4 Tips for a Great Author-Publisher Team

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

I’ve never known an author to become blazé about getting a new book contract. Each one brings increased career potential. But there’s nothing quite like that first one that initiates you into the published authors club. The reality hits you when your agent sends you the final negotiated contract for your signature. This is the beginning of your author-publisher relationship, and there is a lot to learn about how this partnership works best. These tips offer you a good foundation.

Tip #1: Understand what your contract requires of you.

First, read your contract thoroughly before signing to understand the specifics your publisher expects from you and what you can expect from your publisher. Each publisher’s contract is a little different, and they frequently modify their clauses in their best interests. Your agent reviewed every word and negotiated each nuance of the legalese. What you have to sign is the best possible balance he or she could negotiate between your interests and the publisher’s.

From this point forward your responsibility is to respond to your publishing team’s questions and reasonable requests. And you’ll be expected to follow through on each item you listed in the marketing plan in your proposal.

Your publisher is responsible for pricing, editing, cover and interior design, packaging, release date, and distribution of your book. They know what they’re doing and want your book to succeed as much as you do. The publisher will always retain the final decision on your book’s cover design in your contract, but we agents always negotiate hard to include wording that grants you the opportunity to offer input. If you and your agent strongly disagree with the publisher’s direction, he or she will intervene. There are two reasons for this: (1) Agents are experienced negotiators and will work toward a win-win resolution, and (2) Your agent knows how important it is for you to preserve your relationship with the publisher.

Tip #2: Be responsive to your publishing team.

Yours is one of many books your team members are working on simultaneously. Knowing this will help you to respect their time. It’s vital to have responsive, enjoyable interaction with your team, but always frame it a professional context. Continual or piecemeal communications will become an irritant. You are first and foremost partners in business. Genuine friendships that develop in the process are icing on the cake.

You, the author, have the primary responsibility to market and promote your book. Your strong reader base and platform were contributing factors in their decision to offer you a contract. You’ll be expected to feed your base with ticklers to build their anticipation for your new book and enlisting influencers.

Along with that, you need to be available to your publishing team. The complicated production process is not a good time to take a vacation. Part of the author’s responsibility is to arrange your schedule to be at the disposal of your book’s production schedule. For example, when you receive galleys—the first proofs of your book—read through word by word, marking all your desired changes and corrections at once. A request for changes at a later stage delays the production schedule and potentially the date to the printer. This doesn’t help your author-publisher relationship either. Return the galleys by the assigned due date. Your cooperation gains you a reputation as a professional author they love to work with.

 Tip 3: Expect your publisher to honor its marketing commitment.

Your marketing and publicity teams should schedule a conference call with you to present the publisher’s plan for marketing your book. Request that your agent participate in the call too. It’s an important meeting that we agents want to attend to be sure your publisher is following through on their agreed-upon activity as stated in your contract. We also like to brainstorm ways to synchronize your efforts with the marketing team’s plans to multiply the results.

My personal suggestion: following that meeting, send a succinct monthly email to the marketing and sales teams highlighting what you accomplished that month. Your updates will maintain their enthusiasm for your book. A personal commitment to email them every month keeps you motivated to work on your plan in order to have something to report, too.

Tip #4: Respect professional boundaries.

Your publisher makes the final decisions about your book project. The acquisitions editor isn’t required to report to you about their production schedule or decisions in the areas of their responsibility listed in your contract. It’s within your rights to question a decision they made, but do it in a positive way as a team player. If the answer doesn’t satisfy your concerns, talk to you agent. If your agent agrees there is a problem, he or she is the right person to communicate further with the publisher on your behalf.

In a climate of fierce competition for diminishing slots, the more you confirm you’re a team player and a professional, the better you position yourself to be offered the next contract.

What didn’t you know about your author role? About your publisher’s role? What do you need to do to prepare for your next author-publisher relationship? Do you have additional tips to add from your own publishing experience?


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