Traditional Publishers Forming Communities: Interesting Concept

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

Suw Charman-Anderson brought up an interesting concept on The Bookseller’s blog yesterday. View the post here. The idea: What if traditional publishers set up online communities for their authors like those that self-published authors have created to offer support for each other?

Self-published author communities are just what they say they are: a places where these authors can congregate and find a strong sense of community where they can share information and suggestions on a wide range of topics, such as:

  • advice on book cover fonts
  • how to navigate the self-publishing process
  • best ways to download books to attendees’ smart phones at book signings
  • book promotion recommendations
  • how authors can build a reader community for their books
  • responding to specific questions from other authors who are contemplating self-publishinglamp bulb tulips

Suw goes beyond author communities to suggest that traditional publishers also form reader communities and internal communities with their freelancers. Those are intriguing ideas too, with some obvious potential benefit for both publishers and their authors. But today I want to focus on the hypothesis of traditional publishers forming author communities.

There would have to be parameters. It seems self-evident, but for the record, certain privileged information, like contract details, should never be shared. This would be a community where authors would have easy avenues in which to:

  • get to know each other and share network opportunities
  • obtain endorsements
  • cross promote books
  • offer feedback to the publisher
  • share tips about marketing efforts that were successful

Gone forever are the days when traditional publishers did the bulk of the marketing and promotion for their authors’ books. It’s now each author’s responsibility. But traditional Christian publishers can, and must, think creatively to remain competitive. Creating this kind of community for their authors would be a cost-effective means for them to support their authors in these efforts.

Would you like to know this kind of community is available to you when you sign a contract with a publisher? Can yo think of additional benefits this kind of community might offer authors? How do you think a reader community could benefit both the publisher and its authors?


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49 Responses

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  1. I think this kind of community would offer a place for writers to ask questions. Since writers work alone, they often wonder where they can go to ask for advice. A critique group offers feedback on craft, but when an author is published many other writing-relating questions come flooding in. You mentioned ideas for marketing and promotion. The community could also be a place for general questions about technology, basic navigation of social media, many forms of professional feedback, and prayer requests.

    • I like your thoughts, Carol. Questions, advice, and prayer requests would be so helpful within a mutually cohesive community.

      • Mary Keeley says:

        Yes, and prayer requests, Cynthia. Thanks for that addition. I think it’s important to remember that a publisher’s author community would be a professional environment. As such, prayer requests should probably revolve around professional and business concerns.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Absolutely, Carol. A publisher’s author community would be a good place for sharing technology and social media information as well as practical how-to steps in navigating the publisher’s systems.

  2. It’s a great idea.

    One intriguing possibility in the formation of reader communities is the extension of brand loyalty to publishers.

    A strong ‘fan base’ for a publisher could do its bit to forestall mergers, or at least help ensure that an acquired house will retain its “imprint identity”.

    Another benefit from a reader community is improved demographic information for authors. We all have a target audience – but are we really reaching them? This can help pin down those data points.

    Author communities under the aegis of a publisher are a wonderful idea, as well. Sharing marketing and promotion strategies, and working together to create a ‘portal’ whose navigation is uniform from author to author would go a long way toward making readers’ use of author websites and social media more fun and efficient.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      A reader community as an extension of brand loyalty to a publisher is a very intriguing concept for traditional publishers, Andrew. And the other benefit of a reader group–improved demographic information–may even be a more important benefit for traditional publishers than for authors. IMHO, traditional Christian publishers are woefully behind in this area, and if they don’t grow with changing reader interests, they may never catch up.

      • Mary, why do you think Christian publishers are behind in regards to demographic info?

      • Mary Keeley says:

        Jenni, there are new genres in the general market, such as New Adult and Boomer Lit., that are doing very well, showing there is a large audience for these. But Christian publishers have been cautious in taking the risk to publish these genres for Christian readers.

  3. Good Morning, Mary! I love this concept!

    I think the idea of forming communities is ripe with potential. The possibilities are endless. At present, a lot of authors participate in blog hops anyway prior to publication. It only makes sense that traditional publishers would see the benefit of shepherding their flock under their respective roofs.

    While authors appreciate the support of other author friends, there’s something to be said for the mutual connection of the same publisher. New authors, especially, would benefit from the veterans’ knowledge and support.

    As far as benefit to the reader, I often watch readers in bookstores. Many times, readers will gravitate to those favorite publishers (and their authors) they’ve developed a fondness for. I think readers would love to be involved in more of a “hands-on” scenario if possible. Readers are loyal to “their” authors. Being a sounding board and support system would make them part of the process.

    Thanks for the great topic today! Looking forward to this discussion. 🙂

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Good points, Cynthia. A publisher’s authors who have books releasing at the same time may be able coordinate marketing and promotion efforts together and with the publisher’s PR, marketing, and sales departments to exploit greater opportunities cost efficiently.

      Theoretically, publishers providing loyal readers a community to offer feedback is akin to finding gold without having to mine for it.

  4. It seems like another advantage would be that newer authors would have an informal mentoring available to them if they were a part of a group like this. As someone mentioned, it could be a safe place to ask questions, to learn through others’ answers and to expand their thoughts about marketing and all that goes along with being published.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Definitely, Jeanne. Most authors have been mentored by someone themselves and are happy to pass the blessing on to other new authors. And in this kind of author community, some of the mentoring would be practical and specific to their publisher’s systems, marketing, PR, and sales methods.

  5. Hopefully I don’t come across as clueless, but I sort of thought this concept was already in play at some of the pub houses. Perhaps that was just wishful thinking on my part.

    The idea of a mentoring environment is fantastic. We live such a solitary life, so that ‘safe place’ would be a soft place to land as we navigate the industry.

    Since I live WAY up north, and then take a right turn at Maine, it’s somewhat difficult to connect with other writers in my genre in person. Okay, basically impossible.

    A weekly or monthly web connection or conference call would be great.

    Or? Okay, just roll with this…a monthly 3 week getaway to somewhere warm. I’d need that other week to get the laundry done.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Jennifer, that may be. Or, the authors at the publishing houses gathered on their own to form a community without the publisher’s involvement. Those publishers who may already have formed a community for their authors have done a good thing.

      Your 3-week per month getaway to a warm locale sounds wonderful, especially this winter. But alas, more than laundry wouldn’t get done.

  6. Sarah Sundin says:

    The fiction authors published with Revell Books recently started a Yahoo Group. We do cross-promotion, debate the merits of cross-promotion, pray for each other, and ask hard questions we wouldn’t dare ask in public. I find it very beneficial.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Sarah, thanks for sharing how your Yahoo Group has been beneficial. From this experience, do you see the potential for added professional support in an author community formed by the publisher?

      • Sarah Sundin says:

        Absolutely. I’d love to have one with members of the publishing team too – for publicity and marketing questions and input, etc.

        But it’s also nice to have one for authors only, so we can ask each other those hard questions – or the stupid questions 🙂

  7. Maybe it’s because they are sister companies, but like Sarah’s publisher Revell, Bethany House authors also have a community where we share ideas, news, cross-promote, ask questions and basically get to know one another.

    We have both a yahoo group and a closed Facebook page, but what’s interesting about our group is that the publisher didn’t organize it. The lovely Becky Wade started it. BHP gave Becky a list of emails so the invitations went to everyone, but it’s not under the publisher’s umbrella.

    That group has been a great blessing. When I have a question about book-signings, influencers, ARCs, etc., it’s nice to know the information I’m getting is specific to my publisher. What can I say? I love Bethany House and my BHP family!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Regina, thanks for your glowing testimony of the benefits you are experiencing in your BHP author groups. I asked Sarah this same question: What, if any, additional potential benefit could you see if the publisher’s marketing, sales, or PR teams are involved to offer support?

      • Since marketing departments can and do email any information they need to pass on, they would stand to gain feedback from the authors. It’d give a more informal avenue of discussion instead of an email, for example. The benefit to the authors would be accurate firsthand information and timely reports of changes or opportunities.

        On the other hand, there are benefits to it being a closed group, too. We can talk about things that didn’t work, mistakes we’ve learned from, frustrations and other things we might not be as open about speaking directly to the publisher.

  8. The most intriguing part of this concept is the possible interaction with the reader community.
    If the reader could contribute in an online publisher community, their insight and opinions would be golden. The publisher could make suggestions such as, “If you enjoyed this title, give ___ a try”. This would help pique interest and hopefully entice the reader to return for more.

    Prior to writing for publication, I wasn’t as familiar with publishers as I am today. Now, I glance at the spine because I can trust certain publishers to deliver the kind of read I’m longing for, and because I want to write for a reputable Christian publisher myself someday.

    Also, I’m just beginning to take advantage of Goodreads, but it’s a wonderful space to hear from our readers (or prospective readers), so I need to become more familiar with that community.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Jenni, I agree with you about the benefits a publisher can reap in forming a reader community. In addition to the one you described, they perhaps could gain increased accuracy into their readers’ changing preferences and breadth of interests. And then there is the relationship factor of a community that naturally builds a sense of loyalty and trust.

  9. Abingdon has had a community like that for a couple of years. Such a supportive atmosphere! We share tips and ideas, marketing strategies. We boost one another in difficult times and rejoice with one another. News of interest to all the authors gets communicated in one swoop, so we feel as if we’re all kept in the loop. We began as a Yahoo group and have migrated to a closed Facebook group, which works better for us. Our editor and marketing manager stop by from time to time to encourage us or share information. What a blessing!

  10. Harper Collins has created an effective author community website called Authonomy. It has helped me plug plot holes and polish my novel in progress with excellent results to date.

  11. Mary Keeley says:

    Colleen, you are blessed to have that degree of support from your publisher’s author community website. It helps everyone involved.

  12. Grace Olson says:

    What an interesting idea! I think that I would definitely want to know if that kind of community was available for me within a certain publishing company.
    As for a reader community, I think it would help authors in that the readers would talk about their favorite books/authors. This would naturally cause other readers to check out those books similar to what they enjoy reading. And it would be a great place for author promotion from their raving fans. 🙂

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Grace, as you can see from the comments, authors at several traditional publishers have organized communities. But there also is benefit to be had by authors and publishers as well when the publisher forms the community and then is available its authors.

  13. I’m a little late in arriving today, but how wonderful to read the comments and learn that Bethany House and Abingdon already have these communities. I love the idea of learning from and sharing with other authors. The existence of a community would be a definite plus in signing a contract. Thanks so much, Mary, for this topic.

  14. I have truly found the indie community (esp the Christian indie group) to be one of the most active, plugged in groups I’ve ever been part of. Indies know the industry, follow trends, and keep each other posted on everything from formatting techniques to quality editorial services.

    I know traditionally published authors can’t share as much–there is a curtain of silence the editors and agents expect them to maintain. It probably is much easier for trad. pubbed writers with the same publishing house or agency to swap stories (as in the Abingdon example Cynthia gave), versus from varying ones, just to maintain privacy. However, even within agencies, different agents have different methods of doing things, from preparing proposals to calling vs emailing clients.

    The key is finding the community you fit in and being able to share info that will be mutually beneficial. The Christian indie group has definitely become that community for me.

    However, personal writer friends you can talk with are worth their weight in gold. Those friends walk through you, no matter which agency we’re with, how we’re getting published, or how different our approaches may be to writing. Those friends are the most valuable support systems of all!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Excellent contribution to the discussion from that perspective, Heather. The indie community is what prompted Suw’s point that traditional publishers should follow suit. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Keli Gwyn says:

    I signed a contract with Love Inspired recently and was invited to join two author-initiated groups, one for all LI authors and one for those of us writing Love Inspired Historicals. I received a warm welcome from my fellow LI authors and know I’m going to benefit greatly from their knowledge and support.

    • Adina Senft says:

      Thanks for bringing up the LI group, Keli. That one has been in place for a decade at least, so groups made up of a certain publisher’s authors have been operating pretty much since the technology became available to them. It would be interesting to see a group in which the publisher was involved, though. I suspect the discussions would not be as free-wheeling. But then, perhaps that wouldn’t be the purpose.

  16. Josh Kelley says:

    I love the idea. As first time author (Harvest House), I could really use the help. For instance, I had to call another published author to talk me off the ledge when I got my 1st proof!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Josh, yours is a perfect example of the support publishers could provide their authors by forming an author group. Some of their other authors could answer most of your questions, but the publisher would also be available.

  17. Bonnie Doran says:

    Pelican Book Group has a Yahoo! group for their authors. We’ve discussed everything from building a website to promoting each other on our blogs to prayer requests. I’m happy to be a part of it. If it has one drawback, it’s that I’m bombarded with dozens of emails on a daily basis.

  18. Laura Jackson says:

    I’m published with HopeSprings Books. They have a private FB page where we can share ideas, links, and prayer requests.
    It’s been a blessing!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      That is a blessing, Laura. Would you say the connection you have with other HopeSprings authors has given you a sense of loyalty to your publisher?

      • Laura Jackson says:

        Mary, I think so simply because it’s not only a place for the authors to communicate but also for the publisher to share information, brainstorm ideas, and answer our questions.

  19. Publisher-based writer communities is something Hugh Howie recently suggested on his blog, and he was excoriated for it at the Absolute Write forums. It’s nice to see support for this idea, with I think is a good one.

    I don’t see all that much value in publisher-based reader communities, since readers don’t care who the publisher is, just the writer. Exceptions would be for extreme niche publishers, such as Harlequin or Tor.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      David, Hugh is quoted in Suw’s post that I mentioned. Do you know why he was excoriated for his suggestion?

      • David Todd says:

        Moderators there said that such communities already exist outside of publisher sponsorship (such as the AW forums), so why should publishers bother? Also, they mentioned that some publishers already have such communities, and so Howey was showing his ignorance in not recognizing that.

  20. My publisher, Oak Tree Press has a listserve that functions as a forum. We talk about pertinent topics such as social media and cover art, reviews and interviews, blog tours, etc. I’ve made some great friends who have helped me and vice versa. We have a weekly round up listing author events, awards, etc. that gives me new ideas in marketing every time I read it. Oak Tree is a small press and I love the family feeling. The idea you present is similar to OTP and the author and publisher are the beneficiaries of this forum. Great idea!!!

  21. Phumuzile Margaret says:

    Thank you Sarah for the authors/publishers post.I wonder if it will help me to listen to authors debating to each other,because am new in writing;sometimes it will give me clues about my book Theme and how to put a inspiring hook together for publishers;I sent :what is my book all about” to Authors House; they did not come back to me’ or say you are bubbling; it will be better to hear something.

  22. Calisa Rhose says: is just such a community that’s been around for years and years. They have ‘threads’ for every topic imaginable for its authors and readers. Guidelines, contests, member of the month, meet the editors, prayer thread, individual subgenre threads–where readers can interact with their favorite authors, and so much more. And of course, books from every genre and subgenre available from Harlequin. It’s a fun, informative and interactive place. I’ve often wondered why other trad publishers haven’t put one together long before now.

  23. I love this idea! As a reader, I know my favourite publishers and I’d like a reader community to help me find new books from my favourite publishers that suit my tastes. As a writer – the more community, the better. Writing is isolating and I want as much support and access to other people’s wisdom as possible. 🙂