A Few Thoughts on Publishing from a Best-Selling Published Author

Jeanne MurphyIt started in 1996; I woke up with an epiphany on my book. It had to be created! I wanted to share my words of wisdom with the world! That was all I needed, passion. I started off by going to a library and as the universe would have it, I got the perfect librarian with the perfect article, “How to Get Your Book Published – 10 Tips”, so I read through it and signed myself up for a trade show known as the “Book Expo”, most often held in NY at the Javits Center, but to my luck that year, since I live in NJ, it was at McCormick Center in Chicago. I immediately bought the tickets.

One of the tips was that if I targeted 17 publishers within my specific genre, I’d either get an offer or I should abandon my mission. Check! Got it! I did my homework. I went there with no LinkedIn contacts, no references and nothing. But, it worked! I got four offers from four of the most prestigious publishers in the US at the time.

I spent hours and weeks feeling like I was going to end up being “Oprah” and changing my personality from a person who wanted to share my words of wisdom to “being a star”…(haha!) I can only say this now because after 20 years, I see what happened to me, but I have to share now my words of wisdom on the publishing industry.

So to quickly catch you up, I did sell 500,000 units of my books, (quickly in the first four years), and I did have four publishers over the years. I have received paychecks for 20 years from my work with mainstream publishers and that’s been great. However, I learned a lot…

First, as a first time author with a mainstream publisher, I was naïve. I didn’t understand how an author is the one who pays the lights for a publisher. How the backlist titles are their core and how only politicians and celebrities get books sold immediately. I learned later that although I wasn’t a quick million, I was important to them. And I also learned that they held all of my rights for a long time.

I started off with an offer from one of the biggest competitor publishers to Workman Publishing in NY on self-help parenting titles known as Fisher Books at the time. They were awesome to me! I was an “Oprah” to them. PS – Workman is the publisher of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”…. I would like to add that Peter Workman of Workman, who’s now passed away was probably the most loyal businessman I’ve ever met in my 50+ years on this planet. When I approached him to publish my parenting work, he simply said, “I would never add a title to compete with WTE because my authors mean that much to me.” – Hmm…that was a learning experience. Then he published a page a day calendar called “Mother Knows Best” for me that didn’t conflict in any way shape or form …AND he didn’t even use my content. He just paid me for the idea.

What a great guy! He didn’t have to do that! He could have easily taken the idea and published it in an alternative format.

On the other side of the fence and simultaneously, Fisher Books publisher, Howard Fisher, (another awesome gentleman with amazing ethics), published my series of books originally entitled, “Mother Knows Best” as “Baby Tips” (1996)…they were in Target, Wal-Mart and the like. Everyone on the team was awesome!

I did have some learning curves however, with a publisher (Fisher) that had produced top line self-help pregnancy and parenting titles over 50 years along with awesome cookbooks and a series of automotive titles. The learning curves were that…I was part of a publishing house that was sold off to a huge, major publishing house where the titles were mostly “Dr.” authored at the time – and I felt like an orphaned child even though I absolutely love the Fisher Staff to this day and am so grateful for everything they did for me.

So as I move into a major, powerhouse publishing company (2000), I realized that I didn’t get the same amount of attention that I had with a small publisher because they have so many titles, they didn’t really consider me someone necessary for a “light bulb”.

I researched my publishing contract and saw a very small clause that stated, “If we do not sell 200 of your books within X number of months, you can revert your rights”. OMG! What a scary decision! Do I knock on the door of Goliath and ask for my rights back…even though there was absolute evidence from my royalty statements that I could? …. YES! Nothing to lose!

I thought that since my books had sold more than 500,000 copies (1996-2000), when a best-selling author according to the author’s guild is 3,000 in the book’s lifetime, that I would have a challenge, a need for an attorney, an “OMG, I’ll never get my rights back” issue.

Not the case. I wrote an email and got not only my rights back within two days – EVEN with International/Foreign Rights in place where I’ve been receiving checks for 20 years, but also a discount on my overstock! Turns out I could buy my inventory for like $.25 cents each. What a great day! Reminds me of the old, “You don’t ask, you don’t get “ kind of day! Haha

I turned around and resold my book rights to another one of their competitors with a less naïve state of mind and a few years later again, had my rights reverted to me per my request.

This story may sound like a long story that ended badly, but the truth is that I’m still getting paid on International Rights! I love that and I own my journey into self-publishing.

So Here’s My Do’s And Don’ts On Weighing Publishing Options:

Do:
Remember that a publisher is asking you only one thing if you’re in their genre:
“How are you going to sell this book??” – It’s all about the author. You have to be self-promoting unless you have a cure for rockets wrongly launching.

Do:
Try to find a smaller/successful publishing house that focuses on what your book is about. They will care about your book forever and you’ll have access to the publisher. You’re not just 15 minutes of fame.

Do:
Research for the best mainstream publishers in the library for your content. Not on Amazon. The search results are deceiving. Ask as librarian – educator, or association on who is the author of their most important titles and then see who publishes them.

Do:
Try to keep your International Rights from your mainstream publisher. You can pay as little as $ 1,000 to be promoted to over 320 countries if you’re a nonfiction title. And PS – you’ll get more from one country on a contract than you will on your advance and most likely, the lifetime of your book sales.

Do:
Be confident! If you’re pitching to a perfectly matched publisher, keep in mind that you are bringing them opportunity! No different than Shark Tank! You have choices, they need content to serve the consumers/genre that they have waiting anxiously for more information.

Don’t:
Be intimidated by a mainstream publisher. Their biggest competitor is the self-published, self-promoting author – aka: You – even being a new author, you are driving your own bus! Remember that you are always going to be the person that sells your book. You have choices!

Don’t:
Don’t send your manuscript to publishers that do not specialize on your subject matter. The most common feedback from editors on rejected manuscripts and book marketing proposals is, “We don’t publish what they sent us.”

Don’t:
Accept an author agreement/proposal from a publisher with terms that don’t allow you a reasonable, “rights of reversion” clause. Contest anything that will hold you up from getting your rights back if they don’t perform within six months.

Don’t:
Allow an editor from your publisher to take away your voice. You are the writer and the editor is supposed to view the book from a reader’s perspective. They are not about editing for typos. That said, it’s your voice! Keep your personality, your style; insist on things you feel strongly about such as illustrations, title, etc. They have awesome insight, but you always want to think back later and know that it was your idea.

Questions? Jeanne Murphy, Marriah Media, LLC  www.MarriahMedia.com
908-752-5179. Jeanne@MarriahMedia.com

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