Best Advice for New Authors – For Working with Their Publisher

The idea to write this post came from a conversation this past week with a client who turned their manuscript in to the publisher a week early. The editor was thrilled! Thus began a short exchange on what every writer should endeavor to do in their career. This may seem simple but is important to reiterate.

Do your best work. Always.

No shortcuts. No “mailing it in.” No “sending junk and let them fix it.”
It is called work. Not vacation.

Meet Your Deadlines

We know that “life happens” and often it is more than okay to ask for a deadline extension. But try not to make it a habit. A habit becomes a reputation. A reputation becomes a  reason for the publisher to say “no” to your next project.

I’m not talking about the request for an extra week or even an extra month. I’m talking about multiple extension requests on the same book. And on subsequent books.

I heard of one publisher who offered more advance money to the writer if they met their deadline. The chronic delays on past books caused too many in-house problems for the publisher so they offered a cash incentive! It didn’t work.

Be Polite and Professional

In the words of one author “No drama!”

It can be easy, with email, to forget there is a real person on the other end of your keyboard “send.” A 4,000 word missive on how your editor is an idiot and everyone else in the office deserves to be fired will not endear you to your publishing team. (I’m not making that one up. A real person was reduced to tears by an author’s vitriolic email.)

A polite discussion on your frustration with the cover…with delays in marketing…with slower than expected edits…with request for 24 hour turnaround for edits or marketing copy… All these things can be aggravating. But kindness and politeness can work wonders.

If you need a “Darth Vader” when all else fails…that is something an agent can provide, when (and only when) it is appropriate.

Before you hit “send” consider showing your angry letter to your agent who will likely suggest a different line of inquiry.

Make Your Publisher’s Job Easier

That may sound goofy to some. “The publisher works for me, not the other way around,” was said by one author.

So let’s put it in another context. If your day job has you in an office with other people, would you treat those people with such disdain? If you are the boss, do you wonder why staff quit so often?

If you get a task with a difficult turnaround time deadline, try your best. If it is unreasonable it’s okay to say “That’s an awfully tight deadline and since I’m in the ER right now with my child I may not be able to do this today. But I will try, even it’s not my best non-distracted work.”

Versus, “No way. I can’t, I won’t do that today.”

Having been an editor and an agent I can see both sides of the equation. Landing on the side of kindness, self-control (and other fruit of the spirit) is the right thing to do.

If the “job” becomes onerous then a conversation with those issues as the topic is needed. I’ve seen those conversations reap wonderful results and increase professional friendship and cooperation.

On the other hand, I’ve seen the nasty conversations destroy professional relationships.

Remember to Say Thank You

Need I elaborate? It is part of the advice to be polite, but needs a special reminder.

A marketing person at a publisher is likely working on 10 or more urgent projects at once. Sort of like rush hour traffic. One blown tire and the congestion brings the freeway to a halt. The marketing person didn’t put the nail in the road. But it messed up the best laid plans for that week’s to-do list.

Editors are not sitting with their feet on their desk with a favorite beverage doing the daily crossword puzzle. When I worked as an editor, I could have 20 different projects in various stages queued up. One editor who worked for me had a practice of closing the door and turning off the overhead lights…then flicked on a single lamp over the work space. The editor said, “If I let my concentration move into the shadows I can no longer focus on the task in front of me.”

The point is, we can all claim to be busy and be truthful. Recognizing and acknowledging the work that has been done well is a good thing to do.

By the way, I do think editors and marketers should, on occasion, say thank you to the authors too, but that is another post for another day.

Your turn:

Any other tidbits of advice you can lend to the discussion?


30 Responses to Best Advice for New Authors – For Working with Their Publisher

  1. Shirlee Abbott July 2, 2018 at 3:26 am #

    Jesus is the source:

    Do unto your publisher as you would have your publisher do unto you.

    • Claire O'Sullivan July 2, 2018 at 12:02 pm #

      Amen on that! Sometimes we say ‘Lord, really?’ in a whiny voice.

      God has big shoulders and can deal with it. Ain’t no surprise to Him that we may (will) say that.

      But, be nice to the agent. The editor. The publisher. They are not omniscient, omnipotent. Nor can they be omnipresent. All 8 of the fruits of the Spirit are directed toward our behavior to all.

      When I owned a business, it was a ministry to anyone who worked for me or walked through the door. From living out the Word, each one of us became the ‘dream team.’

      It is God’s work through us. He is not so much interested in our circumstances as He is our character. Ongoing.

      I am guilty, guilty, guilty of being whiny to an agent. I quickly shut up. I also sent the agent a kneejerk reaction email and thought, oh, no! I hit ‘send!’ So, off went another email saying.. Please Delete! He did. Thankfully.

      Great post, Steve. And, thank you!

  2. Brennan S. McPherson July 2, 2018 at 4:29 am #

    Great, Godly advice, Steve. Good reminder that we need to rely on the Holy Spirit and be dedicated to honor God.

  3. David Rawlings July 2, 2018 at 4:58 am #

    Great advice Steve. Each time I talk to my publisher, I’m always aware that I’m building the foundation of the business side of our partnership. It’s more than just writing, it’s working with them, and I’d like them to want to keep that partnership going because of my professionalism. Plus – and this is an added bonus – it makes it an enjoyable process for me!

  4. Roberta Sarver July 2, 2018 at 5:59 am #

    Isn’t it odd that we have to be reminded to be kind? Are we reading our Bibles or what???

    Thanks for the valuable advice–not just for authors but for ALL relationships.

  5. Renee Garrick July 2, 2018 at 5:59 am #

    Writing can feel like a solitary activity, but there’s a veritable army of workers standing alongside every author– workers who are on the author’s side. We’d all be wise to remember that fact– and to treat the team as the blessing they are!

  6. Jeanetta Chrystie July 2, 2018 at 7:02 am #

    Remember the publisher is a friend you have yet to meet (you may one day meet him or her at a conference). Publishers are real people with good days and not-so-good days, they are not a wall you have to blast your way through.

  7. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 2, 2018 at 7:09 am #

    Great post, Steve.

    I’d add this: don’t presume on informality and relationship.

    Becoming too informal can become awkward, rather like the bloke who sat too far up the table at the banquet and as told to move down.

    • Damon J. Gray July 2, 2018 at 8:41 am #

      Great illustration re: the “bloke.” 😉

  8. Cathy Rueter July 2, 2018 at 7:35 am #

    Great information!

    I would like to add:
    Your publishers world does not revolve around you. Cut them some slack if they don’t have you on their mind every waking hour. They have other clients, spouses, kids, elderly parents, and health issues to deal with as well. Gentle reminders that you and your needs exist is fine, constant harping is not.

  9. Carol Ashby July 2, 2018 at 7:41 am #

    Steve, this is an excellent list for any business relationship. I do find one assumption an author might make a bit surprising. A traditional publishing house doesn’t really work for an author.

    Doesn’t the publisher buy the rights to the work, essentially buying the work as if it were a painting or even a commodity and then owning it from that point forward as long as they abide by the contract terms? Even then, it might take legal action to get ownership back, like repossession when someone fails to make car payments. Isn’t the contract a list of obligations between the two parties laying out what the author/seller must do in exchange for that money and stating conditions related to the delivery of that work to the new owner by the seller/writer? A seller no longer owns the work after taking the money for it. Any input the seller has after a sale depends on whether the buyer wants it.

    Strictly speaking isn’t the only publisher who “works for the writer” an indie publisher who is marketing her or his own work? Perhaps some of the irrational expectations and demands would be less of a problem if authors recognize they’ve sold the offspring of their creative labor and that certain obligations on their part were part of the conditions of the sale.

    And as Christians, we’re called to the highest standards of behavior when dealing with others in business and every other relationship. Making our real Boss happy with how we behave will solve most of these problems before they even arise.

    • Brennan McPherson July 2, 2018 at 5:41 pm #

      Carol, I wouldn’t say it’s like buying/selling a painting or commodity at all. There are certain rights the author maintains, and certain rights the author gives to the publisher. This is to enable the publisher to do their job, to make their money, and to market your work without having their hands tied by copyright law (like printing and distributing your book). My first book (with a traditional publisher) had its copyright registered in my name (the Publisher registered it in my name for me). I maintained certain rights to it. I also gave certain rights up for the duration of the contract (still in effect). But I’m not selling them my work as if selling a painting. My work still remains essentially mine. That make sense? And contracts differ depending on circumstances, publisher, etc. Furthermore, when I published my second book through Kindle Direct Publishing and enrolled it in Kindle Select, I gave up certain rights to Amazon just as I gave up certain rights on my first book to my publisher. KDP Select’s contract just lasts 90 days at a time and automatically renews until you discontinue it, so the terms are different from those you’d see in a traditional publishing company’s contract, but you’re giving up rights just the same (ex. I can’t give anyone a free e-copy of my second book while it’s enrolled in Kindle Select, or else I’m in breach of contract–which is a big deal). Maybe that’s getting too nit-picky about technicalities, hah, but people get freaked about publishing contracts, as if publishers always want to take all control away from them, and that if they go indy they avoid that 100%. Neither are true. Publishers (unless they’re run by weirdos) want enough leeway to do their job effectively and make sure they, and you, make a healthy profit. And if you’re publishing on Amazon, or other big platforms, you agree to their terms and abide by their rules. 🙂

      • Carol Ashby July 2, 2018 at 5:55 pm #

        Brennan, thanks for the clarification from someone who truly knows!

    • Steve Laube July 2, 2018 at 6:05 pm #

      Brennan did a yoeman’s job in his answer. The key is contract terminology.

      In a book contract the first section is called the “Grant of Rights.” In it the author grants specific publishing rights to the publisher. Not ownership. But selected rights.

      The copyright is not granted. That remains with the author.

      During the term of the contract, whatever Rights have been granted to the publisher remain in effect.

      They usually mean the Right to print, distribute, and sell the book in specific forms (usually print and ebook). But also subrights are often granted which include, audio, film, braille, foreign translation, etc.

      A painting is different. It is a single work in its original form. When sold from the artist to an admirer the ownership of the painting passes to the admirer in exchange for money (usually).

      If the admirer sells it to another admirer the original artist receives nothing since they sold their “rights” to the painting in the first transaction.

      An article in today’s “Passive Voice” blog talks about a painting which recently sold for $18.5 million and the artist received zero. He had already sold the painting.

      • Carol Ashby July 2, 2018 at 6:12 pm #

        Steve, can the publisher who bought the rights sell them to another without the author’s permission? What happens to ownership of the rights in the event of the publisher’s bankruptcy? Are those rights treated as an asset of the business that can be liquidated without the author’s input as to who gets it and how much it’s worth? Is the buyer bound by the royalty conditions in the original contract?

        • Steve Laube July 2, 2018 at 6:17 pm #

          Depends on the contract.

          The bankruptcy clause, if there is one, would dictate the situation.

          If there is a sale of a publisher to another entity, then the Assignment clause is in play.

          If the contract moves from one entity to another the terms of the original contract remain intact.

          • Carol Ashby July 2, 2018 at 6:20 pm #

            It sure is obvious why an author needs an agent when the details of contracts are involved!

            • Steve Laube July 2, 2018 at 6:24 pm #

              When I teach about contracts I will say this, “Some people say they don’t need an agent. … Until they do.”

              “And then it is too late. They already signed their contract.”

  10. Damon J. Gray July 2, 2018 at 8:23 am #

    I’m with Carol – this is truth for any industry, with the possible exception of boxing and mixed martial arts.

    It saddens me that you even need to remind us of these things. Politeness and civility have largely gone the way of the dinosaur.

    At my day job, my motto is “My job is to make your job easier.” I remind people of that about every eight weeks.

    • Damon J. Gray July 2, 2018 at 8:26 am #

      I’m reminded of a story Michael Hyatt tells wherein he demanded that an author send a bouquet of flowers with an apology to one of his team members. Failure to do so would result in a contract refusal.

      It was a great story.

  11. Linda Riggs Mayfield July 2, 2018 at 9:22 am #

    Great post, Steve! I’m editing a major work for a client who almost always ends his emails with something like, “I appreciate your attention to the details,” or “Blessings to you today,” or “Thank you for going on this journey with me.” Besides doing my heart good, I’m always reminded that he took a few extra moments of HIS valuable time to wish me well and I’d be wise to prioritize small acts of kindness, too.

  12. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D July 2, 2018 at 10:42 am #

    Thanks for the superb reminder, Steve, of how to behave in the publishing world.

    I would think that gratitude for having a publishing company believe in your work enough that they are willing to publish it would be a gigantic motivation to send flowers and chocolates to the editor or whoever, not give that person (or people) a hard time!

    (Do check for allergies first, however, it could backfire if someone is like me- allergic to chocolate!)

  13. Rebekah Love Dorris July 2, 2018 at 11:35 am #

    Great post! This highlights yet another benefit of leaning on an agent rather than FSBO’ing a book.

    Unfortunately, we humans can blunder into emotional illogic.

    It’s happened to me.

    I am beyond thankful for wise friends I’ve been blessed to get advice from before hitting “send.” A trusted mentor or writer friend who isn’t emotionally involved deserves much credit for any future successes when they steer us away from jumping off a cliff in our blind rage.

    Thanks for guiding us right today! It will bless us all, I’m sure.

    • Steve Laube July 2, 2018 at 6:07 pm #

      Too funny.

      Had to look up FSBO. (For Sale By Owner)

      I was hoping for something rather innocuous.


  14. Jaime July 2, 2018 at 2:45 pm #

    I love this post, Steve.
    It really does apply to any job we work at, as believers especially. There is no compartment of our lives where the fruit of the Spirit does not apply. We must always carry ourselves as His representatives first, even above our oh-so-precious writing careers.
    Some of the best advice I ever received was at my very first writing conference about a decade ago. The author told us there are many, many people out there who have the ability to write well. To rise to the top, we need to write well AND be a joy to work with. She was so right!

  15. Tisha Martin July 2, 2018 at 4:44 pm #

    Excellent advice here, Steve, thanks for sharing.

    As a writer, contest judge, and an editor, I’ve seen a lot of different sides to the publishing industry. One thing I’d like to add, if I may, is to couple the principles you’ve laid out with a measure of teachable spirit. We’re all at different levels of learning, and there will always be someone else who knows perhaps less or more than you do. Developing a teachable spirit really helps foster those relationships with others, no matter where you or they may stand in the industry.

    And, honestly, I love to learn, don’t you?

    • Tisha Martin July 2, 2018 at 4:46 pm #

      (I need to add that I’m a freelance editor, so the sides of publishing I see are different than what in-house editors see.)

    • Steve Laube July 2, 2018 at 6:08 pm #

      That is a great addition to the list.


  16. Nancy Massand July 6, 2018 at 10:51 am #

    I loved this. It all boils down to “Get over yourself.” Reminds me of a piece of advice from another wise old man… (Don’t let that ruffle your feathers, Steve; I’m calling you wise, not old!) “You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

    If we only could maintain a true perspective of who we are in the grand design, humility would prevail and greatness would follow.

  17. Bailey T. Hurley July 9, 2018 at 9:43 am #

    These are great! I think we could almost summarize every point by saying “treat your publisher they way you want to be treated.” So, doing our best work and being a servant-leader in the process will only encourage a positive relationship with the publisher. Plus, we are representing Christ and I think we want to glorify God through our work so we want it to be done well.

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