How to Build a Publishing Team
by Daniel Parsons
Running a successful author business involves managing a lot of moving parts. There’s the writing, of course, but there’s also editing, cover design, distribution, advertising, publicity, audiobook production, reviews, podcast pitches, website maintenance… You can get overwhelmed just thinking about it. As the author, it can feel like you need to be an expert at everything, regardless of whether you publish yourself or have a traditional contract.
However, you don’t need to be a one-person publishing operation. With a good network, you can surround yourself with an army of specialised supporters who can lighten the load and complete tasks better than you could yourself. Some will be paid freelancers while others could be generous author-friends willing to swap favours.
As many of us are gearing up to attend SPS Live and the London Book Fair in March, the whole SPF team has been thinking a lot about networking lately. That’s because events are the perfect places to find like-minded professionals and grow your business.
Exciting, right? And all it takes is a little bit of socialising.
Now that you’re on board with the idea, we’d better start by defining networking to get us on the same page. I define it as:
Communicating with strength, mutual respect and an eye for opportunities.
This is a common attitude among entrepreneurs but not always the case for authors because, historically, we haven’t communicated from a position of strength. As close as just over a decade ago, we couldn’t approach publishers as equals, where both parties could easily walk away from a contract and go it alone. Neither have we been empowered to take part in conversations with distributors, printers and advertisers. Instead, we have been forced to embody the starving artist stereotype and hope to be “picked up.”
Building a Publishing Team
As a modern author, you can go it alone by networking – making a conscious effort to build your own team and influence so you don’t need to be picked up. It gives you options.
That’s not to say publishers are now irrelevant. Some authors don’t want to run a fully independent operation so, for them, a traditional contract is the perfect deal. Even then, though, it’s useful to have options you can use as leverage to get better terms.
If you’re interested in pursuing this level of freedom, you’ll need to build a high calibre team of collaborators to ensure you can produce and market your work without a publisher. That way, you can incorporate them into your network only when you decide that they will add value to your business by achieving something you can’t, like bookstore distribution or movie licensing.
Besides that, there’s also the social aspect. For many authors, writing is a lonesome job… but it doesn’t have to be. A good network of authors and publishing professionals, all with a common passion, will provide you with the knowledge, company and encouragement you need to make the whole process a lot easier. Like workmates, you develop real friendships, tackling problems and celebrating achievements together. It requires effort to maintain these friendships but the bonds are worth it.
To achieve all this, you will need to assemble a team not unlike a traditional publisher. The roles you might want to fill include:
Street team members
You won’t need to fill every role at once, or hire anyone as a permanent employee, because many members are only needed once in a while. The idea is simply to know at least one person in each role, ready for when you need them. Done well, an effective, supportive team can rival even the biggest publishers on the planet.
Realistically, you’ll only need most of the people featured on the list above when you have a few books out and have gained some sales traction. However, it’s good to be proactive and start your network with good foundations. If you want to start small but remain professional then you really only need to fill four essential roles.
Without a doubt, an editor should be the first person you bring into your network. Good editors are worth their weight in royalties. Even authors who want to pursue traditional publishing sometimes hire them to make their manuscript the best it can be before sending it to an agent or publisher because it improves their chances of publication. For indies, editors are a must.
They can specialise in genres. Some are better at fantasy whereas others might work primarily on romance or thrillers. A non-fiction book on politics or business might need a politically minded editor to check tone. In contrast, a work of historical fiction might require an editor who specialises in that area to check dates and accuracy.
No matter the genre, there are two types: developmental editors (who tackle plot holes, story structure, character development, etc.) and copy editors (who work on syntax and typos). Some authors like to work with a developmental editor first, clean up their manuscript and then send it to another to copy edit, but that’s not always the case. The ones I’ve worked with can typically do it all in two separate passes.
If possible, try to work with a few so you always have an alternative if your regular editor is too busy and you’re working to a deadline.
Again, consider this an essential team member. You typically won’t need a designer if you have a publisher because they will usually have one in-house. However, I do know of an author who put his publisher in contact with a designer for his book covers, so it isn’t always the case.
I’ve worked with three designers in total and while it can be tempting to do this work yourself if you’re handy with Photoshop (as I once did and now regret), it isn’t recommended. Book designers are specialists. They know your market; they understand what sells and they are able to meet reader expectations.
The truth is, readers do judge a book by its cover, and the right cover can multiply your sales tenfold. So, it’s best to work with an expert.
Proofreaders are your last line of defence against bad reviews. While you might not be published yet, and therefore won’t have considered reviews, they are worth noting early. Make no mistake, if your work contains typos, readers will slash stars off their ratings when they leave reviews on retailer websites. As a result, this can have an impact on your sales and can decimate a launch.
One early bad review can put off new readers who aren’t yet familiar with your work. Likewise, a manuscript infested with typos is unlikely to be considered by a publisher. Proofreaders aren’t perfect – mistakes always slip through – but they are vital if you want to be considered professional.
Publishing is a business, and whether you’re an indie author or you get your royalties from a publisher, you’ll need to file a tax return no matter how large or small your royalties might be. Setting up your business properly in the first place, with the help of an accountant, can save you a lot of time, money and heartache long term.
Lots of authors value their accountant as one of their best contacts. As savvy businesspeople, they rave about all the legal ways their accountants have saved them money. Sometimes that entails teaching them to incorporate their business and other times advising them on which lifestyle expenses can be claimed to reduce how much tax they pay. If you want to make a career of your writing, it’s worth having a qualified accountant on your team from the very beginning.
Networking is a continuous process. During your career, people will leave the industry and new faces will arrive so it’s important to maintain a healthy, diverse team. At SPS Live and other events like it you won’t necessarily meet every type of person mentioned in this blog post, but you will likely encounter authors who know them and can recommend the best contacts.
If you’re just starting out, remember this: it does get easier. At first, meeting, screening and coordinating your publishing team will seem difficult. Over time, though, as you build long-term connections and figure out how everyone works best, managing projects and communicating effectively will become an everyday part of your process. Then you can focus on upping your game and building your empire.
Grab Your SPF Freebies!
Sign up to receive your SPF starter package, which includes a free 3 part video series on getting started with FB ads, and inspirational and educational weekly emails.