Thursday, July 10, 2014

Solo Acrobatics

On a long plane flight yesterday I was writing notes for an author panel I'll be facilitating at the Golden Crown conference tomorrow. I suggested a panel from an author's point of view on working with your publishing team, that is, how to work well with all the different people who put their fingerprints on your book, so to speak, before it gets to the marketplace.

And I was thinking how the team for getting a book to market is so much different than any kind of team you've ever been on before.

For me, I always felt part of the companies and organizations I worked for, and it was very clear we were all on the team together. To simplify, we shared a mission statement, and we all performed our roles in the service of that. So when I became an author and got my first publishing contract, I thought I was on a new team.

"Oh contrare," as I once saw it spelled. I realized that everybody's goal is a bit different, and everybody is actually playing for different stakes. And certainly as nobody's goals are exactly the same as yours, nobody's job is remotely the same as yours. In fact, you're more like a solo acrobat than a power forward.

Your agent and agency represent you and work for you in some ways, but they have their own bottom line.
Same with your publisher. Sure, everybody wants to put out great books that sell well. But those folks work together every day at the same place, they have their own group dynamics, their own pecking order, egos, etcetera, and you are not really part of that. Moreover, unless you're a big shot (meaning an author to whom they've just paid a huge advance), they don't particularly have an incentive to make you happy, because you're not their customer, either. Book merchants are their customers: bookstores, online retailers, etc.

You are a supplier to your publisher. You sell them raw material, and they run it through their machinery so that they, in turn, can sell a finished product. Actually, I suppose, it's more like they license material from you, because then they pay you a percentage of sales. (Royalties.)

So it's a vastly different business dynamic than many of us are used to, whether we come from the world of business, or academe, or even public service.

To make it all work to your advantage, you simply must try to understand where every single person on that team is coming from, and figure out ways to help them. Then they're more likely to want to help you. A backbone of steel is a plus, too.
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[Photo of solo acrobat by ES]


  1. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of understanding where very person on that team is coming from. I think a major problem though is that both agencies and publishers pay a lot of bills that don’t directly benefit an author. Someone has to pay that janitor in New York and each author pays a share. So from an author’s standpoint there are too many people on the team.

    On the other side, If I were an agent I wouldn’t take on an unknown writer unless they had an already established following. So let’s call that writer semi-unknown. Semi- unknown is a tough sell for that agent. And if the semi- unknown sees a publisher as no more effective than he or she at promoting that work then what good is the publisher to that writer?

    Everyone needs to get paid. So I question if traditional team need is breaking down. An author’s new team might be then paying editors, and a web designer and social media expert. With each of of those people there is a clear two way exchange of both money and information. No lunch bills on someone’s expense account, parking or cab fares. And most of us clean our own houses. If we all do our jobs, the raw material, the polishing , and promotion we get to do it again. And again. And we gain new friends.

    And that team lives on.

    1. Rick, you've (thought-provokingly) drawn a model that's working for a lot of authors. I believe one consequence of the self-publishing boom will be publishers getting more competitive with one another. I witnessed this at a recent conference. "Well, that's what THEY can do for you, but here's what WE can do for you." Which is good, and which elevates the author from a cog in the supply chain to more like...a customer. At least until the contract is signed...

  2. I like that . In the self publishing boom, it's the wild west- an overwhelming amount of work with no system of clearing the good from the bad. As tough as turbulent as it is, we may look back on this as being a really good time to be a writer. Of course it's the only time we have, so there is not much choice.


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