Another small publisher closing, what’s going on?

News came down recently that Samhain Publishing will be closiClosedng down. I don’t know the circumstances behind their decision, but they are certainly not the first small to mid-sized publisher to shut down in the past year. Most blame Amazon, and the self-publishing boom that we’re currently seeing.

So the question becomes, how can these publishers stop their authors from leaving them in favor of self publishing?

I have a theory.

Publishers need to start treating their authors more like customers.

Talk to any author currently being traditionally published (outside of the JK Rowlings, Nora Roberts, and James Pattersons of the world) what their biggest pet peeve is about working with their publisher, and nine times out of ten they are going to say the lack of communication. From talking to other authors about their experiences, and a little bit of my own experiences (few as they may be at this point) it can be a bit maddening at times.

While writing my book I poured my life into it, lost sleep over it, missed time from my family for it. So when you’re assigned an editor that struggles to even answer your simplest of questions, or when they do answer, give you three word answers, it can be frustrating beyond belief.

And in a world where authors have more choices of how to get their ‘masterpiece’ out into the world, it makes them wonder why they put themselves through it when they could pay for someone to edit the book, end up with just as good a product, and get better support? Now days, unless you are at one of the major publishing houses, you shouldn’t expect much in the way of promotional help from your publisher. They may point you in the right direction, give advice on how to market your book, but in the end it is going to be you and only you that is marketing your book. So what exactly are publishers offering that you can’t either do yourself or pay someone to do for you? Sure, they are doing some of those jobs for “free,” but in the end are you paying for it in delays to get your book out into the world? Not to mention the dent in your sanity from not knowing what in the heck is happening with your baby?

There is a lot of discussion in the publishing world about how can small presses survive in this age of self-publishing and the glut of material in the marketplace. Could the answer be customer service? Treat your author not as if they are your employee, but your customer? After all, publishers need authors to keep coming back to them if they want to stay open. By giving authors a better experience through the minefield that is publishing a book, could they hope to hold onto those deciding to switch to self-publishing? Personally, I think so.

Coming from a customer service background, I have some suggestions on how publishers can achieve this switch of attitude.

  • Not just a number – Don’t treat authors as if they are just another number. Whether your company is working with five, fifty, five hundred, or five thousand authors, treat them as if they are appreciated and needed. How do you do that? When they email with a question give them more than just a one sentence answer. Be personable, friendly, and explain the reasoning behind your answer. Authors want to like their editors. They want to build relationships with their editors. They don’t want to be talked down to or made to feel ignored. If a shopper walked into a clothing store and asked about a certain line of pants, a good salesperson wouldn’t say “Oh that’s just the way they are” and walk away. Likewise, if an author asks “Why are we doing another round of edits when you already said my manuscript is very clean?” Your response shouldn’t be “Because that is our process.” Instead tell them “I’m thrilled your manuscript started off as clean as it did, but we don’t just want it clean, we want it sparkling. As near perfect as possible. That means as many rounds of edits as it takes. Thanks for hanging in there, I know it is a long and hard process.” It didn’t take much longer to type, but explaining that, and treating your author like someone special will go a long way towards making them want to work with you again, and in turn making you more money.
  • Be transparent – Transparency is one of those buzzwords that politicians have used so much it lost a bit of its meaning. But it is important in customer service. Customers don’t want to feel like you are pulling one over on them. They want to know they are getting a quality product for their money. Authors are the same. We don’t want to be in the dark, especially not about something so close to our hearts. Tell your writers what to expect from the publishing process, BEFORE the process starts. I’ve heard horror stories from authors of being in the editing process for months without ever knowing where their manuscript stood. Or going years before they get a release date. Be upfront with your author about how long the process will take, and what to expect during each stage. A simple, “we’re aiming for a spring release if edits go according to our timeline” would go a long way to easing authors’ fears about their book being stuck in a never ending editing limbo. And this is important, FOLLOW THROUGH. If you tell your author that you’re aiming for a spring release, set a realistic timeline of how to get there, and meet those deadlines. This is for both editors and authors. If something happens to throw things off track, that is okay, but be open about what will happen in that event.
  • Offer them something they can’t get anywhere else – Authors have options. They no longer need to go through a traditional publishing house to make money. There are some very well established writers out there making big money without ever working with a traditional publisher. So why should they switch? You have to offer something that they won’t be able to get on their own. What that will be is dependent on the publishing house. Do you have a genius marketing team that can come up with out of the box ideas to get a book sold? Do you have a sterling reputation with a built in customer base writers won’t start off with on their own? Will you work with authors to make sure their covers are as close to their liking as possible, instead of the this is your cover you can’t change it attitude so many publishers take? Tell them those things upfront, and again FOLLOW THROUGH. Keep your promises. Don’t promise something you can’t deliver on.

These things aren’t hard. But they could make a world of difference to a writer, a building customer (or author) loyalty. Agree, disagree, have something to add? Share in the comments.

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