What Good Is a Book Publisher?
by Steve Piersanti
“In this new marketplace in which book sales depend heavily on the author’s efforts and general retail book sales are flat, doesn’t it just make more sense to self-publish?”
This question arises often today, given that authors’ own marketing efforts are frequently the biggest driver of their books’ sales. And the case for self-publishing is further strengthened by authors’ growing ability to reach the marketplace through Amazon.com, the new social media, authors’ own Web sites, and other means.
In fact, I concur that 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 for reaching targeted markets.
However, a good, experienced publisher still brings tremendous value to the book-publishing equation in multiple ways.
What Publishers Provide
Gatekeeping and curation. In today’s insanely crowded marketplace, with an overwhelming number of publications competing for time and money, publishers select and focus attention on books of particular value and quality, thereby helping those books stand out. The validation, visibility, and brands provided by publishers add great value.
Editorial development. Publishers raise the editorial quality of each book in several ways. For example, Berrett-Koehler works intensively with authors to improve the focus, organization, and content of their books; arranges detailed reviews of manuscripts by potential customers to make each book more useful to its intended audience; and provides professional line-by-line copyediting and proofreading. Such editorial development is often pivotal to a book’s success.
Design. Self-published books often stand out in a negative way because their covers and interiors appear under- or overdesigned. Some self-published books lack the professional and appropriate appearance that good publishers bring to books and that booksellers demand.
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 than authors can provide by themselves.
Distribution. Publishers can usually make books available through many more channels than authors can on their own. These channels often include trade and college bookstores, multiple online booksellers, wholesalers, and other venues not generally open to self-publishers.
International sales. Established publishers frequently sell books around the world through distributors in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and Canada.
Networks of customers. Networks that publishers have built over long periods of time—sometimes several decades—add lots of value. Publishers routinely bring their books to the attention of networks of individual customers, institutional customers, bulk-sales customers, association book services, catalog sellers, other special sales accounts, and countless other groups.
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, with a multichannel marketing system that combines online, direct mail, bookstore, publicity, social media, e-newsletter, Web site, special sales, conference sales, and other channels of marketing for each new book.
Foreign translation rights, audio rights, digital rights, and other subsidiary rights sales. Berrett-Koehler has signed more than 2,000 subsidiary rights agreements thus far; a focus on rights helps many publishers bring books to many more audiences than the publication of the English-language print edition will reach. Authors also receive extra revenue, higher profiles, and greater satisfaction when their books are published in a variety of languages and formats.
Coaching. Perhaps the greatest value publishers provide 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 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 can make a big difference in whether a book succeeds or not.
A Pattern of Partnership
In the end, authors working with good publishers create partnerships. If books are 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.
Berrett-Koehler has been extraordinarily fortunate in that so many of our authors have worked with us—and continue to work with us—in this partnering way. We have tried to spell out some aspects of this partnership in the Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for BK Authors, which you can view at bkconnection.com.
We also appreciate the many BK customers who partner with BK and with our authors in spreading the word about our publications, serving as manuscript reviewers, and contributing in countless other ways.
Steve Piersanti is president and publisher at Berrett-Koehler Publishers. To learn more, visit bkconnection.com.