What Good Is A Book Publisher?

If you do it well, self-publishing may be a valid alternative to finding a publisher for your books. It’s an excellent way to test-market a book. But dedicated publishers do many things writers can’t, and there is no more dedicated publisher in America than Berrett-Koehler. BK President and Publisher Steve Piersanti wrote about how publishers serve writers, and I am very grateful to him for allowing me to share his thoughts with you:

Some observers question what value publishers offer and whether authors would be better off self-publishing their books, given that the authors, more than their publishers, will drive sales. The case for self-publishing is further strengthened by today’s ability of authors to reach the marketplace through Amazon.com, the new social media, and the authors’ own websites.

Self-publishing is the best avenue for many books, and I often encourage authors to go this route — particularly when they are able to sell many copies of their books through their own channels. However, a good commercial publisher still brings tremendous value to the book publishing equation in multiple ways:

1. Gatekeeper and Curator: In today’s insanely crowded marketplace with an overwhelming number of publications competing for our attention, publishers select and focus attention on books of particular value and quality, thereby helping those books stand out. The validation, visibility, and brand provided by publishers add great value to those books.

2. Editorial Development: Berrett-Koehler raises the editorial quality of each book in several ways, including extensive up-front coaching of authors to improve the focus, organization, and content; detailed reviews of the manuscript by potential customers to make the book more useful to its intended audience; and professional line-by-line copyediting. Such editorial development is often pivotal to a book’s success.

3. Design: Self-published books often stand out in a negative way because their covers and interiors appear underdesigned (or overdesigned). Some self-published books lack the professional and appropriate appearance that good publishers bring to books.

4. Production: Although authors can now produce books on their own computers, publishers can save authors a lot of work while bringing higher quality to layout, proofreading, indexing, packaging, and other aspects of production.

5. Distribution: Publishers can usually make books available through many more channels (trade and college bookstores, multiple online booksellers, wholesalers, and other venues not open to self-publishing companies) than authors can on their own.

6. International Sales: Berrett-Koehler’s books are sold around the world through distributors in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and Canada.

7. Networks of Customers: Berrett-Koehler brings books to the attention of our networks of individual customers, institutional customers, bulk sales customers, association book services, catalog sellers, other special sales accounts, and countless other groups. We have been building up these networks for eighteen years, and they add lots of value in helping books to succeed.

8. Publicity and Promotion: Although the publicity and promotion efforts of authors may actually exceed those of their publishers, publishers still reach many prospective buyers that authors cannot reach on their own. This is particularly true for a publisher like Berrett-Koehler that has a multichannel marketing system that combines online, direct mail, bookstore, publicity, social media, e-newsletter, website, special sales, conference sales, and other channels of marketing for each new book.

9. Foreign Translation Rights, Audio Rights, Digital Rights, and Other Subsidiary Rights Sales: This is an area of great focus and success for Berrett-Koehler (with over two thousand subsidiary rights agreements signed thus far) and helps books to reach many more audiences than the publication of just the English-language print edition. Authors also receive extra revenue, a higher profile, and greater satisfaction when their books are published in a variety of languages.

10. Coaching: Perhaps the greatest value provided by publishers is less tangible than the previous items on this list. Just as coaching regarding a book’s content and organization can be pivotal to its success, so too can a publisher’s coaching on the title, price, design, format, timing, market focus, marketing campaign, and even tie-in to the author’s business strategies make a big difference in whether a book succeeds.

Working with good publishers is a partnership. For books to succeed, authors and publishers must collaborate in many ways. For example, the publishers set the table through their marketing channels, but whether the books actually move in those channels often depends on the marketing that the authors carry out.                                                                                                                       

To receive Berrett-Koehler’s excellent e-newsletter, visit www.bkpub.com.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / InterContinental Mark Hopkins / Keynoters: Alan Rinzler & Lolly Winston / www.sfwriters.org

San Francisco Writers University: Where Writers Meet and You Learn, a project of the San Francisco Writers Conference / Join its more than 500 members for classes and free feedback on your work / Laurie McLean, Dean /  www.sfwritersu.com

Overcoming Publishing’s Problems

A Sipress cartoon in The New Yorker shows a medieval prison cell in which a terrified prisoner is on a rack with his hands and feet bound. His hooded tormentor is saying: “Don’t talk to me about suffering—in my spare time, I’m a writer.”

If you’re a writer, mental suffering comes with the calling. The anguish of finding the right word, completing and revising a manuscript, hearing what’s wrong with it, finding an agent or publisher, promoting the book. All of these challenges involve effort, uncertainty, and mistakes. Getting them all right the first time only happens in heaven.

One goal of this blog is to help ease your burdens. But thanks to Steve Piersanti, publisher of Berrett-Koehler, the list that follows won’t make you any happier about your profession. But the more you know, the farther you can go. Steve recently updated

The 10 Awful Truths About Publishing.

Awful they are, but if you know them, you can overcome them. Thousands of authors do it every year, and they’re using technology to create new ways to help them. After the list, Steve offers seven ways to help you do it. Previous posts have also discussed what it takes to succeed in the brave new whirl of publishing.

To see Steve’s list, visit www.bkpub.com, click on Resources, then on publishing documents. (You can also subscribe to BK’s outstanding newsletter.) Here are the list’s highlights:

* Publishing produces more new products per year than any other industry.

* More than a million books were published last year, but bookstore sales are declining.

* More than 7 million books are available.

* The average nonfiction book sells 250 copies per year, 3,000 copies over its lifetime.

* A book has less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore.

* It’s increasingly difficult to make any book stand out, in part because other media are claiming more of people’s time.

* People are reading only books that their communities make important or mandatory.

* Authors do more marketing than publishers.

* Technology is expanding the number of products and sales channels but not increasing book sales, and e-profits are slimmer than print profits.

* Technology, small profit margins, the complexities of the business, competition from other media and publishers guarantee change and turmoil.

Steve’s 7 Strategies for Responding to These Truths

1. The game is now pass-along sales, people buying books for other people.

2. Events/immersion experiences replace traditional publicity in moving the needle.

3. Leverage the authors’ and publishers’ communities.

4. In a crowded market, brands stand out.

5. Master new sales and marketing channels.

6. Build books around a big new idea.

7. Front-load the main ideas in books and keep books short.

As earlier posts suggested, reading, models, goals, craft, a series of related books, platform, promotion, commitment, and communities to help you are the keys to your career. Armed with them and your share of luck, nothing can stop you.

Next up: 13 Wonderful Truths About Publishing.