“Why is it such a common story for an author to dislike his or her publisher?”

Some time ago a journalist flew at his expense from the East to San Francisco to meet with me because, he said, when he had interviewed a Berrett-Koehler author for a magazine article, she was the first author out of scores he had interviewed who actually liked her publisher. Over the years I have heard from hundreds of authors – particularly refuges from the major publishers in New York – about their dissatisfaction with their publishers. Their complaints have several common themes:

Publishers do little to market books. This is a universal complaint. Authors typically say that their publishers did almost nothing besides printing and warehousing their books. Some authors half-seriously put forward a conspiracy theory that their publishers are intentionally trying to keep their books hidden.

Publishers’ attention to books lasts only a very short time.
As one bestselling author recently told me, speaking of two major publishers, “my publishers’ attention to my books lasted just two or three weeks after the publication date, and then the publishers very quickly disappeared. My agent has told me not to expect anything more.”

Publishers are terrible communicators. As another author explained, “You are dropped like a hot potato the minute your book is published. You are in an industrial process. You have no one to call, no follow-up, no feeling of continuity. You feel completely abandoned.”

Authors feel treated like nuisances. “I don’t feel like I’m being listened to,” one author said. “My input is ignored. Or I’m dismissed because the publisher says ‘we know better.’” Another bestselling author told me that he was treated “as if I was a thief.” Many authors say that they can’t even get anyone to return their phone calls.

Authors’ books are orphaned when their principal contact persons leave the publishers. Often an author’s only point of contact with the publisher is the author’s editor, but editors are always changing, which leaves authors with no advocate for their books or even contact persons. This author’s experience is common: “Our editor was experienced and good but we lost her when she was canned in company cost-cutting; she was replaced by a young person who knew nothing.”

Analysis. What is going on here? Are publishers incompetent and uncaring? I don’t believe that that is the case. Instead, I believe that most publishers are doing their best to cope with the overwhelming pressures and resource constraints that they face. Please click on The 10 Awful Truths About Book Publishing for a quick overview of these pressures and constraints. The bottom line is that publishers have very small budgets and overwhelmed staff to launch a large number of new products each year in an enormously crowded and competitive marketplace.

What can be done? Berrett-Koehler is under the same marketplace pressures and constraints that other publishers are dealing with. However, we take a different approach to dealing with these challenges: we seek to treat authors as equal partners instead of as nuisances. Our approach is outlined in our Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for BK Authors. Some of the ways that we seek to do so are described in these articles:

Fast Company article
Motto article
Chief Responsibility Officer magazine article

We welcome your feedback on how we can better partner with authors to make their publications successful and their publishing experience “one of the highlights of my professional life,” as one of our authors put it.