Publishers Are Not Your Friends

To follow on about my post yesterday about books as startups, we could similarly take Steve Blank’s recent post titled VC’s Are Not Your Friends and do a similar word swap with exchanging “venture capitalists” with the word “publishers.”

The process of a book being published is such an emotional one for a first or even second time author. Editors heap complements alongside steak frites in the effort to allure you to their publishing house. This is often the first validation that authors receive for their idea and the attention is intoxicating.

After the contract is signing, the relationship seems to change. The author has been given their marching orders and not really expected to be heard from until some time the next year when the manuscript is complete. What about the new blossoming friendship? What about those New York lunches?

The truth is that the editor has ten more books to sign and as much as they may like you as a person, they are responsible for a profit and loss statement. Ideas need to go in and successful books need to come out.

It was a business relationship all along.

P.S. If you think I am being too harsh on editors, ask one. Ask them what their responsibilities are. Ask them how much time they have to dedicate to each book. Business book editors are some of the most fascinating people I know. I love them. This system they live in constraints what they can do. When you start the process of selling a book, you need to make sure you see and respect the system.

P.P.S. Read Part Two of Publisher Are Not Your Friends.

4 thoughts on “Publishers Are Not Your Friends

  1. Hey Todd,

    I’m writing a book currently for a publishing company called Manning. I don’t want to flog the book off here because that will only seem like spam and detract from my main point.

    I got approached by Manning in early of April 2010, which is unusual. It (apparently) usually works out by the author contacting the publishing houses and being rejected ad infinitum until someone finds a scrap of heart and accepts them. They asked me if I would like to be a co-author on writing a book that had been “around” for some time, but hadn’t really begun seriously.

    They had a couple of co-authors before me who had quit the project and so I was hesitant to begin writing it. My main thoughts were as to why they quit. It turns out that the book was for a programming language framework called Ruby on Rails 3. During the time that this book was supposed to be being written, there were a lot of changes going on for the language, and so it would have been tough to do any serious writing.

    I did end up accepting it. I was warned several times by people that I “would have to be crazy to spend all that time writing a book” and, honestly, there have been some days where I have agreed with them. It is a monumental undertaking, definitely not one to be taken lightly.

    When I begun the project, things were beginning to stablise with the framework, which greatly helped. What helped even more is that every week or so since the beginning of that project I’ve talked with one of Manning’s editors about where I’m up to in the book and what I’ve got planned next, as well as any comments she has left on Manning’s review system. These chats can be as long as half an hour, but are usually as short as 5 minutes.

    It’s this back-and-forth, this personal touch, that there’s *somebody else* (other than my other author and the readers) who cares about the book’s success enough to take some time out of their week to chat with me about the process and answer any questions I may have about it.

    The other day, one of the other editors and I chat for 2 hours about line cut-offs in the book. A whole 2 hours! We talked about other things too and I would consider both of the editors friends as well.

    These editors have never once yet brought up a bottom-line. They know that books do take time and the company is willing to invest that 5-30 minutes a week catching up and however much time is needed to review it. It also helps having a select group of volunteers reviewing the book as you go along as well. Yes there is a performance clause, but again: these things take time. If everybody respects that and is sincere in their performance evaluations of each other then I think we can have a successful business relationship and a kick ass book at the end.

    Apologies about the length, I am a writer.

  2. If I ever fall into this trap as an editor — “After the contract is signed, the relationship seems to change. The author has been given their marching orders and not really expected to be heard from until some time the next year when the manuscript is complete.” — shoot me. There is nothing (NOTHING) more terrifying than receiving a complete manuscript on the due date that I haven’t seen before. Which is not to say that I disagree with your general point.

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