Interview by Catharine Bramkamp
What do you do when your publisher is sold? Brenda Knight has some answers based on very recent experience.
“For legal reasons, I can’t go too deep into START media due to confidentiality agreements, but here is my advice for any author who is happily working with a publisher and the company is sold:
“Many times a publisher is acquired by a larger company because they are unique and distinctive in the field. Cleis Press worked hard for 34 years to become ‘best in class’ and the leader in their genres, even being named ‘Publisher of the Year 2014’ during my tenure. This made ‘the little publisher that could’ attractive to a bigger company. What made Cleis different was what made Cleis great and that legacy carries on.
“An author needs to be concerned when they hear that book categories and imprints are being discontinued, rights are being returned and book contracts being broken. This doesn’t happen all that often, but keep a sharp eye out for press releases about the sale and read between the lines. I advise authors to band together and approach the new owners/new regime and develop a relationship. Ask the tough questions. Find out who your new contact is and stay in good contact. Publishing is in constant flux so the players do change.
“My biggest piece of advice is to read the fine print in your contract. If, for example, the new owners start missing contractual deadlines, that is a big red flag. Don’t be a ‘squeaky wheel’, pay attention and make sure each side, yourself included, remains ‘in compliance’ with your book contract. If more than one deadline is missed and you are not hearing proactively from your new contacts, you may want to check with the Author’s Guild to see what your wisest next move is. You can only take your books away if the terms of the original contract have been violated.
“Make sure you do not have a ‘Right of First Refusal’ meaning the publisher with whom you have the contract gets to see your next project and has to say NO before you can shop it anywhere else. Agents come in very handy with change of ownership as they are your champion throughout. Publishers come and go but a top notch agent stays the course with you and will fine your book a good home.
“I have seen scenarios wherein authors were thrilled with new ownership which may well involves bigger marketing budgets and advances, so you never know!”
“Get to know other people who are writing in your genre. Find a writing group with other published authors in the same genre. Other similar authors will support one another and talk about each other’s work. If you can form a group of people writing in your genre, they can really be helpful to you. Remarkable examples of this are San Francisco’s The Grotto, The Rumpus, LA’s Nervous Breakdown, and many more.
“Find an author mentor! You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Learn from what others are doing. Pitch to your community before pitching to editors. Become friends with at least one local bookseller and they can also be excellent guides. An inspiring example is that of Bay Area writer Khaled Hosseini who attended the weekly San Francisco Writers Workshop meetings in downtown San Francisco, a free MeetUp. Each week, he read ten new pages of his work-in-progress receiving much input in the ‘crits’ from other writers in the group. The result was The Kite Runner, a #1 New York Times bestseller. He credits this group as the key to his success.
“Author-centered marketing is recognizing the simple fact that the author is always going to be the best champion for their own book and leveraging that. When I was a young publishing sprout at my first job, I often saw co-workers talk smack about authors. I was shocked and spoke out about it. My view is that’s just plain wrong. Despite being a newbie, I developed a philosophy: ‘Without our authors, we are nothing’. I have stuck with that motto and it has never failed me.
“I always get tremendously inspired by writers, who are putting their passion on the page. I am in talks with like-minded experts about a related start-up. After all, this is the San Francisco Bay Area; you have to do a start-up at some point, right?”
Brenda Knight is an independent editor, author and marketing expert, former publisher Cleis Press.