Choosing a Book Publisher? Choose One with Heart

I began my career as a writer 20 years ago. Since then, nearly everything I knew about the world of publishing has changed. Some of it to my delight. All of it to my wonder.

In the late 1990s, I edited a print edition trade magazine (there was no such concept as an online edition!), and the process of publishing the monthly issues – sometimes 156 pages in length – was arduous, somewhat analog, and time consuming. We started working on content for each issue at least 60 days prior to publication. The idea that we could produce meaningful content more frequently than 12 times a year had never crossed our minds. And yet today, I publish content for our clients often multiple times a day, from offices and airports, with the click of a button. And voila! Hundreds of thousands (or more) readers are engaged. It’s a brave new world.

As for the world of book publishing? Just 10 years ago, getting a book published – if you weren’t already a successful author – was an endeavor built on a wing and a prayer. Today, at last, book authors have control and consumer choice. If you have a manuscript, a bit of money, and the dedication to get things done, you can and will publish your book.

Everything has changed. What hasn’t changed? The value of the human touch.


So Many Things to Consider

If you’re working on a book, or have one or more books already to your credit, you know that there are many things to consider when starting out.

  • Do I need an agent?
  • Do I need a finished manuscript in order to secure a publisher, or do I need to write a book proposal first?
  • What kind of publisher is right for me? Traditional publishers, hybrid publishers? What about self-publishing my book – is that something I could do?
  • What format is right for my book? Hard cover first, then paperback? Straight to paperback because no one pays for hard cover anymore? What about Kindle and iBooks?
  • What do I need to know about print-on-demand (POD) books versus publishers that invest in big print runs?
  • Is there anything I can do to exercise more control over what I can earn from book royalties?
  • Do I understand whether I’m giving up any of my intellectual property once my book is “picked up” by a publisher?
  • Should I have my own editor, or do I use the one my publisher suggests?
  • And on, and on …

You’ve probably pondered all of these questions. But the one that’s often missing from the list is “How do I find a publishing partner who actually cares about me?”


It’s Easy to Forget the Human Element

When I decided it was time to expand my marketing company’s service offerings to include a full-spectrum book publishing division, I did it for two reasons and two reasons only: 1) I love authors. 2) I believed that people who had worked hard to write a book deserved a publishing experience that had simplicity and kindness at its core.

As I’ve worked with more authors and observed the book publishing journeys of many, one thing is abundantly clear: authors who choose publishers who care about them – about their hopes and dreams for their book, and about how the book connects to measurable business goals – ultimately end up more successful and satisfied.

Think about the publishing journey, and all the places where it’s vital that you’re not alone, adrift or unsupported.

During the publishing process. When your book is being turned from a Microsoft Word document to a typeset book with beautiful covers and a veritable alphabet soup of codes and numbers (ISBN, LCCN, bar code), will it matter if you’re working with someone who genuinely cares about your business and personal interests, and who is focused on whether your book lives up to your goals and dreams? YES.

A new author recently recounted for me his life-long dream of writing a book. Now, in his early 50s, he’s a published author. But because his publisher saw the book as a “project” and not as the childhood dream of the author, “He forgot that he was dealing not just with ink on paper, but my heart,” he told me. Indeed.

The big launch. What about when the book first comes out and you’re dying to know what your book sales were today? When you’re giddy and excited, and want a publishing partner who shares your joy? Will it matter then that you’ve chosen a publisher with heart? YES.

If your publisher doesn’t feel personally connected to you, they will move on quite quickly once your book is released. Good luck getting calls returned quickly from that kind of publisher. And that’s just downright awful. Books come from the heart, remember? So, when we introduced our most recent book at Silver Tree Publishing, we were nearly as excited as our author. We were calling and sending emails to celebrate every key milestone – the very first book that sold, the threshold of selling 100 books, the receipt of more than five 5-star reviews on Amazon, the delivery of the first big box of books to the author’s office. Choose a publisher who will cheer you on via social media and become an extension of your sales team and your fan base.

After the honeymoon is over. What about a year later, when you’re wanting to create a resurgence in book sales, or when you want to consider releasing a revised edition? Will it matter then if you have a publisher who cares about you? YEP.

It also helps if you’re working with a publishing company that has marketing expertise. But having a publisher who cares about you and your book long after publication day is vital. Because you will always be “the author of the acclaimed book … [insert title here]” and that credential will always matter to you.

Time for another book. What about when it’s time to publish your next book? Will having a real relationship with a publisher who values you matter then? YES, ESPECIALLY THEN.

You see, it’s all too easy to think that your publisher will love you if your book helps put them on the map and perhaps, if your publisher is the traditional kind that takes a big cut of the royalties, when the publisher has made a great deal of money from the success of your book. But, sadly, that’s not how it always turns out. We have a client who wrote a hugely successful business book in 2009, which was published by Crown Business, an imprint of publishing giant Penguin Random House. Crown, like most large traditional publishers, required that they get “first right of refusal” on her next book. It seemed like a near-guarantee that her next book had a happy home. But guess what? Crown didn’t want her next book and, suddenly, an author who had had the backing of a Big Five publisher was on the hunt for a new publisher who – you guessed it – actually cares about her.

When things go bump in the night. It’s not fun to imagine, and I hope it never happens to you, but sometimes things go horribly wrong on the publishing journey, and you need your publisher to come to the rescue – to hold your hand, have your back, make things right. Like when you get sued because of some alleged harm or violation created by your book. Or when you find an embarrassing error in the book and need to issue a revised edition as soon as possible. When the going gets tough, will it matter that you chose a publisher who truly cares about you? YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT.

I certainly hope this never happens to you, but it’s important to acknowledge that it could. Recently, I was working with Ingram Books to acquire three book titles from another publisher, and a representative from Ingram told me that fly-by-night publishing firms get “fired” by authors all the time, and that many simply close up shop completely. Transitioning the management of books from original publisher to “rescue publisher” is, he told me, a daily occurrence.


Never Settle for Less Than a Perfect Fit

In the end, there are good people at publishing companies of all styles and sizes. Small publishers often are havens for true book lovers and kindred spirits for passionate authors, but great customer service is everywhere. I once met the CEO of a well-known publishing house during a trip to New York, and I remember being struck not just by the capabilities of her company but of how delightful – bright, kind, humorous, approach, likeable, and just downright nice – she was.

When choosing a home for your book and a partner in bringing it to the world, look for that kind of connection. Seek trust. Settle for nothing less than complete comfort with the people you’ll be working with. Before you sign a contract, ask yourself, “Am I confident these people care about me?” Because if your publisher is truly capable and has genuine care and concern for you, anything is possible.

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