Publishers Are Not Your Friends – Part II: Missed The Mark

The intention of my essay Publisher Are Not Your Friends was to illuminate, from the author’s perspective, the highly emotional process of having a book published. Give authors some warning of the pitfalls. I instead indicted publishers and editors and made them a scapegoat for the effects on the writer.

Neal Maillet, the executive editor at Berrett-Koehler responded to my post on Facebook saying:

Point taken; I can’t claim that I can spend as much time on each book as I would like. You’re right that there is a system that needs to be fed, but my honest goal with each author is to make them feel that they made the right choice in a publisher. I don’t want to be like the car salesman who sends you to the grubby mechanic at the back door once you sign the papers. I’m sure I haven’t pleased everyone all the time, but I’d like to think my authors have sensed an honest desire to be of service to their idea.

Here’s the strange thing about Berrett-Koehler–I think our policy against paying advances makes for a different relationship after the contract is signed. There is less of a power imbalance–this policy won’t work for all books or authors, but it seems to make the relationship less fraught. And we also give the author an escape clause in case they feel we’ve sold them a pack of lies. Only two authors have exercised it in 20 years. We sort of flip the system on it’s head and it works for us.

Berrett-Koehler is wonderfully unique in so many ways from the Author Day they organize at their offices for each book they sign to the author-organized Authors Co-op. Royalty structures, cover collaboration, and yes, the ability to walk away from the contract give you some idea how engaged they have to be as a publisher.

Tim Sullivan, executive editor at Harvard Business School Press, left a comment here saying:

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.

Both editors essentially say “Yeah it is not great, but it is not that bad.”

I get that.

I missed the mark.

I am going to make another run at this topic soon, better attempting to capture the expectations authors have going into the process, how often they don’t match up with what happens and the compounding effect that has in an already high emotional state.

One thought on “Publishers Are Not Your Friends – Part II: Missed The Mark

  1. Can we all just agree that there are exceptions to every rule?

    Most plumbers suck and you should always beware, but there are some that are good. Most movies suck and you should always beware, but there are some that are good.

    Authors often assume the publisher is their to be their friend and have huge expectations that aren’t met. It’s a good thing to remind authors how it really works and publishing is a business.

    Sure there are good editors and publishers that are exceptions, but in general, authors beware.

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