For many years, I taught a seminar for health professionals titled “So You Want to Be an Author — How to Publish for the Public.” Every session began with the question “Why do you want to be an author?” The answers varied–”to share an important idea,” “to feel good about myself,” “to make money,” “to make my mother proud,” “to prove that my composition professor was wrong,” “to get mentioned in The New York Times,”“to put my kids through college,” “to build a writing career,” “to get tenure,” etc. We would affirm that while every goal was legitimate, different strategies were required for reaching each one. It always became clear that every writer in the room would have to create his or her own unique plan for reaching personal goals.
So here you are now–a publisher–just what you (always?) wanted to be! That same key question applies to publishers as well: “Why do you want to be a publisher?” What is it that you want out of publishing? To share your knowledge and your passion? To find out how the book business works? To build a strong series of books? To play with ideas? To get rich? To fill a niche? To make a living? To market like a maniac to create a small business? To create jobs? To build value that you can cash in on at retirement?
Do you want to publish just one book? Or several? Or do you want to develop a program that produces eight books, or 80 books a year? Do you want to do it all or wish to hireGm84 develop a skilled staff? Will you need to support yourself financially with this effort or can you just play with publishing as a sideline? Do you want to generate $50,000 in sales, or $1 million, or to grow to $25 million in annual sales? What are your goals as a publisher?
Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind as you think about such questions:
1. Every ethical goal is legitimate. You don’t have to pattern your publishing activities after any other model. Sure it’s fine to strive to publish 100 books per year, to generate $10 million in revenue, and to support 50 employees. Hey, that even sounds very American! And you would then be a big-time successful business manager! But what if you don’t want to employ people who sort through 2,000 manuscripts a year, to delegate all the key editing and production tasks, to hire an accountant (and an attorney!), to get a line of credit from the bank, to commandeer a sales staff, and to supervise all of this personnel like a circus juggler. It’s just as legitimate to love creating one book a year from beginning to end and making it as stunning as possible–just for your own pleasure. It’s fine if you want to stay small and enjoy the whole process yourself. You don’t need to grow big. You don’t need to stay small. So…
2. Ask yourself what you want, and once you’re clear, plan accordingly. While every goal is legitimate, different strategies are required for reaching each set of publishing goals. And each strategy comes with corresponding benefits and costs. Do you want to grow? Growth increases visibility, produces income, and builds value. Yep, it also eats cash, requires staff, begs for a consistent new product development program, increases management tasks, and requires long-term commitment. Do you want to stay smaller? Self-imposed restraints on growth allow for ongoing personal involvement and control of every phase, and they offer you more freedom. Yep, they also tend to limit your visibility, your current income, and your accumulation of long-term equity, and nothing gets done without you.
Don’t assume that one goal is inherently better than another. In the early ’90s, I had projected our business growth over 10 years at 15% per year, at 25% per year, and at 33% per year. The 33% growth rate produced a paper business of astounding size. Discussing this concept in a Washington, DC cab line with another delegate to The White House Conference on Small Business, I got a confrontation and an education. She and her husband owned an accounting firm which had once had 40 employees. She described her unhappiness with that firm and their decision to cut back. “Now with two partners and two support staff,” she said, “we make a good living and have a very fine life as well.” Her clarity moved me to stop and ask myself the question again, “What do I want?”
3. Stop for a moment and ask yourself, “What is my goal for my publishing company? What do I want?” Don’t accept anyone else’s suggested answer. Make sure that you have your own. It’s quite likely that you can reach the goal that you set for yourself. But every target comes with its own set of liabilities as well as rewards.
Write down your goals. Then, write down the accompanying costs and benefits and examine whether or not these goals really fit you–whether or not their cost/benefit ratio is to your liking. Revise your notes until your outline feels like a good fit for you at this time and reflects the passion in your heart. Then, and only then, move forward with gusto into the upcoming year.
Ask for what you want–your goals are your own business and no one else’s!
Be careful what you ask for–you’re very likely to get it!