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Saturday, May 18, 2013

The writer as publishing consultant

I got a call the other day from a young man who wants to do a book about a topic he's very passionate about. I immediately went into consulting mode and got quiet. I did more listening than talking.

Given the explosion of self-published books over the past few years, good writers and editors can provide a real service to folks who are not necessarily writers but who need to produce books.

Working with indie authors has paid well over the years, and I'm always grateful when I get referrals. I have a decent reputation as a developmental editor and ghostwriter not only because of my skills but because I bring no ego to the relationship. It's all about the author—his story, his opinions, his passions, his voice, his publishing needs. Even if you disagree with him philosophically, it's all about the author. That's not to say that you don't editorially challenge the writing, but ultimately, as the producer of the book, the client has final say.

I wasn't always good at this type of work, probably because I sometimes made the common mistake of inserting too much of myself into the process. Too much ego. I've found that my success as a publishing consultant is directly tied to the degree of humility I'm able to muster.

I've worked a couple of consulting jobs in my corporate career, and the lessons learned there are perfectly applicable to working with indie authors. If you're thinking about adding consulting to your writing income streams, you'll benefit from the following wisdoms I've picked up along the way.

1. Be a good listener. Do more listening than talking.

2. Briefly share your credentials. In fact, script out a 20 second elevator speech about how your services will benefit the author. Potential clients want to talk about their projects. I've found they're only minimally interested in your bio. Offer to send it via email. Also send your brochure that details your services, benefits of working with you, testimonials, etc.

2. Don't negatively judge the author's subject matter (no matter how tempting). You never know what the market will bear.

3. Ask lots of questions. For example:
  • How will your book differ from similar ones on the market?
  • Do you want to self-publish or attempt the traditional route? (Explain pros and cons of each.)
  • If you want to self-publish, do you have a budget for production, printing, and marketing?
  • If self-publishing, do you need a writer, an editor, someone to manage the production process for you, or all of the above?
  • What's your desired deadline?
  • What's your sales and marketing plan?

4. Always add value. Be generous with your knowledge (even if you're not getting paid yet).

5. Be smart about your time. Don't allow the conversation to go on for hours and hours. No more than, say, 30 minutes for the first discussion.

6. Explain your approach to working with authors.

7. When/if you're asked about fees, don't commit to anything yet except to provide the broad strokes (e.g., hourly, by the project, etc.). If you're not asked about fees, still bring up the subject. Potential clients need to understand the value you bring to the process.

Of course you'll need to review the manuscript if one has been written. Charge a minimal, nonrefundable reading fee that can be applied to the final balance. You'll get a general idea of how long the project will take to complete. You'll get a sense of the author's voice (or lack thereof) and organization of ideas. Basically, you'll know if a major gut or a simple touch up is needed.

Donna Marie

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