So, you say you’ve landed your first publishing contract? Good for you! We have some advice for you, whether that contract was with us or with some other small- or mid-sized publisher.
Eight secrets we publishers wish you knew:
- Patience is a virtue. We recognize that authors — especially early-career writers — are eager to get a physical artifact in their hands and to hold celebratory parties to sell books and bathe in the glow of public adulation. We get it. We’ve been there. The thing is, as a publisher, we have more than one project in the fire at any given time and our No. 1 priority is to remain solvent. So some projects will move fast, others slow. That’s a normal part of editorial operations for any small- or mid-sized publisher. So Project A might fly by in six weeks, while Project B — equal in scope and complexity — executes in nine months. Please be patient, and understand that we as the publisher wouldn’t have contracted with you if we didn’t think your work was worth publishing. Scheduling decisions by us are purely business and do not reflect our interest in the author or the author’s project.
- A spirit of teamwork is essential. Approaching the editing and development cycle with a willingness to collaborate as a team makes for a much less painful work environment. Sometimes a player in the process — an author, an editor, a book developer — can fall into prima donna mode and come to the table with a fixed set of expectations that aren’t reasonable. When teamwork evaporates, there’s very little grace left to handle unexpected problems that arise during the editing and production phase of the project. As an author, you should be a team player — and also hold the publisher to the same standard.
- Books are community efforts. A book doesn’t belong to the author. It doesn’t belong to the publisher, either. Instead, it’s a group effort between two or more parties, each of whom supplies a unique and necessary part of the final whole. Authors, then, should neither be too possessive of the project — i.e., it’s “my” book — nor too passive about it by deferring all major decisions to the publisher. All parties to a book must be equal and active collaborators.
- Respect the difference between content and design. The interior of the book represents an interesting division of labor. In general, the author dictates the content (i.e., the story) with the exception of the copyright page, which is solely at the publisher’s discretion. The publisher reigns sovereign over font selection, page design, internal organization and white space. In other words: The author controls the words, and the publisher controls what the words look like on the page. It’s usually a bad thing when publishers unilaterally make major content changes without the author’s consent, or when the author argues about layout or typography.
- Don’t stress over covers or trim sizes. In traditional large-scale publishing, authors don’t even get to see the covers until the book hits the market. Although we, as a small press, obtain the author’s general consent over the cover design, the author is not responsible for the cover or the trim size. We certainly welcome suggestions, but ultimately, the publisher is solely responsible for the front and back covers and the spine. This point is worth mentioning insofar as some authors come to the table with covers already designed or with a desire that a friend supply cover art. As a rule: You don’t need to do this. Cover design only falls under author jurisdiction when the author self-publishes. The reasons for this separation of duties? Some publishers — including Caffeinated Press — must adhere to exactingly specific technical requirements with their printers. Or, we use consistent formatting of cover objects, including barcodes and publisher logos, as part of the press’s brand identity. There’s a lot more that goes into covers than just the visual appearance!
- Authors do participate in marketing … As an author, you’ll be expected to participate in events and to actively assist in the marketing and sales of the work. You can’t just pop the cork when you get your courtesy copies and magically wait for checks to come in.
- … But shouldn’t be the only ones marketing. Your publisher should actively market, sell and otherwise promote your work over the life of your contract. It’s not enough for a publisher to receive a box of books from the printer and call it a day. Publishers should promote their catalog, and if you find a publisher disinclined to promote your book, consider it as a red flag. Doing some research between “acceptance” and “contract signature” might be useful — if you don’t see serious indication that the publisher wants to actively promoted published authors, then think twice before committing to that publisher.
- Marketing is a marathon. Disabuse yourself of the idea that a book needs to be “released” and then immediately followed with a “launch event.” That kind of thinking is dangerous; it rests on the assumption that a book isn’t real until it’s had some sort of birthday party, and that such party opens the door to consistent revenue streams. In fact, we’re actively contemplating banning “launch events” altogether in favor of all-author “boost events” held twice annually. As an author, you should think about marketing in terms of a long, tough slog — attending events here and there, selling a few copies every now and then, promoting on social media, etc., to ensure that you have a long-term consistent revenue stream. (We, obviously, do the same.) The point is, sales and marketing are interwined; do the latter to obtain the former, and do it consistently over the lifecycle of the novel. You do not need to have a special event on a specific date for a book to be successful — instead, you can have many events on many dates over the life of the book!
Eight tips. Comments welcome.
[NOTE: Revised 2/20/16 for tone/content. — JEG]