Two women working together in front of a laptop

Navigating the Publicist-Author Relationship

Book publishing is one big group project. Learning how to navigate relationships with authors is an essential part of being in the industry. There is bound to be some disagreement with the way the book is being edited, designed, marketed, and publicized. As the publicity manager for Ooligan Press, I have been in delicate situations with authors where everyone’s feelings must be taken into account. And the most important thing I’ve learned from going through these slightly awkward situations is that communication is king. Below, I will give some advice on how to coach your authors and clearly lay out what is needed and what they can expect when their book is ready for publicity.
Preparation
The first thing a publicist should do when preparing an author for their book launch is to get with the author and listen to their elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a thirty-to-sixty-second spiel on what the book is about and why someone should read it. It is called an elevator pitch because it should take the amount of time it takes to ride an elevator. Now, some authors may have already come up with a pitch like this when they were looking for publishing houses to publish their manuscripts. The difference between that pitch and this one is that this one should be slightly different to better sell the book to readers instead of publishing houses. It is also important you and the author are on the same page with how you want to sell the book. Working with marketing is a great way to do this because they have already come up with selling points and buyer personas for the book. Similar to the elevator pitch, it is also helpful for publicists to help authors come up with key talking points for interviews. This way, the interview stays on track and the author doesn’t feel lost or nervous.
Communication
Throughout the process of publishing an author’s book, there are bound to be disagreements between the press and the author. The most important thing to remember is that both you and the author want the same thing—to get their book read by people who will enjoy it. Always listen to and respect the author’s point of view. But remember that the author does not always know what will best sell and publicize their book. Clearly explain why you and the press are doing what you are doing so the author can understand where you are coming from. Sometimes you will want to compromise, and other times you will need to put your foot down.
Professionalism
Above all else, you are helping to run a business, so being professional is important. Clear communication, active listening, and compassion are important in professionalism. A publicist’s job is to make sure an author is knowledgeable about the publicity process. This may mean anything from making sure they are comfortable with interviews or author meet-ups to explaining to them how everything works. Again, remember you and the author have the same goal: to get their book to the right audience. Hopefully these tips will help you to have a successful relationship with your author.
For more tips from book publicists to authors check out: 33 Tips From Book Publicists For Self Published Authors or What to Look for in a Book Publicist.

Finding Joy in Freelance Copyediting

There are many challenges when it comes to freelancing. Finding clients, setting your rate, and navigating communication channels can be daunting. While most of these difficulties can’t be avoided, some of the stress they cause can be offset by making freelance work a joyful pursuit. Allow me to share what my part-time freelance copyediting experience over the past four years has taught me.

Communicate Clearly and Constantly

I don’t think there’s a limit to how much stress can be avoided by communicating clearly, both upfront and throughout your professional relationship with your writer. Things that are highly important to discuss initially include:

  • Your rate and payment method.
  • Time needed to complete the edits.
  • Type of edit desired and style guide preferred.
  • Means of delivering materials to one another.

I have also found it useful to ask my client questions early on about their familiarity with Track Changes and markup language, and there are some technical questions I ask as well, like whether they use a PC or a Mac computer, which helps me know how to respond should they have trouble with formatting after I’ve returned the draft.

Favor Compassion Within Professional Boundaries

Once you have parameters set and feel at ease about everyone’s expectations, it’s important to maintain a compassionate approach to the editing process and your relationship with your client. It is easy to grow annoyed when a writer “checks in” just a tad too often or if they continue reaching out with follow-up questions after your initial agreement has been met. But chances are your client, especially if they are debuting their first book, is just nervous, and that’s an opportunity for you to be a professional source of guidance and acceptance.

Pay attention to how you communicate in your comments and edits. Use uplifting language and ask questions rather than making assumptions. Cultivating your author-editor relationship takes constant care, but if you do it right, you may wind up with a lasting connection.

See Greater Returns on Your Investment Through Referrals

I’ll be honest. Before coming into the Ooligan program, I didn’t have a professional website or portfolio anywhere on the internet. I haven’t even marketed myself as a freelancer on social media. All of my business has come through the referrals of authors I have previously worked with in some capacity and their networks, and projects have varied from self-published novels and memoirs to children’s books, from essay anthologies to sales copy.

This has been successful through keeping up with former clients, following their book projects, and celebrating milestones alongside them. Because of our connection, when they go on to attend writing conferences and meet other aspiring authors, there is always a chance that could turn into more editing work for me.

(Disclaimer: I actually would recommend setting up a website or e-portfolio for yourself if you’re just starting out or want to freelance full-time. Do as I say, not as I do, eh?)

Play to Your Strengths and Passions

I believe that any job can be exciting if you can modify it to fit your personality. For me, as a former high school teacher and computer tutor, this looks like being intentional in my efforts to clear up any confusion my writers may be experiencing. Whether it’s providing insights into obscure grammar rules or showing them helpful tricks in Microsoft Word, I use my background in education to add an extra layer to the feedback I provide.

This doesn’t have to be a service you verbalize or explicitly include in your agreement with your client. Personally, going the extra mile by educating makes the task feel worthwhile, much like it did when I used to work in a classroom. You will need to think about the interests or experiences in your life outside of editing that made work joyful and get creative in how you can incorporate them in your freelance endeavors.

Don’t let freelancing just be something that has to be done to make ends meet. If you can add value to the work by following these tips and more, you may find that the money isn’t even the part that makes it worthwhile.

Tips for Creating a Beneficial Author-Editor Relationship

An author writes a beautiful story, full of highs and lows for a protagonist they have spent three years developing. No other person could possibly understand as much about this story—so, why should the author invest the extra time and money in an editor? In the recently released musical biopic sensation Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie Mercury leaves Queen to attempt a solo career. Then, just before the historic Live Aid concert, he returns to make amends with his band family and to explain why they need each other: “I went to Munich. I hired a bunch of guys and I told them exactly what to do and the problem was, they did it.” That line communicates a lesson for anyone involved in the creative process: Make the effort to form relationships with people you can trust who will challenge you. The gain is well worth the effort.

Focusing in on the author-editor relationship, specifically from the editor’s point of view, what are the best practices for creating a beneficial working relationship with authors? There are many, and they all boil down to being (1) detail-oriented, (2) professional, and (3) a good human. Too often, editors and authors share stories of the book development process being “a nightmare.” Editors can often avoid such nightmare scenarios by adhering to the following guidelines.

First, editor and author should establish clear expectations for communication. For example, say the publishing house has acquired the manuscript and set a publication date. Over the next eighteen months, neither the editor nor the author should ever be missing in action. These situations cause frustration and decrease the level of respect between the two people whose working relationship is directly tied to the success of the book. If one person plans to travel, that should be communicated early on. The editor can avoid any surprises by sending an introductory email to the author once the manuscript has been acquired. In this email, the editor should explain the timeline the publishing house has set for developing the book and ask if the author has any concerns about that schedule. This gives the author a chance to clarify what is expected of them and confirm they are on board.

Second, the editor will start making passes through the manuscript. Their goal might be to perform a developmental edit, in which they look for big-picture issues, or a copyedit, in which they comb through the manuscript for issues with grammar, punctuation, spelling, and style. In either case, the editor reaches a point when they need to contact the author about their findings. Ideally, this is not the first time the editor has contacted the author. After the introductory emails, the editor might want to gather a few questions about the manuscript that are not too heavy, but that provide an opportunity for dialogue with the author. This allows each person to develop a sense of the other’s character so that a positive rapport can be established before too much is on the line. Think about it: Would you rather be told “you look tired today” by a stranger or by a friend? How would your reaction be different in each circumstance? You know a friend makes a statement like this because they are concerned for your welfare, so you do not take offense. The stranger comes across as rude. When editors need to point out errors, they will experience a more open reception from authors if they have already earned a level of respect.

Third, an editor should practice good email etiquette. Before pressing “send” on any email, take the time to read the email from the perspective of the recipient. Know that your tone might not come across exactly as intended. If there is any doubt over a sentence’s potential to be received positively rather than negatively, cut or revise. Further advice on email etiquette, including details about word choice, can be found in this article on HubSpot. Scan your writing thoroughly for spelling and grammar; as an editor, you want to avoid giving the author any reason to doubt your credibility.

Lastly, if the content of your message becomes too long, too confusing, or too controversial—pick up the phone. The phone call is a wonderful, increasingly underrated form of communication in which each party can remain in the comfort of their own space without distractions. Thirty minutes on the phone can save the editor and author hours of time they might have needed to email back and forth about particular issues in the manuscript. This is worth repeating: if you sense a question is too complex to be efficiently resolved by a single email exchange, pick up the phone.

The relationship between editor and author has been most accurately described as “professional sparring partners.” With this vision in mind, consider all the elements involved in being a good sparring partner. There will be no improvement if one side decides to take it easy. Conversely, the game will collapse if one breaks the rules, gets unnecessarily hurt, or simply refuses to play. With the shared goal of putting the best possible version of a book in the hands of the reader, editor and author have equal reason to value their working relationship.

Email Like a Professional

Over the course of the year, along with learning how to market books, I’ve picked up a few tips about how to market yourself. After all, the hiring process (which we are all heading toward!) is usually just marketing your skill set to an employer’s needs. One of the keys to success in the quest for employment—whether finding a new job or retaining your current one—is undoubtedly professionalism. It’s almost like good design; it’s recognized by a few when it’s good and noticed by all when it’s not. So, I think it’s time to get down to brass tacks and talk about professionalism and email.

Emails are the bacon fat clogging my productivity levels, and I bet they are clogging yours too. Sticking to the successful formula of the Four Cs of Copyediting, I’ve come up with my own Four Cs of Emailing.

  1. Clarity — This seems straightforward, but making your point and making it as clearly as possible is supremely important when dealing with hundreds of emails per day. This applies to both text and organization. So when you can, enumerate your points, make a bullet list of deliverables, and otherwise use a messaging hierarchy to call attention to the pressing details of your email.
  2. Coherency — Yours. Are you thinking straight? This means, are you angry or annoyed? That tone rarely works in your favor, and often you end up saying things you wish you didn’t. When you get a message or have an interaction that you think requires a, let’s say pointed, response, I highly recommend NOT sending it. If you need to get your thoughts out in email-cum-journaling, save it as a draft, shut down your computer, and look at it again in a couple hours.
  3. Concision — This means cut down on your use of Reply All and CC in order to declutter inboxes. Ask yourself, does anyone need to know my response to this email? Will my response affect the work of another person in this email chain? Based on what I have to say, is there someone who is not included who should be? If I don’t use Reply All, will I need to repeat myself? Is the information useful to someone else? Is the information of a more personal nature (isolated from colleagues in the email chain) where I can reply to only a single boss or comrade? Will my reply confuse people who don’t need to take any action? Have I been explicitly asked to include a colleague in my communications?
  4. Correctness — Be a professional, both in person and online. Grammar, tone, prioritization, and interface matter regardless of the communication form. Taking a lesson from the unfortunate woman who was fired for sending an email in all capital letters, the way you compose your emails is just as important as the content within.

Don’t get me wrong, email is great. It allows for instant communication and the archiving of conversations, and it cuts down on the number of face-to-face meetings that eat the narrow holes of “free time” in our calendars. But we all know the feeling of opening up your inbox, trying to wade through your emails, only to reemerge and realize two hours have passed. It’s up to us to make the emailing process as enjoyable and efficient as possible. Be courteous, be considerate, and above all, be professional. Now get out there and write some emails!

10 Dos & Don’ts of Entrepreneurial Publishing

Savvy business practices are crucial to the success of an independent publisher. An estimated half of all entrepreneurial enterprises in the United States fail within the first five years, and only a third last ten years. If these statistics sound intimidating, fear not—here is a handy list of the ten best business practices in small-press publishing to guide you.

  1. DO start small. Entrepreneurs new to the publishing industry sometimes produce too many books in their first year and overstretch their resources. They then have to retrench the following year, which negatively affects their finances as well as customer and colleague confidence. The same principle applies to expanding too quickly.
  2. DO pick a good niche. Small presses can’t compete with the big companies in the mass market, so it’s best to carve out a market share by targeting a niche you already know well and can tap into easily. This is also a good way to build a brand and customer loyalty. Indie publishers that have successfully leveraged their niches include our own Ooligan Press, which focuses on books significant to the ethos of the Pacific Northwest; Copper Canyon Press, which specializes in poetry; and Forest Avenue Press, which is dedicated to high-quality literary fiction.
  3. DO choose your distributor wisely. Publishers can’t get their books onto store shelves without distributors and wholesalers, but if these companies go bankrupt, they often take their clients with them. Do your research before making a deal and be ready to go elsewhere if your distributor starts struggling.
  4. DO rely on your backlist. Whereas the big publishers can afford to constantly roll out new titles in hopes of saturating the market with a bestseller, small presses focus on books with long-term value that resonate with a passionate niche market. Backlist titles are the true bread and butter of indie presses—they can produce enough revenue years after initial publication to keep the company afloat and provide capital for new books.
  5. DO be professional. Maintain good relations with other publishing professionals. Communicate clearly and frequently with coworkers, contractors, and authors. Establish goodwill with media contacts. Even your books should exude professionalism—nobody is interested in books with shoddy editing or design.
  6. DON’T start without a good business plan. This should go without saying, but it seems to be a common mistake with rookies. You need to know exactly what needs to be done to get your business running and how you’re going to accomplish it before you ever fill out a form or spend a penny.
  7. DON’T file your publisher as a sole proprietorship. This lumps your business in with your personal finances, so if the venture takes a big hit, you may lose your house. Incorporating your publisher ensures that you survive no matter what happens to your business.
  8. DON’T do it for the money. If you’re hoping to get rich from selling lots of awesome books, you’re in the wrong business—publishing is a labor of love. You’ll likely need $100 thousand or more just to cover startup costs; afterward, to earn back the necessary cash to cover costs and roll out the next title, you have to spend the necessary cash to compensate the author, make the book, and convince enough people to buy it.
  9. DON’T underestimate the power of contracts. Rookies often try to write author contracts themselves and never even consider establishing contracts with employees and freelancers. The usual results: neither party knows what the other expects from them, and everybody gets shorted. Shell out for an attorney and use the standard industry contracts—it’ll save you time, money, and headaches in the long run.
  10. MARKETING, MARKETING, MARKETING. This is where most of the money in publishing goes, and for good reason: the most beautifully written and packaged books by the best authors do you no good whatsoever if you can’t convince people to buy them. Allow for the biggest marketing budgets you can, know your audience, and be creative.

An entrepreneur can never discount luck as a factor—sometimes a publisher grows or fails due to things beyond the owner’s control, like the economy or fickle trends. Most small-press owners cite timing as the biggest wild card in the business. But for the most part, the success of a publishing venture is up to you—so keep this list of dos and don’ts above your desk and go forth and publish.

For other tips on guiding a small press startup to success, check out these articles:

“Better Than Fall Back: The Small Press Option” on Jane Friedman’s blog

“The State of the Small Press in Portland” by Laura Stanfill of Forest Avenue Press

“Why Small Publishers Fail” on Writer Beware

“Why Do Publishers Plan to Fail?” on SmallPressWorld.com