When You Are Both Publisher and Author: Thoughts on Switching Hats
by Pamela Waterman
Are you one of the many authors who are self-publishing, or thinking about doing that? Publishing your own books can be rewarding in many ways, but your progress as a publisher will be smoother if you recognize at the outset—and often remind yourself—that authors and publishers have very different jobs to do. Being a successful publisher requires a lot more than creating a good (or even great) book and producing it in print and/or in one more electronic forms.
Let’s get specific by looking at typical activities for your publisher side and your writer side.
While Wearing the Publisher Hat
For one title or several, a publisher must:
• get the manuscript edited
• get the manuscript copy edited
• provide an index for nonfiction
• get an ISBN, a barcode, and other standard industry identifiers
• seek endorsements
• create sales information materials
• write press releases and other promotional materials
• target people who should get these materials and send them out
• get a cover design
• get an interior layout
• arrange for an author photo
• obtain bids from printers and select a printer
• pick a size for the first printing and schedule a print run
• register copyright
• design, launch, and maintain the book’s Web site or Web page
• schedule and manage promotional events
• track sales
• generate reorders
• schedule a next printing
• reapproach media and prospective buyers with updates
That’s a list of 20 tasks, most of which don’t show up on to-do lists for conventionally published authors.
The list also does not include tasks you’d need to handle as a publisher if you were working with a distributor, and/or if you wanted attention from trade journals, major media of various kinds, and/or major booksellers.
Those tasks include:
• sending required information to your distributor on time and in the right form
• sending information
required by wholesalers and retailers on time and in the
• arranging to get an adequate supply of galleys
• targeting review media, sending galleys early enough, and following up
• shipping books
• handling returns
In addition, for certain books and for multimedia products, you might need to arrange for:
• other kinds of illustrations
• e-book formats
Lastly, being a publisher also means fundamentally running a business. So if you want to run a successful publishing company (or one you hope will be successful), you need to:
• create and implement a business plan that includes a detailed marketing plan
• create a brand image, especially if you’re doing a series or a line of books
• establish relationships with media people (radio, newspapers, magazines, TV shows,
and prominent blogs)
• maintain an enticing, sticky, and helpful company Web site
• purchase such mundane items as ink cartridges, address labels, and office chairs
• fulfill orders
• keep careful records of all transactions
• comply with all relevant government regulations
• monitor accounts receivable, accounts payable, and all other financial records
• assess results and make changes if and as necessary
You can, of course, outsource much of what needs to be done to publish a book that will sell at a profit to a group wider than your family and friends. That’s how public relations companies, Web designers, and fulfillment houses stay in business. But you will have to devise a schedule that allows time for them to do their work, and clearly you will have to have the money to pay them.
In other words, you may decide which of the publisher’s tasks you can and want to do and which ones you can afford to hand off. But one way or another, everything needs to be done.
With Your Author’s Hat On
You got into this business because you wanted to write a book, and you did—congratulations! By now, you’ve probably heard the warning, “Once the book has been written, the easy part is over.” Even in the purely author mode, you must turn your attention to a sizable list of tasks when the manuscript is finished.
• writing articles for the Web, newspapers, and magazines that directly or indirectly
promote your book
• establishing and updating profiles and blogs on Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia. and
other social media sites
• getting—and continuing to get—testimonials for your Web site and Internet
• presenting programs at stores, festivals, group meetings, and even online
• pitching segment ideas to producers at TV and radio stations
• connecting directly with readers through all the above
Since the writing and meet-and-greet aspect of these steps taps into your creative side, you may really enjoy them.
When life can get tricky is when you feel there’s another book inside you trying to get out, and both the author work and the publisher work still have to be done.
There are only so many hours in the day, so you must make such decisions as:
• Do I spend the day (or week) writing an article that expands on a chapter in my book
(and send out query letters to periodicals), or do I update my marketing plan in the
hopes of convincing a distributor to carry my books?
• Do I add another entry to my blog, or do I teach myself that new accounting program
so I’m ready to fill out those tax forms?
• Do I work on my next book, or do I shop for shrink-wrap and wooden pallets so I can
ship books at minimal cost and with minimal risk of damaging them and making
Thinking like a publisher involves not just a different set of tasks but also a different mindset than thinking like an author. Still, knowledge is power. Once you know what has to be done, you may just need a checklist on a whiteboard in your home office to organize your time.
Advice from personal experience: Don’t stretch yourself too thin, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you find you can’t do it all. Publishing includes a lively world of interesting people with varied talents, and outsourcing some work may help you switch back and forth from your author hat to your publisher hat with more ease and enjoyment.
Pamela Waterman is the publisher at The Discovery Box Publishing and co-author of The Braces Cookbooks, specialty cookbooks that treat teeth tenderly. She has written two hands-on activity books for children that traditional publishers have issued; she operates a freelance technical-writing business called EngineeringInk; and she says she suspects that her collection of 30-plus hats may explain her eclectic business approach. For more information, visit theDiscoveryBox.com.