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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Great post, Mary. The only additional thing I can think of now is this –
Remember that we’re all human, and that the offered grace of overlooking another’s inadvertent failure or omission is a step in the Footsteps of Christ.
Indeed, Andrew. That is the most God honoring atmosphere for a team to work in.
OK, one more tip, from one who has hardly the experience (or right) to offer them. But what the…here goes.
Remember that while your book is your world, for your publisher you are one horse in a stable. Time will be spent on your work as THEY see fit, because there is a greater obligation to run a successful business than to assuage the anxiety of a single author.
* But at the same time, don’t kowtow to false humility. If you don’t hear from someone within ‘the process’ within a couple weeks of landmark dates…call or email. People do forget, even with Microsoft Outlook serving in lieu of their brains.
PS – that ‘within a couple of weeks of landmark dates’ is based on experience with academic journals. The ‘no comms’ timeframe with publishers is undoubtedly different, but it might be good to know how long an author might wait before stirring the embers.
I read this thinking that I certainly don’t want to be the call everyone dreads to return, the author that team members describe as “too picky” or “a pain.” You put this thought in the positive, Mary: “a professional author they love to work with.”
* Yep, I want to be the fragrance of Christ (2 Cor 2:15) to the whole team .
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Ohhhh, Shirlee. “The phone call no one wants to return”.
About 10 years ago, my sister and BIL flew out here (in the family plane, as one does) to have their kids come to camp with our kids. Camp policy is no phoning your kids, let them enjoy camp. If the camp needs to reach the parents, then they will do the calling. Little did I know…she called so often, from my house, that the camp refused to answer calls from my number. *I* called once, to speak to my daughter about something critical, and when the poor secretary finally answered “Uhh…hello?”
“Hi, it’s Jennifer Major call–”
“Oh!! Thank goodness! I though you were HER! Your voices sound exactly the same! She’s been calling every day and she’s been rude when we won’t go get one of her kids. So…how can I help you?”
Between that, and working in retail, I do my utmost to be nice on the phone. Unless it’s a spam call.
“…the fragrance of Christ (2 Cor 2:15) to the whole team.” Perfect, Shirlee.
Kristen Joy Wilks
I didn’t even think about scheduling vacations. With my husband working almost every day of the summer (Camp Director) it is always hard to find a time to get away as a family and we usually go backpacking or camping or something … not really an activity where you bring your computer. Now I’ll know to look ahead and schedule carefully. Thanks so much, Mary.
As long as they know about your plans, they can work around them. A week isn’t a major problem– and in my case the proofs were I my inbox the day I returned because they knew.
Twice, though, I’ve received galleys three days before I flew to Europe. In hindsight, I should have let the editor know I had a trip planned.
Michelle, those are good examples, and in my years working in a publishing house, the team is willing to work around an author’s prior established schedule as much as possible if they know about it in advance and can arrange the production schedule accordingly. There were times, though, when such a delay caused a clog in production that not only affected that author’s book production schedule, but also caused a ripple effect on other books in the editorial and production process. In some cases, a book’s release had to be moved to a different season.
That’s some background context for why it’s important for authors, especially debut authors who are trying to establish a good reputation, to prioritize the publisher’s schedule.
You’re welcome, Kristen. As long as you make your publisher aware of a time you’ll be out of pocket early on, when they are determining your book’s production schedule, they’ll be willing to work with you as much as possible. It might not be a problem at all, but it’s best for authors to use this approach. Publishers don’t appreciate hearing about it on short-notice.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
I’m the person who says “tell me what is expected, and I’ll do my best to achieve it”. I thrive within a mapped environment.
Although, if there’s a proper time to go a bit off the rails? I’m ready to jump.
But when that contract approaches? I’ll be all over asking exactly what to do and knowing exactly what’s expected of me.There will be no winging it.
Mary, what you’ve described is what any responsible professional in another field would consider standard operating procedure. I think the key is to always keep in mind how my actions will affect the ability of my colleagues to do their work in the most efficient and effective way. That’s best for all concerned.
I have a great relationship with my publisher where every deadline met or missed is our equally shared responsibility. If we started blaming each other, it would be a case of multiple personality disorder. (As you may have guessed, I’m indie, so I’ll never get the chance to cause book-related problems for anyone but me.)
Mary, thank you for this post. I hadn’t really thought through some of the intricacies that are a part of any author-publisher relationship.
*Since I don’t currently have anything publishable, I think one thing I can be doing now is making sure I am professional and courteous in all of my professional relationships. And make sure I’m keeping my commitments to the best of my ability.
That’s a great attitude for those of us still waiting for that contract season (Lord willing), Jeanne! Just to be faithful and professional in all that the Lord has given us now…’tis good practice. 🙂
And yes, thank you for a very helpful and informative post, Mary!
Thanks for this informative post, Mary! I’ll be printing this one to keep for reference, when I’ll hopefully get that contract. I wouldn’t have known to make sure the agent was part of the marketing plan conference call. I love how you and other agents at Books & Such are willing to go to bat for your authors and be involved in so many steps of their publishing journey.
Damon J. Gray
For me, this is such a key reality: > “They know what they’re doing and want your book to succeed as much as you do.”
It is too easy for me to look at the Publisher as an adversary rather than an advocate.
Damon, that’s an excellent point, that the publisher is also invested…quite literally. A failed book can bring down a smaller house.
* In the late 1980s, William Kimber (London) published “Whirlwind Squadron”, a WW2 memoir by Eric Thomason. It was later shown to be a fabrication, nd Kimber had to recall the unsold part of the printing. It was a disaster for them, and the house did not survive.
Author-Agent-Editor-Publisher relation would be sweetly good if we follow the same Word: Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.
(Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45)