In a time when authors have multiple avenues to publish their books, many publishers are finding themselves broadening their offerings to authors. And this trend has resulted in more “hybrid” authors who both self-publish and work with traditional publishers at the same time.
During a discussion at Digital Book World 2016, Jane Dystel of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, Julie Trelstad of Writers House, Johanna Castillo of Atria Books, and Jaime Levine of Diversion Books discussed how publishers and hybrid authors can collaborate in today’s market.
While many self-published authors have found success on their own, some seek help from traditional publishers to distribute their books to a wider audience. With publishers taking care of an author’s marketing strategy, distribution, and cover art, authors can spend more time focusing on the actual writing.
“The publisher can provide strategies, digital assets, art and graphic design that help the author maintain a brand even if they continue marketing on their own,” said Trelstad.
“When we plan campaigns [at Atria Books],” added Castillo, “we have conversations with the author to see what has worked for them and try to make that even bigger. It’s always a collaboration with the author.”
“The writer doesn’t have to spend time marketing themselves anymore,” Dystel said. “That takes a huge amount of time.”
“Authors need to ask themselves if they want to go the traditional route,” Levine commented. “At the end of the day, you’re bringing a middleman in that can get a review for you into a magazine that doesn’t usually look at self-published books.”
To main a healthy relationship between author and publisher, the panelists emphasized the importance of collaboration.
“I like to get my clients together with their publisher either on [the] phone or in person,” said Dystel. “Sometimes you bring them to New York…just so everyone can dialogue together. It becomes a partnership. Everybody’s learning from everybody else.”
Without constant communication, tensions may rise between author and publisher.
“In some cases, authors get frustrated when they don’t see publishers marketing as much as the author is for themselves,” explained Trelstad. “The relationship is between author and editor and not necessarily author and the marketing team. If you don’t start communicating with each other, things begin to stew.”
Hybrid authors may also need to compromise and adopt traditional publishers’ way of working.
“There’s a certain amount of education that needs to happen no matter how entrepreneurial the author is,” said Levine. “Authors are usually coming to us for print editions and distribution. They want to get browsing readers as well. That requires a mature and well-structured relationship between publishers and everyone else involved, like wholesalers.”
“Once we acquire an author, we have a pretty good idea of how we want to move forward,” added Castillo. “How often we communicate is set by author. I have some authors whom I don’t just email but also text everyday. Publishers need to be able to adapt to what author is ready to do.”
“It has to happen a certain way or else the book doesn’t end up where it needs to,” said Levine. “There’s a language that buyers recognize and a way to pitch. We need to adhere to that because there are people we’re working with who aren’t necessarily supposed to change. We’re allowing our authors to engage with everyone in the company. We want authors to feel like they’re part of that team.”
The panelists also discussed the entrepreneurial capabilities of self-published authors and whether or not traditional publishers are taking advantage of their marketing skills.
“You see really successful authors and people who break out to develop a direct connection to their reader,” said Dystel. “Self-published authors are fantastic for their entrepreneurial spirit.”
“They know their reader, so we listen to them,” added Castillo.
When it comes to finding authors to publish, the panelists said they may or may not work with self-published authors depending on several factors.
“I was asked about who’s been self-published and became really successful traditionally, and The Martian is a good example because I don’t know how many people knew it was self-published,” said Levine. “That is about taking that book and getting it to a wider audience. There was a time when we would look for authors who were doing publishing either on their own or in another house. There’s always a huge advantage when we see something original and fresh.”
“Two to three years ago, we had many of these books that have been self-published but, after a while, traditional publishers were realizing that the majority of sales had already happened,” said Dystel. “So we moved on to look for new projects.“
“It could also happen that we acquire a new book from someone who’s self-published and that author becomes bigger and you can pick up the backlist,” said Castillo. “I suspect that cases like The Martian will still be out there.”
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