold 2 million with one book and I’m at about 2 million with 19 books so that shows you the type of impact celebrity status can have.”
Q: If he wasn’t a celebrity do you think he would have sold so many books so fast.
A: “It is what it is, you can’t say if he wasn’t… he is.”
Q: Is that typically how it works? Do you start with a hardback and then go to a soft cover if you can afford to do that?
A: “Well it’s not about affording, I think Carl Weber had the right idea initially about 7 or 8 years ago when he told Kensington he wanted to come out in soft back first to let the audience feel him at a cheaper price. When you come out in hardback you have to have muscle behind you immediately. And right now, again, it’s hard to come out that way because the competition is so steep and Steve Harvey can come out that way because of Oprah, Tyra and his own show. That’s heavyweight publicity and marketing. But a new jack writer coming out in hardback will have a tough time getting an audience to pay $25 when the audience knows they can get two new books for the same price. That’s why I’m writing “Corrupted” now so people can see the difficulties of operating in this marketplace. I’ve always been an informative writer that’s my style, every book I write is about information so that’s the new information right now. It’s not saying that the whole industry is corrupted but people need to understand the deeper trappings of the game. “
Q: What advice would you offer to a young writer trying to get their book out there?
A: “You have to travel and beat down the doors and have your flyers ready. You have to beat the drum hard and hustle. You got to be hungry, bottom line, hungry out of this world.”