This is a guest post from Melody Dawes. Melody has over 15 years of education publishing experience. She has a successful background in content acquisition for print and digital formats, and expertise in all editorial workflows from concept and strategy to the nuts and bolts of demonstrably effective product development. Melody is currently Managing Director of Just Content, a freelance services consultancy working mainly with education publishers.
Good commissioning is so often about the groundwork and experience has taught us that transparent conversations between author and editor are needed from the outset. Authors are busy people with an incredible amount of work to do, and very little spare time. As those of us practicing the dark art of editing know, there is no guarantee of a return for our authors. So what three questions are crucial to getting the project off on the right track?
1. Why are you doing this?
It goes without saying that this question should be asked tactfully. To establish a good relationship from the outset you need to fully understand your author’s motives for publishing. If the answer is simply for a financial return, then an honest conversation might be needed. Publishing is a portfolio business. For every author toasting their successes, there are plenty more who, well…are not. This needn’t put them off but a realistic approach is better for everyone involved, as is a shared understanding of all the other wonderful benefits publishing can bring. So, ask this question to help your author explore what they need from this venture and be honest about whether your objectives really are aligned.
2. Why do you want to publish with this specific publishing house?
If they have come to you from a recommendation, this is great, but it is worth finding out who they were recommended by. If you know that this first-time author, is not going to get the same A* treatment as their best-seller mate, it is best to find a way to explain that up front. Alternatively, if they just want to get published, and found you via a random Google search? This might set off some alarm bells.
The ideal scenario is that they are already familiar with your list; and even more preferable would be that they’ve read some of your books. You need a two-way dialogue about how their book fits in with your entire list, so that you can both be certain that the channels and markets your publishing house reaches will be right for their particular title.
3. Can I see some sample material please?
Even with the tightest, most engaging proposal, you will learn so much more from a sample. It will focus the mind as to whether or not this content will work and if there are doubts, you will both be able to work on what to do about it early on. This is much better than waiting til later on in the process! Ideally, an independent read from a trusted reviewer, or peer review for the academic/educational publishers among us, will provide some objective input for you both to benefit from. Authors must be open-minded, and an observation of their reaction to this will be telling for your work ahead. Publishing shouldn’t be an autonomous process. By putting content out there, we all open ourselves to constructive criticism, so they need to get used to that from the start. You’ll be able to support them of course and remind them that everything you do is to develop their work to be the best it can be. That’s the important thing to drive home, every time.