The past week I traveled out west and met with three bestselling authors who are all looking for a new publisher. Two of them are “franchise” writers who have made a career of regularly topping the lists. The third is a new writer whose first book was a number one NY Times bestseller and he is destined for franchise status, as well.
My trip to the West coast also included a meeting with a prospective first-time author who has a terrific proposal. He is considered by many to be the world’s best in his profession. He’s a no-nonsense guy who doesn’t mince words and he actually asked me the most direct question of any of the authors with whom I met last week.
“Tell me why you are better than your competitors and why I should go with you?”
I don’t disparage my competitors, but I never hesitate to boast about why I believe the Hachette Book Group is the top company in the industry.
“We are the best,” I replied, “because we do three things very well. I call them The Three Priorities of Performance Publishing.” I elaborated that while this business is extremely complex, it is also amazingly simple. Because we fulfill three basic priorities, we are a great publisher. So, here are the most important fundamentals (with apologies for my clumsy alliteration):
A Respect for Prose
More than anything else, we value the author and his/her message. This was the most overwhelming impression I had when I joined this company ten years ago (it was Time Warner Book Group back then) and it’s still true today. I am surrounded by colleagues who love authors and their words. We admire the genius of telling a great story. We respect the artistry and craft of creating beautiful prose. We appreciate the value of an advice book that can change lives. We know that this business turns on talent. Content and expression are our commodities.
A Well-Managed Process
While publishing is indeed art, it’s also a business that relies on sound management and successful systems. The process of great publishing involves a hundred steps that begin when the contract is signed and continue through the book’s backlist life. Authors can trust that when they submit their manuscript to the editor, we have systems in place to give it the best opportunity for commercial viability. These steps include everything from designing covers, writing sales materials, creating targeted marketing plans, brainstorming sales and placements, strategizing publicity angles, projecting inventory, managing deadlines, executing flawless distribution, etc. We do these fundamentals well, and it makes the difference in countless ways that are often transparent and hidden. We are a well-run company and that matters. It doesn’t mean we are perfect and it doesn’t imply that every book meets our expectations. But we have a great tracking system that avoids omissions of significant steps.
A Passion that’s Personal
The first two Priorities create a platform for success, but there’s a third principle that really pushes books over the top. It’s passion. You can have a great manuscript and your publisher can have a strong process, but passion makes all the difference. Authors usually measure a potential publisher’s interest on the size of the advance they are offered. That’s fair because it’s tangible. But passion outweighs the up-front money. If you have an editor, a sales director and a publisher who really care about your book, then you have something worth more than the advance. It makes such a huge difference to have people within the publishing house who really care about you and your book. I have witnessed it a hundred times. People within the house put that extra effort into a project because they care. They go above and beyond because they have a personal interest in the subject, the manuscript or the author. It’s the wild card in this formula for success. I love the exchange between Liam Nielson and the bad guy in the movie Taken. When he was cornered, the criminal says, “It was just business.” And Liam responds, “Well, it’s personal to me.” Yes, there’s nothing like personal passion to drive you to the goal line.
Prose, Process and Passion. They are the ingredients of success for both the publisher and the author.