Business-based Tips for Start-ups: Part 2, Professional Perspective
by Maggie Calonico
Anyone who’s acted as both the writer and the publisher of a book knows these are two different people with different sets of skills. The writer enjoys writing for hours, immersed in the characters, the structure, and the story. Fifteen hours may go by before the writer realizes that the lights aren’t on or that dinner is still in the freezer. The publisher has to think about financing, marketing, distribution, and interdependent deadlines. (We won’t get into how the writer may like solitude and peace and quiet, whereas the publisher will be negotiating extensively with different people nearly every day.)
It’s best to keep these two personalities separate so you can approach the business side of publishing with greater objectivity and professionalism.
For instance, it’s obviously important to know how others perceive your book, the product you’re trying to sell. But writers, myself included, are often instinctively defensive. Remembering to function as a publisher means listening with an open mind to your editors, your copyeditors, your trading partners, and your readers. If their comments seem off the mark, try to understand what’s behind the comment—what are they responding or reacting to?
Designers, printers, and other suppliers will have suggestions for you about paper, cover design, and interior design. If you have hired professionals who know their jobs well, this advice is indispensable. They know if the ink will show through the paper with a particular paper stock or font; they know what paper stock is most readable for different kinds of books; they know how images balance to make the best design.
Be clear about what you envision, but trust their judgment about what works and what doesn’t from a design perspective. Learn to see the differences between a cover that you love and a cover that your advisors see as the best choice for the stores and promotional materials. You will find that there is a generous middle ground where both artistic and marketing goals can be met.
Professionalism and objectivity are also important when you’re approaching friends, colleagues, other authors, or experts about endorsing your book publicly. Be prepared for some to refuse. Don’t resent or question their decision; it’s hard enough for them to say no. Stay friends and move on. And when someone accepts—particularly someone with a known, positive reputation—understand, and be grateful for, the potential risk they’re taking on your behalf.
How else does professional distance come into play? While the writer may daydream about wearing four-inch heels or fake fangs to a midnight signing for a vampire thriller, the publisher probably wants to be a bit more conservative when speaking with bankers or attorneys, vendors or suppliers—people who need to take the publisher seriously as a business owner, no matter how much fun or how popular the publisher’s book may be.
Credibility with Creditors and Others
In the current market, this is especially important when you’re seeking credit, whether via a home equity line or a business credit card. Prospective creditors will judge quickly how professional you are and how pleasant (or not) you are to deal with. Their judgments may not always be fair, but these are real considerations for businesspeople. Convey that you take your work seriously, and others will too.
As a publisher, you have to interact with, and to convince, a range of business people besides creditors. You should certainly infuse your business with your own style and values, but not at the expense of business results. Be aware of how you present yourself and how others perceive you, and maintain your professionalism. Dress appropriately for meetings. Do what you say you’ll do. Don’t be discouraged if suppliers offer you only cash terms in the beginning. Even if your personal credit history is stellar, your credit is considered separate from that of your business, even if you’re a sole business owner. It takes a while for a new business to establish a positive credit history; if you pay on time with non-rubberized checks, it will be a short while.
Also, use personalized correspondence with recipient names, company names, and addresses. Remember to thank people for their time and effort. Recognize and compliment jobs well done. When things don’t work out well, explain what has displeased you in a calm, thoughtful, objective manner. Always have a Plan B you can go to, and don’t panic when you have to use it.
Many things that frustrate people in a corporate environment will arise to frustrate you when you’re operating your own business. For help, look to:
evening education programs at community colleges
entrepreneurial seminars, workshops, or certificate programs at universities
other small-business owners, including owners of bookstores in your city or town, who may be more than willing to talk with you about their experiences, even their challenges
mentoring programs run by small-business associations in which experienced entrepreneurs advise new business owners
Dealing with Constraints
People often start their own companies because they think they’ll be able to do everything their own way. Most of us find that we can’t. There may not be as much bureaucracy in a small or solely owned publishing company as there is in a large one, but there’s still plenty to go around.
Although you have a strong voice in deciding many things, you may be surprised at how constrained you are by conventions, by dependencies on others to get jobs done, by deadlines over which you may not have control, by the cost of goods and services you need, and by how much time certain tasks take.
Stay objective, stay cool under pressure, remember to have a little fun, and seek out people who can help you. When you’re holding your proof in your hands, you’ll know it was worth the effort.
Next time, we’ll discuss some pointers for projecting revenues and expenses, and some of the surprises you might encounter in your budgeting process.
Maggie Calonico is president of Lenox Road Publishing LLC, which will release its first title, Shakedown, a debut thriller by Andie Ryan, in June 2009. She welcomes your comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.