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How to Get the Best Out of Your Publishing Team

SPF Blog How to Get the Best Out of Your Publishing Team


Building and maintaining an author career requires a range of skills. And while some people are multi-talented writers, designers and marketers, nobody is good at everything, nor do they have the bandwidth to try. That’s why some of the smartest author-entrepreneurs outsource as much of their job as possible to accountants, designers, typesetters, web developers and other professionals. It allows them to focus on their strengths.

“But I don’t want employees!” I hear you say. Don’t worry; you don’t need full-time staff, just freelancers who work on a job-by-job basis. That’s how many successful authors work, managing a team to free up their time and help their work excel. Yes, you might have chosen to publish independently because you thrive on the variety and control of self-publishing. Plus, you might hate managing people. If you don’t want to outsource, that’s fine.

Just know that very few authors reach and maintain a full-time income without getting outside help and expertise. Those who try to do it alone often struggle or eventually drive themselves to burnout. So if you’re a career author who craves a better work-life balance, or a fantastic writer whose lack of design skills has led to lacklustre results, learning how to project-manage a team effectively can fix your problems.

As an author, though, how do you become an effective publishing team leader? In today’s blog post, you will learn a selection of the key principles you need to get started. Mastering them can lead to you getting great results out of your publishing team, giving you a more productive author career and a more enjoyable overall lifestyle.

Manage Expectations

Good working relationships often rely on all parties being on the same page from day one. An effective way to ensure this happens is to start with a contract where possible, outlining each party’s responsibilities, deadlines and rewards before collaborating. What happens if your cover designer has sent you three cover concepts and you hate all of them? Do they go back to the drawing board free of charge or get paid more money on top of your deposit to keep churning out ideas?

What about if your formatter produces incredible book interiors but stops answering your emails and misses every deadline you set? Do they still get paid when they eventually deliver the work? Having the outcomes of these conditions set out in writing beforehand means that everyone knows exactly what to expect if they run into disagreements, and nobody feels swindled if the relationship goes sideways.

Create a Winning Culture

A winning culture is primarily used to refer to sales teams in business, but can be applied to any working relationship. It can be found in teams that inspire and drive each other to be the best. If you want this sort of relationship with your collaborators then it’s a two-way street with transparent buildings. That’s because you need to be the source of this culture, demonstrating hard work, excellent communication and trustworthiness. Remember, bosses tell employees how something is done; leaders show them.

You can start by explaining to new collaborators that you work hard, want to grow fast and expect the same from them. Then show them that you mean it by actually working hard: deliver fantastic communication and hit all of your deadlines so you don’t become a bottleneck. When they learn that you always contribute your share of work on time and to a high standard, they will become more likely to do the same. Likewise, if you urge them to try new things and show that you are always learning, so will they. Expect mistakes because they happen when people rise to new challenges, and stay positive, confident that a team of developing, trustful, hard-working individuals will achieve better results in the long run.

Celebrate the Little Wins

Believe it or not, freelancers often become more invested in their authors’ successes than we realise. In traditional publishing, this dedication is expected, because editors discover and pitch authors to their teams. Both parties’ careers depend on the other’s success, so editors have to care about authors they champion from the slush pile. The story is different in the indie sphere, but editors and authors who work well together still experience shared loyalty. Authors try to hold on to good editors, and editors want to see their author’s books do well to get repeat business. The main difference with indie authors is we can access everyone on our publishing team – not just editors – so we build similar relationships with cover designers, proof-readers, co-writers and voice actors.

Nurturing these relationships by celebrating little wins is key to maintaining a team as its members grow their skillsets and client lists. Tell your collaborators how much they mean to you, no matter what they contribute. Consider giving them unexpected bonuses or shouting them out on social media for a job well done. Letting them know how much they mean to your operation is sure to keep them feeling appreciated and glad they work with you. In turn, this sort of conduct will make them more likely to keep performing at a high standard for you in the future.

Pay Them First

Money is an awkward issue. Here in the UK, many people don’t like to talk about finances, thinking it “improper”. This might be an outdated mindset – especially since the indie community has benefited so much from the transparency of those who sell lots of books – but it’s true. In the same vein, many people don’t like to ask for money for fear of tarnishing a relationship, even if it is owed to them. A lot of collaborators would never outright demand money for a job that’s overdue or make their injustice public, but they will get disgruntled if they are forced to chase payments and follow up to ensure they’re getting paid the correct amount.

To avoid awkward situations and resentment, adopt the habit of paying your core employees before spending money elsewhere. Yes, growing your author business revenue with regular advertising campaigns and merch income streams might be tempting, but scaling things like these too quickly can lead to cashflow issues. Putting your expansion projects on the backburner is frustrating, but having to replace a disgruntled editor or cover designer who hasn’t been paid can be even more inconvenient. It can ruin your momentum, particularly mid-series, and spoil your chances of ever getting to the point where advertising and merch are good ideas. Pay your freelancers promptly and in full or risk losing them forever.

Don’t Expect Them to Work Harder Than You

Watching a virtual assistant or marketing copywriter do a job slower and less effectively than you could do it can be exasperating. Often, it’s tempting to micromanage them to ensure they get job done to your standards, or to pull them from the project completely and take over. Indeed, your reason for doing so might sound logical in your head. They don’t work as hard as me. They’re not as invested in my success as I am. I can do it better. That’s all very well but, while complaining about how they don’t care as much as you do, consider these words by the YouTuber and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk: “Why the hell should they?”

It’s true that your employees probably don’t work as hard as you do on your projects. They also don’t care as much as you do. But that’s justified because they also don’t get the same reward potential: in most cases, freelancers get paid a finite fee for a job whereas your author income is scalable, so you will naturally care more about a project’s success. Besides that, the fact that you care more is missing the point. A freelancer’s job is not necessarily to be better or faster than you. It’s to do a job to an appropriate standard that you don’t want to handle yourself so that you can spend your time more productively on higher-ROI tasks or have a better work-life balance. Their enthusiasm isn’t a necessity; it’s a bonus. And as for their aptitude, leave them to handle a task themselves they’ll likely get better and faster over time anyway. You just have to believe in their potential.

Getting the best out of your publishing team isn’t easy, particularly when you’re not used to managing people and haven’t yet built trusting relationships. However, once you have set expectations, developed trust and properly trained your team to do what you need, you will find it easier to scale your business and improve your overall life satisfaction.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.