7 things about working for Tate Publishing
10:25 AM EDT on May 8, 2017
Today I'm coming out of my TLO retirement to talk about my time at Tate Publishing.
In June of 2011, I was hired at Tate Publishing. As the first ghostwriter hired by the company, I had an idea of what to expect because everyone who graduated with an English or Journalism degree in Oklahoma wound up working there. At the time, I assumed this was because Tate was a good place to work, and not because of the serious dearth of opportunity in Oklahoma.
So, before I get too far into what my experience was like, I want to make sure that it’s clear that Tate Publishing was allowed to flourish as a company because Oklahoma is the way it is. Any upper middle class dick hole can start a business in Oklahoma, and it’s seen as the American dream. And any employee who expresses any concern about their employer is functionally silenced because 1.) they have no place else to go due to lack of opportunity, and 2.) it fits with the dominant narrative to simply say the employee is entitled and just trying to bring down a hardworking, successful American.
Seriously. Look at some of the news stories about local business leaders in Oklahoma that have come out in the past five years. How many of them are good? Stop being surprised when the spoiled little rich boys take over a company for a parent or in-law, and then functionally ruin the lives of everyone who works for them as well as the reputation of the company.
But that's a post for another day. Let's talk about Tate.
In the interest of fairness, I feel I should mention the few things about Tate that were really progressive and awesome for employees.
• Tate offered flex scheduling. Even though working for Tate was like working for a caricature of a tyrannical baby, at least I was in control of my schedule, and thus, my life.
• Tate really only required you to work for 35 hours a week. The majority of employees were salaried (probably because that was easier for the HR Department—Rita Tate’s Sister—to handle). The schedule required you to work 8 hours a day, but those 8 hours included your one-hour lunch break.
• Tate paid for health insurance. No money was ever taken out of my check to pay for the Blue Cross Blue Shield policy that covered my monthly sinus infection Z-paks. Now, I happened to work for the company at a time when they actually did pay for insurance. I know of several people who worked there after I left who found out the hard way that Tate had stopped paying for employee insurance without actually telling the employees.
All those good things don’t negate the terrible or bizarre. I just want to make sure I include them lest we hear Richard Tate bitch in another interview about how no one is telling the full story.
I’m a writer, Richard. You can count on me to tell the story.
1. Tate hired young employees. And sure, a lot of us were incredibly capable and intelligent. In fact, I would argue that Tate had one of the most erudite staffs in the state just in the editing department alone. But the reason Tate hired younger people was solely because a lot of us didn’t have any prior work experience.
And because of that, we didn’t know what a real company should look like. We didn’t know how a CEO should act. We didn’t know that the services we were providing and the hours we put in should receive nearly double the pay. And, if I’m being honest, we were still young and idealistic enough to believe that we should work in the field we loved and that our hard work would pay off in the form of a raise. We wanted to use the degrees we went to school for, and not just land in the marketing department like all other English majors.
2. The office itself was a joke. I don’t know when the Tates bought or decorated the main building, but it was heinous. The lobby had green carpeting, sanded glass, and I believe some floral carpeting or maybe upholstery thrown in. It was grandiose in a supremely outdated sort of way.
But what the main building lacked in relevant style, the production building (or proletariat hell hole) made up for in utter lack of functionality. Desks were crammed into an old converted strip mall. The editors and ghostwriters were in a large, open air room with far too many people for any sort of productivity to occur. The workload was immense, and I suppose in an effort to make it impossible for us to complete, the Tates decided an open air office would be the best option.
I should note here that the Tates didn't pay for a business internet account. In fact, God forbid you need to send an email. There was only so much wi-fi to go around. I'm pretty sure the Tate's paid for the basic Cox internet account that you can get for your home.
3. The business model was just as bad as the rumors you heard. The first stage of the Tate Publishing business plan was an author/client contacting the acquisitions team (a.k.a. "sales) about publishing a book. They would tell the author how great their idea was, and that the world would be a better place if they published this book. Oh, and it would be an honor for Tate to do the publishing. After having all this smoke blown up their asses, the client would be agree to pay a services fee – usually about $4,o000 or so – to have their work edited and published.
They would then go through the other stages of the publishing process. I'm not 100% sure, but I think the pre-editing phase was really just making the client wait. Someone at the company would send them check-in emails, but for the most part, nothing really happened.
Then, when their manuscript would finally get to the editing department, it was clear that the client was paying $4,000 to publish garbage. So, the editors would work their hardest, and make changes to the manuscript. Usually, these were things that would make the document make sense, or hard-and-fast grammar rules that apply to all writing (unless it appears here on The Lost Ogle because we're above the law).
It wasn't uncommon for an incredibly capable editor to take a good 45 or so minutes out of their already-packed day to explain to an author why they put commas into several sentences in chapter two. And it wasn't uncommon for those authors to fight those commas, as if a comma would ruin a slap-dash devotional for single women, or a story about Hezbollah stealing a child from the scene of a car wreck in California and raising the child in the Middle East to become a terrorist only to have telepathy save the day in the end.
(Note: I worked on that Hezbollah project.)
After editing, the book would move to layout and design. There, trained graphic designers would create cover options for these authors. The authors would then refuse those options in favor of a terrible image, usually a washed out photograph, or something stupid their grandkid drew.
4. The workload was impossible to handle.
In one month, the ghostwriters would write two books. See, the $10,000 ghostwriting package got Tate clients a 25,000 word manuscript. That's a roughly 100-page book, give or take. So, a ghostwriter would write roughly 50,000 words a month. In addition to writing two books, ghostwriters also needed to take the client comments from the previous month's project, and make those edits. Which means that ghostwriters were editing two books a month. And, because projects kept coming in, while ghostwriters were writing two books and editing two books, they were also outlining two books for the next month.
Editors had a similar load.
Content editors worked with somewhere around 300,000 words per month, which was anywhere from 5 to 15 books. They edited those books, sent emails to authors three times a month, and wrote the copy for the back of the book.
Then there were the copy editors. They were considered part-time employees at 30 hours a week, but the amount they edited was way higher than what the content editors handled. They were assigned 500,000+ words a month to edit, which comes out to 4,200 words per hour, which is pretty much impossible.
I'm not sure how many books the cover design team handled a month, but it had to be an enormous amount. Their team was a fraction of the size of the editing department, and they inherited all the projects we finished up the month before.
Of course, all of this was pre-Philippines Tate. After the majority of the work was moved to the Philippines, the U.S. editing staff became "project managers," and they handled somewhere around 200 or so authors at a time.
5. Mostly, we worked on pretty laughable things. Sure, occasionally a really good book would come through the pipeline, but mostly that wasn't the case. See, because Tate preyed upon people who wanted to be authors more than they actually wanted to writers, they rarely, if ever, attracted the sort of clientele that you wanted to write home about.
But we did get some stories that deserved to be told. Several of the books the ghostwriting department came across were from victims of abuse. And, as an act of therapy, they wanted to tell their stories. So, naturally, the acquisitions editors promised them that for just $10,000, Tate could ghostwrite their stories.
A significant amount of my Tate tenure was spent interviewing people about childhood sexual abuse and then writing, mostly in graphic detail about what happened.
6. Occasionally, we had "fun." As a rule I hate team-building activities. I'm a writer, ergo I fly solo. Tate, however, loved activities. The first Friday of every month meant there was an all-staff meeting (like the one where everyone was fired), which was followed by a team outing to Full Circle Books. I can't remember why we did that, but I think it had something to do with market research.
(It should be noted here that Full Circle isn't known for selling questionable self-help and inspirational fiction, so I don't know why Tate thought this was relevant.)
But there were other weird activities we were forced to sit through. Ironically enough, one afternoon we were trucked over to the Mustang Community Center to sit through a presentation from a rather large, egg-shaped man in cowboy boots about the Better Business Bureau. I literally have no idea what the BBB does other than put a seal on businesses, but I do know they have no credibility if they backed Tate and gave a presentation to employees about why the backing of the BBB matters.
And then, there was a day when the company forgot it was a publishing company and not a church camp. It was Tate Family Fun Day. AND IT WASN'T FUN.
Again, we headed over to the Mustang Community Center, and played the sorts of games that I imagine the Christian kids played at church camp while kids like me smoked pot and read Baudrillard. (I was, and still am, a pretentious ass.) There was a game where you had to sit on balloons to pop them, and then like, I don't know, something with hula hoops? Maybe? Then, we all played this weird ball and bucket game invented by the designers at the company. I remember that I was on Ryan Tate's team, and my team won.
It should also be noted that I saw Ryan Tate more during that family fun day than I did during my 11 months at the company.
7. As you already know, the Tate family is the most irrelevant and self-unaware family in the state. I only made it 11 months at Tate. And when I left in early 2012, Rita Tate mentioned in a meeting with the ghostwriters that she was going to start working on a book on the death of Trayvon Martin. And she wanted to be able to tell the real story, because according to her, it wasn't about race.
Sure, rich white lady. Sure.
But that's the best way to encapsulate Tate Publishing. At the executive level, it was the most insular and irrelevant group of people to ever draw breath. Just below that level, it was a bunch of weird dudes in marketing who wore jeans with white stitching and weird floral button-down shirts. And beneath them, acquisitions spun their lies. And at the bottom, were the people who were actually qualified to be a part of the publishing industry--the editors, designers, and multimedia people.
I honestly could go on forever about what it was like to work for Tate, and it's not even the worst company I've ever worked for. I've been struggling with a way to end this post, just because I don't think there will ever be any closure for former Tate employees, especially since every single time we go for a job interview, the interviewer gets sidetracked and wants to talk to us about what it was like there. And I don't think the Tate family will ever get what they really deserve.
I would like to humbly suggest that the family is punished by having to read every last book they published. Which will be pretty hard since in one of those staff meetings, Ryan Tate once admitted that he never reads books.
P.S. If you're a former Tate employee, please leave your horror stories in the comments.
P.P.S. There's a former Tate acquisitions editor passing herself off as an author coach locally. Beware.
P.P.P.S. If you're an investigative journalist and are interested in knowing about the worst company I worked for -- the one that was worse than Tate -- hit me up.