What Good Is Transparency?

How many authors here today know what co-op means, what a typical print run is for his/her type of book, or how returns factor into sales? How many editors know how LinkedIn or Pinterest can relate to book marketing, in what ways authors are using their social networks, and what connections they may have to larger organizations? Often, we’re not asking these questions of each other. We’re doing what we can, in silos.

Imagine if authors and publishers could inform and strategize with one another. Imagine if we were all really on the same page. This begins with having a shared strategy built on the principle of transparency. There is a way to learn, enjoy different perspectives, not put so much pressure on ourselves, and still, at the end of the day, be productive. It’s the result of an open collaboration between parties, which becomes possible as our roles expand.

Collaboration, beginning with defining parameters and goals, is key to excitement, energy, and execution. Here are ways in which it can be developed at the very first meeting:

Begin the conversation early

Meet with the team about six months before publication. Include all parties: editor, marketing, publicist(s), author, and agent. For authors, it’s worth the trip to have this meeting in person.

Listen to (and hear) the publisher’s goals and expectations first

This may significantly influence the author’s goals and understanding. Take a no-holds-barred approach. Discuss the marketing/advertising budget, and the limits of that budget. Is a tour planned; is one even worth doing?

Listen to (and hear) the author’s goals and expectations next

Authors should come prepared—ask: “what kind of popular book(s) can mine realistically be likened to?” More ideal if this book is published by the same publisher, so a similar trajectory can be followed. Even with firm goals, an author should enter the room with the mindset of flexibility. His/her expectations should take into account the publisher’s stated goals and expectations. Better yet: get that information from the agent in advance of the meeting.

Bring up social media

Social media will undeniably be part of the marketing effort: the publisher should have a plan prepared. Authors should ask how the publisher intends to utilize it. If the author isn’t versed in social media, and if he/she hasn’t hired someone to manage it, publishers often have a template document available, or someone in their online marketing department will be able to brief authors in a later consultation one on one. Authors should review whatever information is given, and if unclear, ask questions. Do not ignore this crucial piece of the marketing effort.

Be clear on everyone’s role

This is always custom to the team. But a scenario of too many chefs in the kitchen is avoidable when each party knows his/her own role, and respects the boundaries of another’s role. For authors: know the difference between what your publicist does, and what your marketing contact does (that person handles online, advertising, and bookseller relationships). In all scenarios, for all parties, the question or call of action should be concise and clear. If getting things done for a book requires a business mindset, it may also require that authors learn a new language, or way of expression, to be effective.

Talk both creatively and practically

Authors or independent consultants are often first to provide these ideas. Then publishers can advise on whether they’re achievable. Whether a pie-in-the-sky marketing idea or a wish list for blurbs, agree on them now, and set in play accordingly.

Create a written marketing strategy and stick to it

With a written document that all parties can refer to later on, everyone stays on task, particularly if the document includes an actionable timeline. Designate one person to craft this document, and that same person or another person to manage implementation.

If we allow ourselves to drift unanchored from a common and specific goal, or if the team members are unclear on individual roles, we lose goodwill, and we lose that window where something could have sparked, and didn’t. We avoid this outcome if we’re transparent with both the good news and the bad. As much as possible, let’s convert proprietary (or unknown) information into something that can be shared and understood.

by Lucinda Blumenfeld, Lucinda Literary

Juliana Barbassa

"[Barbassa's] interviews with police, prostitutes, drug dealers, ecologists, businesspeople, academics, movers and shakers, and the moved and shaken offer a fascinating look at the people who live in and aspire to change one of the world’s most impressive cities." — Booklist