This weekend I had a chance to catch up with Lisa Hendey, Pat Gohn, and Maria Johnson, AVE authors I am also blessed to call personal friends. Friday evening was particularly memorable — Maria (My Badass Book of Saints, pre–order it here) hosted a lovely soiree/pig roast at her home, and had lined up several potential authors for me to meet. Thanks to these three ladies, who had these new media aficionados “locked and loaded,” I had a great time.
That evening, and for the next couple of days, I was reminded that happy authors are among a publisher’s greatest assets. At the conference, several up-and-coming authors came up to me to say what good things they had heard, and to ask about the proposal process. On Sunday, when an author I was trying to acquire had questions about exactly what AVE could do for her, I took her back to the conference and introduced her to these ladies, confident that they would be able to help me close the deal. And then, shortly after the conference, I received an email from a high-profile author, who had heard great things from two other authors, and he was interested in discussing a book idea with me. All these things are great examples of how the author-publisher relationship takes on a life of its own, with far-reaching results.
Sadly, the opposite is also true. I spoke with two authors who were unhappy with their previous publisher, and were only too happy to vent their frustrations. In one case, I quickly realized that the house in question hadn’t done a good job of managing author expectations at the front end of the project. I gently tried to help her adjust her understanding how the publishing process works, but it also reminded me of a second important truth: unhappy authors are among a publisher’s greatest liabilities.
For some authors, choosing the right publisher all boils down to money: the amount of the advance, royalty rates, and author discount. These things are important, but there are other intangibles that can really make or break your publishing experience. While a larger house may be able to offer more money up front, a house that makes a more modest offering may have other perks that are equally important. Here are some issues that are also important:
* How far does your editor “shepherd” the book through the development process? (In some houses, acquisitions editors merely acquire the book and pass it to someone else to develop and put in production.)
* How does the house decide on your title, cover, and interior design? Each house has different procedures and policies for this. Are authors asked for input in the development of title and cover? At what stages of development will you get to see the manuscript?
* How does the marketing team enhance the author’s efforts to promote the book? Is there an in-house publicist, and someone available on site to create signage, brochures, and catalogs where your book will appear? Is someone responsible to “pitch” you as a presenter at conferences and events, and promote your books at conferences and other events that you are able to book yourself?
* Do they create ebooks as well as print, and release them at the same time?
* What are their expectations of you, and are those expectations in line with what you are prepared to do? (Better to under-promise and over-deliver than the reverse, and lay everything out clearly in your proposal.)
* Do you like your editor, feel confident in his or her skills, and share a vision for your book? (Having been on both sides of the desk, I’d have to say this is the single most significant indicator of how happy an author will be with the publishing experience.)
All these factors should be considered before signing your contract on the dotted line. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in the meantime.