The How and Why of Mission Statements

With thousands upon thousands of publishing companies to choose from in the United States, it can be daunting for an author to know where to start. Who will provide them with the best experience? Who can devote the resources needed to create their product? Who has the expertise to make the book the best it can be? Who can most effectively reach the book’s target audience?

Now flip this situation around. With millions upon millions of people in the United States who think they have the next New York Times best seller, how can a publishing company find the diamond in the rough? What can a publishing house do to ensure they are receiving submissions for books they actually can and want to publish?

The most effective way a publishing house can convey this information to an author is through the company’s mission statement. Mission statements are not by any means specific to publishing houses. Any organization, from a multibillion-dollar corporate conglomerate to your kid’s sidewalk lemonade stand, needs to have a compass guiding its decision-making process.

Within a publishing house, a mission statement typically addresses a few key topics. For example, Ooligan Press’s current mission statement falls under the title “Our Interests,” dictating that our press looks for books that are regionally significant works of literary, historical, and social value to the Pacific Northwest. In addition, Ooligan Press is concerned with comprehensive representation and with sustainability.

In three simple paragraphs, authors can now see what Ooligan Press is interested in publishing. Does your book talk about sustainable practices? We’re interested. Does it take place in the Pacific Northwest? We’re into it. Is the author from the PNW? We’ll check it out. Is your book actually a cookbook or children’s book? Sorry, we can’t help you.

By having a mission statement, a publishing house narrows its focus to become an expert in the field. If we tried to publish the several dozen different types of books out there in the world, we would be mediocre at all of them. But by focusing on what we can accomplish within our financial and staffing limitations as a teaching, trade publisher, we can ensure that each book we acquire will provide adequate learning opportunities for our students.

But our jobs aren’t done when the last period is added to that final draft of our mission statement. We must work as a press to uphold and apply those values, and we must make a conscious effort to revisit our values as the nature of the world—and of publishing—changes.

Publishing companies have an amazing power to facilitate change and to shed light into the dark corners of the human experience. And because of this, we all have a responsibility to do what we can to help make the world a more enlightened place, one page at a time.

Different Places, Different Faces: Book Covers in the US and the UK

This may not come as a surprise, but when a book is sold both in the United States and the United Kingdom, it typically has a very different cover in each country. This is because when the rights of a book are sold to a publishing house in another country, the book goes through the editing, marketing, and design departments of that house, where it is reshaped to suit that house’s specific audience.

As the cover of a book communicates to the potential reader what lies within, many conventions have emerged to highlight certain genres, such as an old photograph that promises a memoir, or an image of a shirtless, muscular man that promises a romance novel. To investigate further, we’ll look at four popular books sold in both the US and the UK and see what each cover has to say about the same story.

  1. Educated by Tara Westover: At first glance, the US cover of this memoir looks like an artful rendition of a pencil; but on further inspection, it shows a woman standing on a hill among mountains with birds flying above. This highlights the journey at the heart of the book—a story of a person surmounting seemingly impossible challenges—rather than the memoir genre. The UK cover sticks closer to the conventions of a memoir: it showcases an image of Tara as a young girl playing on a swing, promising this is Tara’s life story.

  2. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert: The US version of this young adult fantasy novel presents gold-and-silver illustrations of roads, branches, and other objects that somehow tie into the story weaving around the white font of the title and author name. This cover promises a reimagining of dark fairy tales that intertwine with a central entity. On the contrary, the UK version shows dense, blue-tinged foliage partially swallowing the white font of the title. The UK publisher also added the warning “stay away from . . .” above the title, suggesting something sinister lying beyond the leaves and tempting readers to find out for themselves what it is.

  3. Still Me by Jojo Moyes: Both versions of this contemporary romance novel provide more simplistic designs that showcase the title and author. The US cover offers a more typically romantic look with large, curly font on a blue background. The M wraps around a small rendition of the Empire State Building, showcasing the New York setting of the book. By contrast, the UK cover offers standard black-and-white font centered on a yellow background with a small bee in the upper right corner, accentuating the boldness of the main character as she searches for meaning in her life.

  4. Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell: The US version shows a more feminine take on the mystery/thriller novel with large pink font on a white background, which is covered in branches that are bare apart from a few pink petals scattered here and there. Alternatively, the UK version features an image of a person (only shown up to the knees) crossing the street barefoot at night. The UK publisher also added the subtitle “A missing girl, a buried secret,” highlighting the elements of crime and mystery in the book.