What does a publisher do? Commission authors
What does a publisher do? is a series of posts designed to answer that question, interpreted not in the sense of “What functions does a publisher seek to fulfil?” but rather “What operations does a publisher (well, this publisher at any rate) perform?” This is the fourteenth post in the series.
The second post (‘What does a publisher do? Manage stakeholders’) in this series set out a framework for subsequent posts – a framework based on the types of stakeholders a publisher needs to work with. Today’s post outlines our approach to sourcing one kind of supplier, namely authors. So:
Here is what we look for in the an author:
1. Evidence of expertise in the subject she wishes to write on. I mean genuine evidence. A job title on its own does not cut the mustard: sadly, I’ve found that there are many people out there who have been appointed by universities that should know better as lecturers in subjects in which they lack expertise. Possession of a doctoral degree might count for something – depending on proximity to the subject of the proposed book and on how recent the research was. But it doesn’t count for as much as many prospective authors suppose: doctorates vary in quality and certainly shouldn’t be regarded as a passport to pronounce on anything the holder chooses to pronounce on.
2. Evidence of willingness and ability to write. Such evidence might take a variety of forms. For example: previous books, journal papers, grey literature, magazine articles, or blogs.
3. Evidence of project management in the form of working to an agreed brief or specification. The evidence need not concern a publishing project.
4. Evidence of time management in the form of delivering a long-term project to a deadline. Again, this need not concern a publishing project.
5. Social capital, by which I mean principally (a) reputation and (b) connectedness (online – the kind of thing that Klout measures – but also offline, for example through involvement with professional bodies).
6. A desire to be read (such that the author will want to write well and to help promote the book).
7. Professionalism – evidenced, for example, by reading the draft contract and ensuring that the meaning is clear and the terms and conditions are acceptable.
8. Willingness to work in partnership. The ideal relationship is one in which the author and publisher respect each other’s responsibilities and areas of expertise. Signs that the author doesn’t value the role of the publisher or the publisher’s knowledge of publishing are a certain turn-off. Lack of co-operation (for example, not providing required information on a proposal) or resistance to listening (for example, in discussing and redrafting the proposal) act as red lights.
PS For a engaging, freshly written, narrative account of the commissioning of a book, I recommend the following post on the Ooligan Press blog: “A new book for Oooligan” by Lauren Hudgins.