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Authors Behaving Badly

Let me put on my author hat for a minute...

First, it is inexcusable for authors just not to show up if they said they would. Much better to just say "no" when the opportunity was presented.

Having said that, I think you need to ask yourself why the authors think it is OK to blow you off and to blow off an engagement. I suspect that they are angry with you (the publisher) at some level. They believe they aren't getting what they think they were promised, deserved, etc.

So, what to do about this?

1. Set expectations properly. I think it is very prudent for publishers to be up front with authors about how much they are likely to make from the sales of their books. Many authors spend countless hours on their great work. They are proud of what they've done and have made many personal sacrifices to deliver a manuscript to the publisher. They are very disheartened to see a list price of $29.99, which may translate into a royalty check for less than 10% of that. You can "educate" your authors all you want about the economics of publishing, but some just aren't going to like those numbers or be willing to promote for that small piece of the pie. Make sure your author has "done the math." If every book is sold in a 10,000 print run, what is the max they are going to get? Make sure the author understands how much (actually how little) the financial rewards are and what they'll have to do to sell the books.

2. Avoid the attitude that the author is a problem person that needs to be dealt with. The author is your partner. You can't exist without him. Don't enter a partnership with somebody who doesn't share your vision, and treat your partner well. In all the years I've been on this list, I can't tell you how many posts I've read about "how little can I get away with paying the author or what is the max I can hold onto as a reserve against returns." In other words, how can I give the least amount to the person who is the foundation of my business venture. Yes, economics may dictate compensation, but when you approach any financial problem with the attitude of screwing the author first, then don't expect to be treated well in return. You want win/win.

3. Help your authors market. Most writers aren't really interested in doing this--and for them it is a necessary evil. Handing somebody John Kremer's book and saying "read it" is a joke. The book is great (I have read it from cover to cover), but don't expect the author, by herself, to initiate many of those great ideas. That just might be beyond what she can do. Help her and you'll get much better results. Or read the book yourself and discuss which ideas you think will work well. Then, work with the author to put them in place.

4. If you are consistently having a problem with authors, what is your problem--and don't tell me you don't have one. Most authors want to be successful and are willing to work hard to make their books sell. They want to trust their publishers and want to make money. If your authors aren't working with you, why is that? There could be many reasons. Step back from your ire and try to see the world from the author's POV. I'll bet you'll learn a lot.

Mary P. Walker

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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