Monday, May 18, 2009

She asked: how can you do that without alienating a publisher?

What publisher - really, honestly - would say they couldn't have done more with ANY project if they had more resources (people, money) to devote to them? I, as a publisher, would have agreed that I could do more. In fact, its exactly why I'm in this position. I HATED spending a couple of hours with an author and then having all the other books and work steal my attention away. How much more might I have gotten out of spending more time with any of the incredible authors I worked with at Harvard Business School Press? Will ANY publisher tell me that you feel you have maximized the opportunity with any of your authors? 1? 2? And how many books are you publishing this month? Year? Its not about you - its the structurally dislocated publishing model. Publishers can not spend anywhere near the time they might on any one book. Add to that this stark reality - publisher staffs are getting smaller. Even fewer resources to devote to a title. I may work for the author - but I understand the job of the publisher. I want to empower the author so that they can be the best possible asset for the publishing house! I want the author to say "That publisher did a GREAT job". I will not enter into an adversarial relationship with the publisher - that accomplishes nothing.

I complement the publishers activity. I add value to the publishers efforts. Will you concede I understand what the activities are that the publisher MUST engage in? Would you agree that the author who has questions that might be answered by ME might allow the publisher to devote more time to selling and marketing the books? Does any publisher begin the marketing and sales strategy at signing - in parallel with the edit process - so that at turnover the author is fully prepared to launch into the campaign, instead of being introduced to the concept? Would the top of your head blow off if at a turnover meeting with the author, she came into your office and told you about how she planned to reach her readers? How she is engaging her fans? What tools she'll make available for them to to advocate with? What if you, Ms Publisher left that meeting more convinced that ever, more energized than you could ever have imagined about the sales possibilities for that book?

I add value for the publisher by helping the author define their goals, and framing up the RIGHT questions they have for the publisher. I can help the author by explaining what response they might hear or anticipate or why it really doesn't matter - that it isn't germane to accomplishing the authors own goals!! Screw the agonizing over blue or green, or this quote or that. Let's focus on the fans, let's connect to the readers. Let's use the publishers energies (YES - they are formidable and important) to the authors advantage!

It is perfectly understandable that a first time author will say - 'that's what a publisher does. They've made an investment in this project and they are going to do EVERYTHING in their power to bring in to market'. But ask a 2d, 3d or 4 time author about their expectations and the reality. That's not a knock on publishers - there is a fundamental disconnect about who does what.

I say - the publisher has a privileged relationship with retailers and media - but the author has a privileged relationship with the reader. No publisher can make someone buy a book. The author is certainly in the best position to make a compelling case though... wouldn't you agree?


  1. Really, I’m flattered.

    I still think that you are selling the marketing function in publishing houses short. Though authors are in a better position than most publishers to engage readers, there is still a role for publishers to play in engaging customers. (Perhaps this is a distinction we can agree on—readers vs. customers.)

    Up until now, I think most publishers have taken an unenlightened view toward marketing. (Yes, my beloved industry. I'm calling YOU out.) At the moment, marketing consists of merry little munchkins who make posters and postcards for author events and retail. BO-RING.

    BUT what if publishers brought more strategic marketing to the game? Rather than focus on half-hearted marcomm, how about developing measurable customer segments that an author should reach out to, then help them develop a plan to reach those segments? Or better yet (this is REALLY crazy) what if marketing insights were genuinely involved during the editorial process so that content was developed with specific customer segments in mind, thereby increasing the probability that the book will appeal to its intended market? MADNESS!

    Certainly much of the execution may still rely on authors. But there is still a lot publishers can do, if only they would set their marketing departments free.

  2. On behalf of authors everywhere - I say AMEN! Let your marketers FREE!! Say hallelujah!!! So - tell me where it's happening? Authors (some) aren't going to sit around and wait - nor should they - until someone, somewhere gets this disconnect.

    The publishing house has goals that MAY differ from the authors own. Out of necessity, the acquiring editor is (rightly) focused on the ms and delivering on schedule. And the resource strapped marketers are hard at work on the titles downstream.

    Let me try this analogy for the way the model works today. It's like building a fine airplane, getting in the cockpit, rolling down the runway and THEN asking where we're going just before taking off!

  3. Oh, I agree. Currently, there are few in the industry that actually live into the utopia I have described. Many are, as you put it, building the plane only to wonder about flying it seconds before take off.

    But if publishing is to remain relevant, it will have to start asking some heretical questions AND coming up with some heretical answers. Though I respect that authors have a job to do right NOW that publishers aren’t doing for them, as members of the publishing industry we also have to responsibility to change this broken model before it is too late.

    That or we could just pack it all in and open up a few Chrysler dealerships.