Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What Does It Take to Be a Publisher?

Publishers come in all sizes, from huge New York houses to one-man bands who form their own companies to “publish” one or two books. In between are what is called independent or “indy” publishers who cater to certain specialized niches. Assuming the big ones are well versed in their craft and the indy publishers are expanding their education through the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), I am going to focus on small, less experienced publishers.

Just saying you are a publisher is not enough to make you one. Most authors who decide to self-publish often have no idea what is involved in the process or what the requirements of the job are. To clear up any misunderstanding on this issue, the board of directors of IBPA drafted a checklist for publishers, posted it on its Website, and summarized it in an article in the IBPA newsletter. Added to that list are several important tasks suggested by author and self-publishing expert, Dan Poynter. Some are the responsibility of any publisher; others are implemented in concert with the author.

Technical Aspects

  • Have manuscript edited and copy edited by two different editors before it goes into design.
  • When the book is complete, send it out for review to peer reviewers. Take their critiques to heart and make changes.
  • Have page proofs proofread by a different editor.
  • Send out review copies of galleys to appropriate publications and reviewers. Mark them as Reader’s Copies. (Don’t send a printed book.)
  • Secure an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and an EAN bar code from R.R. Bowker.
  • Apply to the U.S. Copyright Office for a copyright.
  • Develop a business plan with a budget,
  • Create a contract that spells out what the author does and what the publisher does.
  • Deal with appropriate, industry-related vendors.

Printing & Distribution

  • Get competitive quotes from printers (Be sure they are all bidding on the same specs), and choose the one that best meets your author’s needs, including, but not limited to, price.
  • Research all options on digital printers, POD companies, and offset printers (for more than 1,000 book).
  • Decide how you want to handle storage and distribution. You can do both if you have room and time, but choosing a professional distributor and fulfillment house may be a better alternative. (LightningSource, which deals only with publishers, is owned by Ingram, which is the largest distributor in the country. Most POD companies print and send books when they are ordered. Larger print orders usually require a distributor and fulfillment services.)
  • Go over the printed books with a fine-tooth comb for appearance, quality, pages, printing—in short, everything. Don’t settle for less than perfect. The author assumes final responsibility by signing the printer’s release form.


  • Write a marketing plan. In its simplest form, a marketing plan starts with an overall goal for what you want to accomplish, strategies for how you plan to do it, and specific tactics or actions you will take, with target dates and estimated costs.
  • Create a promotional piece, bookmark, or brochure.
  • Put together two mailing lists—one for regular mail and one for e-mail. You should already have one, but this is the time to hone and add to it.
  • Develop a Website before the book is published to build an author platform and interest in the book.
  • Create a blog to build interest for the book’s topic and keep readers informed of the author’s progress.
  • Request testimonials to include in the book, on the cover, and in promotional materials.
  • Do a promotional mailing to snail-mail and e-mail lists to announce publication of the book.
  • Set up a “media room” on your Website so that media people can find the information they need in a form they can use.
  • Encourage author to write articles on the book’s subject; submit to print publications and on-line article sites. There are countless such sites, but the undisputed leader of the pack is
  • Explain to author that book promotion as an ongoing, full-time job. The more promotion, the more successful the book will be.
  • Work with author to develop fresh ways to repackage the content; develop “spin-off” products (CD, DVD, reports, mini-books, Podcasts, eBooks, Website content).

There are many books and Websites on publishing and self-publishing. This list covers the basics. As a publisher, you should work closely with your authors to produce a quality book and let the world know it exists.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Turning Lead Into Gold

You’re going along doing whatever it is that you do—in my case, writing—and suddenly your world blows up (or so it seems). You get hit in the head with a chunk of debris and end up on your rear end, wondering what happened. There you sit, trying to make sense of the senseless and becoming more immobilized by the minute.

It could be anything—an illness or accident, a family crisis, or a major loss—but whatever it is, it turns you into a zombie. If you are a writer, you simply stop writing. Words don’t come; what’s worse, you don’t ever care. That’s bad. No doubt about it.

In my own writing life, when this has happened, I have experienced a kind of miracle: I have somehow been able to convert the negative energy of the most stressful circumstances into the creative energy that fuels my writing process. I admit it has not worked 100 percent of the time, but in the past forty-plus years, it has happened. This never ceases to amaze me.

The next paragraph should be how to do it, but that’s the thing about miracles: they defy explanation. No matter how insane the situation in which I found myself, I usually wrote right through it. Sometimes, I cried or coughed or ran a fever or swore a blue streak while I was writing, but those things just seemed to intensify the process.

I have been teaching for many years and have yet to find a way to transmit this bit of alchemy. Perhaps in the beginning it was simply that I had a deadline, and it was unthinkable to miss it; so I sat down at my little Smith-Corona electric portable and just did what I had to do. Later, it was an ingrained habit. I had done it before; I could do it again. Maybe for each of us, there is a different trigger. I found mine by accident; I don’t know how you will find yours.

The important thing to know is that it can be done. You too can turn lead into gold. You just have to unravel the mystery in your own way. Please let me know if you do!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Changing World of Publishing

The publishing world is constantly changing; and as it does, the choices available to new authors change right along with it. Once upon a time, an aspiring nonfiction author had two alternatives: an established, conventional publisher, often in New York; or "vanity press."

Traditional publishing has always been a tough nut to crack for unknown writers, though sometimes a first manuscript miraculously attracts the attention of an editor and becomes a published book. Vanity press, which "publishes" (prints) anything authors are willing to pay for, quickly developed a reputation for poor-quality books. Unfortunately, the reputation attached itself to self-publishing, which is quite different.

Traditional publishers are having their own problems. There are fewer than there used to be, and the ones that have survived are struggling to make a profit, small as it may be. So, they tend to stick with tried-and-true authors. Not only are publishing houses competing with each other, they are also up against the ever-expanding world of ePublishing. According to Amazon, eBooks are now outselling print books. That doesn't even take into account all of the eBooks that are given away. No one is making any money on those.

They say everyone has a book inside. I believe that because many would-be authors take my classes, hoping to defy the odds. One of the first questions I ask my students is how do you plan to publish your book? Most don't know, or if they have a preference, they have no idea what is involved

Two important points

  1. It is possible to have your book published by a traditional publisher; but you must understand the process and be prepared to invest time, effort, and some money.
  2. Self-publishing is not the same as "vanity press." You can produce an excellent book yourself, but you must be aware of the wide array of available methods and make informed decisions about which one is best for you. Again, this requires time, effort, and money.


If you want to produce a quality book, there are prescribed steps to follow. The steps may take a few months or more than a year; they may cost you a modest amount or a large sum. As an author, this is not something you want to leave to chance or other people's whims. My advice: Educate yourself.