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5 Tools to Help You Succeed in Book Publishing

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by Elizabeth Turnbull, Senior Editor/Partner, Light Messages Publishing —

Elizabeth Turnbull

If you give yourself the right tools early on, you’ll free up valuable time so you can focus on growth.

Article Synopsis:

  • There are a set of milestones that must be met for every book published and put on the market for sale.
  • Use a database that keeps track of the same information for every title in your catalogue.
  • Have a standardized packet to send to each author.
  • Create a webpage for each of your authors using a template.
  • Create a schedule for sending royalty payments.

When you decided to go into publishing, chances are you were motivated by a creative passion, a desire to bring a specific message into the world, or by a mission to help other authors share their stories. Creativity is the engine that drives independent publishing. Far less popular are the systems that help businesses run smoothly. And yet, these systems are the tools that keep the creative machine running.

As we’ve grown at Light Messages Publishing, we’ve learned some crucial (and sometimes expensive) lessons about the importance of systems. You might believe your company isn’t big enough to need standardized systems, but the truth is that if you give yourself the right tools early on, you’ll free up valuable time so you can focus on growth.

In our case, by implementing a series of basic tools at Light Messages, we were able to adjust our timelines for publication and finally achieve full distribution, which requires us having titles set up as much as 12-18 months in advance. This was impossible for us before when we were relying on ourselves to remember and follow up on the dozens of tasks that accompany each book project.

Here are five tools we’ve implemented at our publishing company that have helped us create efficient systems and grow our bottom line:

1. Timelines for publication.

There is a set of milestones that must be met for every book published and put on the market for sale. And these milestones tend to fall at the same stage for each title. So, it’s relatively easy to create a set timeline for your titles. At Light Messages, every book we take on is assigned a publication date. From there, we back out each of the important steps that must happen before publication and we assign a date. We also assign a person to be accountable to that date.

Built into the timelines are quality checks and follow-up steps to ensure that outside contractors and vendors are also meeting their obligations. We check our timelines regularly, so we make consistent progress on each title. This avoids stressful crunch times and ensures that we have plenty of time to correct errors, solicit additional information that may be needed, and to work on marketing the book.

2. A database of titles.

When we first started working with outside authors, we used spreadsheets and workbooks to track our books. It didn’t take long to outgrow that! Today, we use a database that keeps track of the same information for every title in our catalogue, whether it’s active or backlisted. We custom built our own database using a system called Podio, but there are many database options out there for all sizes of companies. Some of the things we track in our database for each title include:

  • Author bio
  • Book description
  • Series information
  • ISBNs for each version (paperback, e-book, hardcover)
  • BISAC codes and the Library of Congress control number
  • Book size, length, and price
  • Reviews, awards, and other accolades
  • Pending tasks
  • Important notes

3. Author information packets.

There are a lot of steps that must happen before a book is published, and almost every step requires information from the author. The good news is that the same type of information is needed for just about every kind of book.

When we grew beyond publishing only a couple of authors at a time, we quickly realized that we were spending too much time and effort on scrambling to solicit crucial information. We might have told authors we needed certain information, but we had no control system to make sure we had received it. For example, we were often at the layout phase and hadn’t realized that the author never sent in a book description or bio. This stress on us and our authors was completely unnecessary.

We now use a standardized packet that we send to each author. The packet must be completed within 30 days of signing the publishing contract or the author risks having to delay the publication of the book. This accountability and guidance has made a world of difference!

While the needs of each publishing company might differ, this is what we include in our author welcome packet:

  • A summary checklist of items the author needs to deliver to us, the publisher.
  • An author information form, including their name, mailing address for royalty checks, and basic title information about their book.
  • A W-9 form, for tax purposes.
  • Instructions and examples for writing an author bio so we have it on hand for early promotion through publication.
  • Instructions and examples of strong author headshots.
  • A form to complete with the author’s social media accounts, for promotional purposes.
  • Instructions and examples for a strong book description for the back cover, online listings, and book promotion.
  • A request for a complete synopsis of the book and three excerpts of writing from the book. This is useful for soliciting endorsements from other authors as well as for giving the publishing team a brief, concise overview of the project since not all team members will have the opportunity to read the entire manuscript.
  • A request for a list of comparable titles. This helps book buyers understand the book in context of similar books that have sold well and are nationally known. Competitor titles also help inform our marketing efforts.
  • A general timeline for the publication of the book. This helps the author understand the big picture of what milestones happen when.
  • General tips on how to maximize benefits from major online sites such as Amazon and Goodreads.
  • An explanation of the author royalty statements and what the author can expect.
  • An explanation of our approach to book and cover design to help the author feel comfortable with the creative process.
  • An acknowledgment of receipt, so we and the author both know that the information was received and understood.

4. Author webpage templates.

While many authors have their own website, it’s nearly impossible to guarantee that each author’s site contains the necessary information for properly marketing their book or that the aesthetic of the website matches your company’s standards. That’s why we create a webpage for each of our authors, following a standardized template. This way we ensure that each page contains all the pertinent information buyers, reviewers, and media would need about a title. Since we’ve received the book description and author bio from the information packet, it’s easy to put the page together. And we’ve worked the author web page into our publication timeline, so we all know when the page will be completed.

MetaComet5. Author royalty system.

Paying royalties can be a time-consuming and difficult process. It can also be expensive if you make mistakes in your calculations or forget to account for returns. But accurate and timely royalty statements are a critical part of the trust relationship between publishers and authors. It is our ethical duty to pay our authors accurately and on time.

To avoid misunderstandings with our authors, we have created a schedule for sending royalty payments and set a minimum threshold for royalty checks.

Our royalty statements include:

  • The date the statement is generated.
  • The period of sales the statement covers.
  • The date, description, and amount of sales, returns, or holdback.

However you choose to format your statements or calculate your royalties, it’s imperative that you be consistent and transparent. To help with this, you might be interested in taking advantage of the IBPA member benefit with Metacomet Systems.

The Bottom Line

Creative vision is an important part of any publishing company. But if you don’t have the right tools in place, your creativity will be smothered by the heavy load of running your business. With systems in place and built-in accountability, you can focus less on the details and more on the big picture, ultimately leading your company to growth and success.

Elizabeth Turnbull is the senior editor and a partner at Light Messages Publishing, but she mostly likes to think of herself as “a midwife for books.” In her seven years at the independent press, she has helped to birth more than 20 debut authors, with most of them going on to win awards. During her tenure, the company’s revenue has grown by nearly 80%, a fact Turnbull attributes to the small press’ mission of “bringing to light meaningful books.”

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