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Which Hat Do I Wear?

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(Editor’s Note: The following outline comes from a Publishing University 2000 workshop titled “Which Hat Do I Wear: Scheduling for the Start-up Publisher.)

I. What Comes First?

A. At first, do most tasks yourself.

1. Save money.

2. Learn your business, your strengths, and what you like to do.

3. Learn which tasks are best done by others.

4. Decide when you can afford to farm out these tasks.

B. If you can’t afford anything else, hire a good editor.

1. I hire up to three editors per book at different stages.

2. I hire for the following types of editing:

a. Developmental

b. Line

c. Copy

d. Proofreading

C. Depending on your needs and strengths, consider hiring these freelancers: editors, artists, photographers, graphic designers, cover designers, fulfillment houses, and accountants.

D. To find professional freelance help:

1. List your company in as many places as you can so the freelancers can find you. Examples:

a. PMA Web site

b. Books in Print

c. Literary Market Place

2. Use the PMA Newsletter.

3. Get references from publishing colleagues.

4. Join local and national publishing groups to network.

a. Freelancers join these groups too.

E. Some freelancers are a better fit with your company than others.

1. They become an ongoing part of your company, almost like employees or partners.

2. I prefer to hire people who are passionate about nature and science.

II. Changes I Made after Our First Books Came Out

A. I choose topics more carefully.

1. The topic of the book can make or break sales.

2. Some topics will sell better than others.

B. I learned the children’s market is even subdivided into smaller markets.

1. Knowing the market is critical.

2. A marketing plan should become one of your first steps.

C. I found you can’t be all things to all people.

1. For example, I can’t write the best nature books for a national park and also have books absolutely suitable for the school market.

2. It’s possible to try and span the slightly different markets, but be the best at one niche first.

D. I learned that the cover sells the book.

1. This is a hard pill for an author to swallow.

2. Cover design and interior design are important steps.

E. I now involve editors early on in the process.

1. Editing can lead to rewriting and redesign.

III. Company Start-up Decisions

A. What kind of publisher are you going to be?

1. Come up with a concept or idea for your company.

2. Decide if you’re going to be a niche publisher and what niche that will be.

3. Decide who your audience is (e.g., adults or children).

a. We do action-packed nature books for children which sell primarily to natural areas like national parks and forests.

B. Be sure you can be passionate about your choices, as it is going to be a lot of work.

C. Come up with a concept for your overall design or look.

1. Decide if you will have a series and a preliminary series design.

D. Find unique ways to finance your company.

1. I did place specific books at first. This provided money for entire print runs, which in turn financed our company.

2. We did not need to take out a loan from the bank for years.

IV. Individual Title Start-up Decisions

A. Choose your topic and title carefully, being sure they have buyer appeal.

B. Start with a marketing plan.

1. Be sure you know who your audience is.

2. The book will be written for that audience and designed to appeal to that market.

C. Involve editors in the process early on, as rewriting and design are likely to change with developmental editing.

D. Involve artists and graphic designers as needed.

1. You may also change the design with their input.

Nan Field is a nature author and publisher (Dog-Eared Publications of Middleton, Wisconsin). One of her children’s titles, “Leapfrogging Through Wetlands,” was a 1999 Ben Franklin Award winner.

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