Whether you're new to the writing game or a seasoned author, the art of considering which publishing company and team to work with on your project probably comes as no surprise. The publishing company you choose, your editor relationship, and the contract agreement can make or break your vision. Ensuring you've got your project in the right hands with all the necessary boxes checked is crucial to get precisely what you want. You wrote it; after all, your baby deserves it!
So, what makes a publishing company suitable to work with? How do you ensure that your editor is unwaveringly invested in your vision? And how can you most effectively get everyone on board, even when working with multiple parties? Thankfully for you, as an author, I have been working to pave the way, hitting my fair share of bumps in the road figuring this out, so you don't have to. Here are some of my best tips and tricks for ensuring you have aligned values with your publishing company and will accumulate many advocates pushing your dream forward on the road ahead. (Well, here's that, along with some pitfalls and how to avoid them.)
First, you'll need to consider who you want to work with and which publishing path you'd prefer to take. The pros and cons of traditional and self-publishing are worth considering before you take the plunge.
Let's consider Traditional publishing for a second. (Note that although there are more options, there are only five large publishing houses: HarperCollins, Penguin Randomhouse LLC, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette).
When considering traditional publishing, it's essential to recognize that traditional publishing houses will always have profitability as a top concern. They will focus on trends, statistics, and market climates to choose the right books and frame them best to generate the most sales. Books published through traditional means may be more likely to generate profit and receive upfront backing, compared to smaller publishing houses which may need to be able to provide high initial investment or advance. It goes without saying that traditional publishing houses may expect you to alter your story or writing to adapt to the market needs, which may feel like a compromise of vision, depending on your aim.
Traditional publishing houses are notorious for authors losing creative control, but this is surprisingly untrue. If you are proactive and vocal about your wants and needs with your publisher from the get-go (and ensure the most important of these are written into the contract), you won't have to compromise your vision even with the bigger houses. I always say, "[your]… voice needs to be heard, listened to, and weighed in decision-making with [your]… editor."
But aligning values can be more than simply getting your editor and publishing company on board with your vision; it may also measure how well your political, environmental, and spiritual beliefs align. Because my work is aimed at social justice, it's critical to have an editor who is doing the work and can understand and relate to the messages of my books.
My publisher needs to understand me and my vision for the project. You are interviewing them for a project just as much as they are interviewing you. [It's also crucial to receive]… buy-in from the publisher as a whole, not just your editor, since editors may change hands at the company's will. So, make sure you're invested with your editor and that the publishing house, in general, supports you (and has a history of supporting authors like you) to ensure your book will still be in the right hands, even as the world keeps evolving.
The traditional publishing route might also be worse for the environment and be a misaligned value. Much printing labor for traditional publishing houses is exported from overseas (often China), resulting in low incomes for workers and increased waste due to transportation costs. In my case, environmental protection and advocacy are essential values to me and working to recognize which publishers prioritize ecological conservatism and the green process (not green-washing) continues to be consequential. It is difficult to cause no harm in our current systems, but being proactive in causing less and holding companies to the same standards is necessary. Once you know better, do better. Social justice and anti-racism are also at the forefront of what I seek.
My agents, Lary & Barbra at 22Media Works, and I are a team. When pitching to publishers, we are looking for relationships in alignment with the importance of liberation for all. Some of my work pushes the boundaries of what exists, so there are few comparables, and existing genres may seem too limited (think Jordan Peele [for horror movies]… but children's books). Anyone I work with must be willing to see where my manuscripts can fit beyond the current publishing systems.
Having shared values and support from your publishing partners is essential. Doing some preemptive work is crucial to ensure you're doing everything possible to meet your needs.
Whether you are self-publishing or going through a traditional publishing route, creating a mini-book grimoire outlining why your book needs to exist is an excellent start. I create work centered around the importance of my ideas and work with chosen illustrators through Fiverr to give life to my projects through sample custom illustrations. This draws a better picture for publishing companies to understand and visualize the creation while inviting illustrators I chose to collaborate with into the publishing world, exposing them to more opportunities and projects.
It's also essential to research your publishers ahead of meeting with them to understand better where they're coming from. Who have they published before you? What are the types of projects they take on? Reaching out to one of their existing authors to get the scoop may give you all the context you need.
Working with publishing houses outside of your home country may also pose some unforeseen barriers that should be considered. Working with a publishing company outside of the US for me has come with systemic barriers and limitations, including the challenge of our editor changing mid-project. Funding for marketing and distribution to the communities the book is intended for is a current challenge, and the flow of the process in book production was different from what I have experienced in the States, with the publisher taking less input from me as the author than from any of my other work. Market demand politics have played a massive role in the limited first print run.
On top of determining why you're choosing to work with a particular publisher, you must also consider other logistical barriers, such as if you're working with multiple authors. I LOVE collaborations, but there are things to consider. You're not the only author working on the book, and therefore don't have the final or only say. Make sure your visions align before moving forward with the publisher to confirm that both of your needs are being met. You will only include all the vital elements if you work together closely and speak your truth in your work and collaborations.
So, you've been requested to sign on to work with a new publisher (yay!) and have considered your value alignment but need more practical ways to move forward. What should you do next? Before signing, here are a few things to consider:
For starters, ask the publishing company and editor for their "why" regarding wanting your project at the publishing house.
These reasons will indicate value alignment (or lack thereof), so pay close attention to whether it fits.
Figure out what the physical version of your product will look like. Do your publishing partners have the funds to get all the bells and whistles you want?
For my Tarot deck, I wanted a magnetic closure on the box, and I told the publisher it was a necessary component, and Running Press made it happen. My sister, Grace, and I should have highlighted the importance of a magnetic closure with the publisher of our oracle deck right off the bat (coming out in September 2023). Due to financial limitations, the final product will not have this feature. If you want it, ensure the publishing house can get it for you and (especially) secure it in writing!
Ensure the most essential needs are met in your contract terms.
I said it above, and I'll repeat it - promises will not be kept if they aren't in writing. If you want it, make sure the expectation is clear and documented.
The Authors Guild has in-house lawyers who will review your contracts and give suggestions to support the author's getting a fair deal. Make an account at: https://go.authorsguild.org/join/
Strike a balance between the integrity of your work and the potential for publishers and editors to improve it.
Recognize that your editor and publishing house will seek to improve and adjust your writing. Make sure you're on the same page so that you trust your partners and the process when the time comes.
Ask about the timeline and next steps toward getting your product into the world.
Talk to your publishing partners about when work will be completed and goals met so you know the timeline for getting paid and when the public will get their hands on it!
What will they advance you, and what are the financial terms offered?
As mentioned earlier, a traditional publishing house will likely offer a higher initial investment than a smaller house. This may be important to you, which is totally understandable. That said, smaller publishing houses have their own financial incentives and offers to keep in competition, so ensure you have a handle on the financial limitations and extras.
Do they have a strong Social Media Presence?
Many attribute the rise in enthusiasm, and thus increased demand, for books (old and new) to the presence of online communities such as Booktok on Tiktok. The hashtag #BookTok alone has 92.7 billion views and counting, so it is no surprise that engaging with this community can give you excellent exposure.
Simon and Schuster have started reaching out to content creators, offering them swag boxes with various new books, and Penguin Randomhouse collaborated with TikTok to allow users to tag them in their books. These are just some ways publishing companies use this exposure to create more demand for their works.
Ask your publishing partners about the process of picking an illustrator.
Will the publisher provide suggestions or give you options to choose from? Will you have a say in who gets chosen to illustrate? Make sure these questions are answered before you sign on!
And last but certainly not least, advocate, advocate, ADVOCATE for your own work.
The way to decide will always be to meet the team and voice your dreams, hopes, and reasons behind your book. Can't meet in person? Book a virtual session with publishers who show interest. Meet and see what resonates and what doesn't.
While I have my dream publishers & illustrators I hope to work with, the deciding factors in my decisions are: if we're Ancestrally in alignment and what connection is built. Ensure you're aligned with your other authors and publishing partners by speaking your truth, getting it in writing, and ensuring that your most essential needs are being met.