Today, we have an important post for those not well-published. It comes from Kimberly and Duke Pennell, the driving force behind Pen-L Publishing. They’ll give us some advice to use before we say “I do.”
The Secret to a Happy Marriage (to Your Publisher)
Congratulations!!! You’ve just said “I do” by signing the contract with your new publisher.
It’s going to be great! You were made for each other! You’re going to be rich and famous!
Well – maybe.
Just like in a marriage, newly partnered authors often have stars in their eyes. You imagine working with an editor who finds few flaws in your writing and agrees with all your counter-arguments. A cover designer who seems to have read your mind and produced the most perfect cover ever. A marketing team who has everything planned out for you – all you have to do is show up and the hungry crowd will be dazzled by your presence and buy every book you brought.
The publisher, on the other hand, may dream of an author who happily turns over control of all aspects of the book and happily agrees with everything. One who has a major social media platform with thousands of followers, who enjoys public speaking and has an insatiable desire to meet new people and convert them to fans, and who has media contacts who will quickly promote the new book. Preferably an author who has a six-book series ahead and has already written three of them.
Sounds like a match made in heaven, yes?
Well – maybe not.
Just as in marriage, people sometimes enter the publishing partnership with differing expectations. Are either of them wrong for having an idealized picture in mind? Heck, no. Creative people are usually like that. The difficulty is when the two parties don’t take time to let each other know about their hopes.
Some of our authors, when offered a contract, immediately say “Yes! Where do I sign?” Others have lots of good questions. We send them all a list of what we will do and what we expect they will do in the coming year. The truth is that authors who ask the most questions become the happiest ones. They get what they expect and give what they agreed to, and life is good for everyone involved. Many publishers invest a lot of resources into their authors, not just the books, in hopes that they will continue the partnership over the years. That long-term view means you have a plan for your writing life. The old saying goes, “those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Your writing career is no different.
Nearly thirty years ago, when we contemplated entering into a life-long relationship, we didn’t think much about divvying up housework, jobs, finances, or the kind of life we envisioned having together in the future. We just reveled in the fact that we enjoyed each other’s company so much and had nearly the same tastes in everything. Over the years, however, we’ve found we had to hammer out some agreements about how things worked. We are lucky that we still like the same things mostly, and have been able to compromise on the rest. But all couples butt heads on occasion. The difference between a happy outcome and one not-so-happy is how far from their expectations each person had to move. Had we talked specifically about what was most important to us, we’d have avoided some unnecessary stress.
When we first started Pen-L Publishing, we had a few stars in our eyes too. We bumped into authors’ (and each others’) differing expectations, which created more work and stress on both sides. Over the years, we’ve learned that the more we discuss expectations with authors, they happier we all are. No unpleasant surprises.
This year, we started presenting a workshop at writer’s events: “What Comes After ‘I Do’? How the Author/Publisher Relationship is Like a Marriage.” We’ll be in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on November 8 doing just that with the Bayou Writer’s Group at their Bridge to Publication conference. We provide a sample “Pre-Nup” that gives ideas for questions to ask a would-be publisher and topics to consider before contracting, like what and how much promotion am I willing to do? What things am I NOT willing to do? How much input do I need on the cover? How many books will I commit to write in the next five years? What are my goals for my writing over ten and twenty years?
The more you examine your wants and needs, the better you will be at finding a publisher who is a great match for you. Just like in marriage, you don’t necessarily want to say “Yes!” to the first person who asks for your hand/book.
Best of luck in your writing careers!
Kimberly and Duke Pennell
Pen-L Publishing – “Books You’ll Love” – has brought over thirty books into the world since then starting up in February 2012. Founded by omnivorous readers, they publish “anything that hooks us” and have brought out nonfiction, Westerns, magical realism, fantasy, science fiction, humor, suspense/thrillers, cozy mysteries, literary fiction, and more. They are home to many award-winning authors, as well as publishing an award-winning book themselves. Find out more at www.Pen-L.com.