Top 15 "Innocent" Phrases That Are Totally Annoying

Everyone knows those annoying words and terms we use that have become meaningless ("synergy," "organic," "incentivize," and others), but there remain many phrases that we're all guilty of using every day that are equally pointless and frustrating.

After reading this post, you are forbidden from using any of these phrases. Forever!

1. "Just to be clear...": Why not just say, "You morons don't seem to be understanding me so let me hammer this point home."

2. "That's my 2 cents": Skip the humility, grasshopper. If what you had to say was really worth two cents, you should have just remained silent.

3. "No offense": Usually said right before something offensive is said. Issuing a disclaimer doesn't help.

4. "I don't mean to be difficult.": Um, if you are aware that you are being difficult, which is precisely why you would say this, then you do mean to be difficult.

5. "I hear what you're saying.": Brilliant, your ears work. Now what?

6. "I'm just saying…": Yes, we know this because it is coming from you and you are saying it. Thank you, Captain Obvious

7. "At the end of the day...": Why is the end of the day the finality of all things? Things are going to be just as messed up the following morning, you know.

8. "Thank you for your patience": Usually spoken by airline staff over delays or construction crews blocking roads — don't thank us for something we have no choice over, it's patronizing.

9. "I could care less.": This is annoying because the phrase is "I COULDN'T care less." The phrase makes no damn sense otherwise!

10. "To be honest…": You mean in contrast to all the other times when you're just spinning bull?

11. "Going forward…": Because going backward is not really possible, Marty McFly, so why bother?

12. "With all due respect…": And by this, I mean I have no respect for you at all.

13. "Needless to say…": But you just need to say it anyway?

14. "Don't go there.": Well, I wasn't going to until you said that, now I am going to go all up in there and then some.

15. "Fairly unique…": It's a bit like saying "mildly devastated" or "stunningly passable."

This list is inspired by my mentor and the guru of management-speak, Bob Lewis, who added these two gems to the mix:

16. "We need to plan for the future...": Hot damn! Of all the periods of time to plan for, it would never have occurred to me to plan for that!

17. "Past experience tells us that...": Probably because future experience hasn't told us anything yet, and won't until the present passes it by.


Five Lies Writers Are Told

Because the world of publishing remains inscrutable, many writers find themselves being told lies by well-meaning friends and colleagues. These friends and colleagues don’t intend to mislead their writer-friends, but they do.

Here are five of the most common bits of “advice” given to writers by people who really don’t know better.

1. “Be careful about circulating this around. Someone will steal it.”
Incidents of literary theft remain rare, despite what you may see in the movies or elsewhere. But the best way to establish ownership of a work is to publish it — on a blog on the web, in an article, or whatever (you don’t have to publish the whole thing, just the core idea). Letting the world know that you wrote it and interacting with those who read it and offer feedback is the best way to keep someone from stealing it. The great thing about the web and all publications in general — they record the date on which your article was published, so if someone attempts to steal your work, they would need to show an earlier date of publication to yours.

2. “If you’ve got the whole manuscript draft already, skip the proposal and just send the whole thing to the publisher for consideration for publication.”
No, please don’t do that. A book proposal contains all sorts of valuable information such as biographical information, marketing ideas, competing titles, details about length and format, and much more — all of which are needed to assess a potential publication. Also, in no publishing house will you find an employee whose sole responsibility is to review incoming proposals. This means that the person handling this duty in any given house already does a bunch of other things. They don’t have the time to read your entire manuscript to see if your ideas are any good, but they do have the time to read the synopsis and chapter outline that will be part of your proposal packet.

3. “Get an agent. No publisher takes you seriously unless you have representation.”
Getting an agent is a very good idea: they can negotiate the best deal for you and often have connections with editors in numerous publishing houses. And because of this belief, agents receive way more proposals than most publishers, and seeing as most literary agencies operate with a staff in the single digits, getting a response can be tricky if not time-consuming. But not all publishers require representation. Check out the proposal guidelines on the websites of publishers who publish in your genre. You’d be surprised how many established houses don’t require agency representation.

4. “That idea is so good, you should copyright this work and maybe even trademark the title.”
You can’t trademark a book title, nor are trademarked names protected by law when it comes to book titles. This is that whole freedom of the press thing — if you want to write a scathing critique of Microsoft, you should be able to use the trademarked name Microsoft in your title if you want. Keep in mind that limitations exist around such usage, however — for example, it has to be clear that you are not representing Microsoft in any way or profiting from their name in titling your book that way (unless, of course, you get permission from them to do so first). And no, while you can copyright works, you can’t copyright ideas because the law recognizes that two people can have the same idea at the same time without ever having met each other. If someone has the same idea as you, that’s just tough (unless they have the same idea and the same characters and names for things as you do — then it’s easier to prove copyright violation).

5. “My friend is a lawyer and he can look at the publication contract and make sure everything is good.”
Here’s the thing: publication contracts are not like regular contacts. There are different factors and conditions based on the restrictions put upon us by this industry, so unless the lawyer is someone who specifically deals with publishing agreements, he or she is going to just annoy the publisher by making ridiculous demands on your behalf, which will not help you in any way. Don’t get me wrong, having a qualified lawyer is a very good thing when it comes to looking over contracts, but the key word is QUALIFIED — competent in publishing contracts. Getting your tax attorney brother-in-law to give your contract the once-over is not going to help you, I assure you.


There Is Method to My Madness

I am currently collaborating with several teams of BK community members to establish a new nonprofit organization affiliated with Berrett-Koehler Publishers, which we have named the Berrett-Koehler Foundation.

There are many reasons why it is insane for me to be involved in this endeavor, including the fact that I have no free time to devote to this quest (because I already have two full-time jobs as BK president and as one of our book acquisition editors) as well as the reality that fundraising is a huge challenge for nonprofit organizations and a heavy fundraising burden for the Foundation will fall on me as BK president.

Why, then, do I believe that the Berrett-Koehler Foundation is so important that I am devoting a great deal of my time to establishing it despite good reasons not to pursue this?   There are several reasons I am deeply committed to this quest:

1.  The Berrett-Koehler Foundation is a way to take BK’s mission of creating a world that works for all deeper into the world.  It will help put into practice ideas and methods that create deep positive systems change.

2.  The Foundation opens up another front for increasing BK’s impact.  It will reach audiences that we don't currently reach effectively through our books — especially young leaders around the world — and help them master and apply new ways of leading and collaborating that they seldom learn from schools or from traditional leadership development programs.

3.  The Foundation is a means of expanding the BK community around the world, especially among younger and less affluent groups, and helping BK community members connect with and support each other.

4.  The Foundation can help preserve the independence, mission focus, and values of Berrett-Koehler Publishers by becoming a significant long-term shareholder of BK stock (which I and other BK shareholders intend to donate to it).

So, is there method to my madness?  You decide.  Please read this two-page brochure about the Foundation.  And please check out the Foundation website.

Please email me personally at if you would like to learn more about the Berrett-Koehler Foundation or to find out how you could support it or get involved in some way.

Thank you,

Steve Piersanti
Berrett-Koehler Publishers


Anna Surprised: Three Discoveries About BK

Six months ago I was sitting in a chair across from Jeevan at Berrett-Koehler for an informational interview. We were talking about developmental editing, and Jeevan looked at me and asked

“Do you think you would be good at it?”

I had one of those slow-moving time moments where my brain did a few backflips (this is where you say yes. YES, not um, well I think, probably- Be confident- This is not the time for modesty- just say it!!!) before my vocal chords managed to force out a response.

“Yes, yes I do.”

Like many women, my reticence was only the result of a culturally ingrained resistance to tooting my own horn, and my initial work with Berrett-Koehler landed me a shiny new job as the assistant to the Editorial Department. I could not be happier.

Jeevan asked me to write up some of my impressions three months in, and since I can't stop telling people how wonderful my new job is, it was a welcome invitation. Here are my three biggest (and most pleasant) surprises:

1. My co-workers are all have perfect faith that I am going to blow them away.
While the expectations of me here are very high, the assumption that I am going to do great things for the company is made just as clear. In some previous (disastrous) jobs, there either were no expectations, or worse, it was made clear to the young employees that we were considered failures waiting to happen. The difference between these two messages is astronomical. Instead of fear and ill-will leveled at my superiors, at BK I want the company to grow and thrive and sell lots of amazing books! I want everyone around me to succeed. Their faith in me is the very thing that kicks my innate ambition into overdrive. (Incidentally, I kind of wish those ex-employers would read some of our books! Practicing Positive Leadership comes to mind...)

2. Stewardship is a thing. And BK does it really well.
Steve Piersanti gave me my copy of Peter Block's Stewardship at the end of my final interview. I was immediately intrigued, and excited to be at a company that valued service as a founding principle. The idea that struck me the most (possibly because of my regular traipsing off to Black Rock City) was the extreme responsibility a Stewardship model places upon each and every employee. The model eviscerates the “it's not my job” line (may it die and fade into oblivion.) Instead of dictates to follow, I have a set of responsibilities. Instead of knowing that questions will be met with judgement, my professional development is a matter of importance to my co-workers. I have a terrifying level of freedom and lack of rules to hide behind, but instead I consider myself to be personally responsible for BK's continued success.

3. We Publish AMAZING books. No, seriously, we do.

I get to engage with world-changing ideas every day. I have come to see publishing as the curating of ideas. Ideas come to us in many different shapes and stages of development, and our responsibility as publishers is to be able see the heart of an idea and help reveal it. We nudge and push and shape, and eventually we bring a beautiful idea to a form than can reach thousands and tens of thousands of (and on a few occasions, over a million) people and organizations. I can't imagine a more fulfilling way to contribute to making the world a better place.


Five Tips for Talking With IT People

Technical professionals have a different way of looking at the world than the rest of us. Non-technical folks sometimes find talking to them to be awkward. To help you through the rough spots, here are five tips for having smoother conversations with your IT people:

Tip #1: Don’t call them “techies.”
Technical professionals are about as fond of being labeled with a group identifier as any other group. What should you call them? Use their names. That usually works pretty well. 

If the situation demands a group label, use “engineer.” It has a respectful sound to it. “Techie” (or even worse, “technician”) sounds disparaging.

Tip #2:  Beware of stereotypes.
Stereotyping technical professionals (engineers) is about as useful as stereotyping any other group of people. The generalizations are just good enough to get you into trouble. 

As a group, technical professionals are just as diverse as any other group, although maybe a bit smarter. They don’t all play World of Warcraft in their spare time. They don’t all know how to hack into DoD computers. They’re no more likely to be liberal or conservative than anyone else, and they don’t all read science fiction, either. There’s just no shortcut for getting to know them as individuals. Sorry.

Tip #3: Expect them to analyze things more deeply than you do.
This isn’t a personality trait. It’s a vocational requirement, and a survival skill, too. If you’re an engineer and you don’t peel the onion quite a few layers when figuring out how to make something work, you’re well on the way to becoming a former engineer. 

So when you’re talking with someone who plies a technical trade, don’t get annoyed when they dive into the details. These are the folks most likely to get burned by ideas that look really convincing on a PowerPoint slide, after all. Mostly, they’re helping you stay out of trouble. Although they could also be showing off a bit, too.

Tip #4: Be interested in what they know.
See? Technical folk really are the same as everyone else. Think about your own reactions. When someone asks you to talk to them about what you know, it feels good, doesn’t it? 

Same thing. 

Another version of this same principle is to respect their subject. When an engineer hears someone say, “Explain this to me - I’d like to understand it better,” they figure this is someone they can work with. And oh, by the way, once you decide to give the subject your attention, you just might find it actually is pretty interesting. 

It’s the people who say “Spare me the technical details” who get consigned to the “Not smart enough to bother with” pile.

Tip #5: Flattery helps too.
Engineers are paid to be smart. In most companies, compared to the workforce taken as a whole, they are pretty smart. And unlike a lot of the population, which views being smart with suspicion, these are people who take pride in their intellects. 

So phrases like,” I don’t know how you can keep track of all that,” can go a long way.

How do you talk to engineers? The same way you talk to anyone else. Their subject matter might be arcane. But they’re still just people. Treat them that way and you won’t go wrong.


Four Things NOT to Say When Pitching Your Book to a Publisher

When authors pitch their book to a publisher, they are essentially selling. But many authors are poor salespeople when it comes to books — not because they’re incompetent but because ideas that may seem innocent or even positive to most people suggest something else entirely to publishers.

I have easily reviewed several thousand proposals and have identified the four most common statements that authors make but should avoid:

1. “Given that the number of [teenagers/graduates/entrepreneurs/young parents/etc.] is currently estimated at [enter numeral] million, the market for this book is huge!"
There really is no such entity as the “general" marketplace, and writing for a (sufficiently large enough) niche is actually a good thing. People have so many choices -- the more specific a book is in catering to their particular needs or tastes, the more likely they are to buy it.

Example: Mock it all you want, but Fifty Shades of Grey focused on a readership that no one even thought existed ("mommy porn"). Since it was the only book in that arena, it didn’t even have to be well written.

2. “I envision a series of books that use this approach in different --"
Committing to a series of books is a scary thing for a publisher. If the publisher contractually agrees to a series, he or she is obligated to publish follow-up titles even if the first one bombs. No publisher wants to commit to that kind of long-term loss. Don’t say anything about a series -- you don’t need to. If your book is successful, your publisher will come begging for a series.

Example: Keep in mind that the most successful serials (such as the For Dummies series or the Chicken Soup for the Soul titles) were not initially pitched as serials, but the first books sold so well that the publisher decided to make them so.

3. “Given the popularity of books such as [enter name of New York Times bestselling title here] or the books of famous authors such as [enter name of bestselling author here], this book will inevitably draw an audience."
Not exactly. The popularity of a particular issue or subject is important to some extent, but in most cases, books in the same arena as yours sold because the author is popular or appeared on Jon Stewart’s show (or something similar). The author is the draw, not the subject matter. So unless you’re as famous as that author, the fact that you are writing about a related topic makes little difference. Also, an author who doesn’t bring anything new to the subject matter but just parrots what someone else said and adds in a few minor details just shows a lack of originality.

Example: When Rhonda Byrne’s bestseller The Secret started racking up sales in the millions, every self-help author suddenly had a take on the law of attraction (the generic philosophy Byrne’s book was based on), and the marketplace was flooded with “Me, too!" books. All of them were summarily ignored -- and bombed, as they should have.

4. “To promote the book, I intend to build a dedicated website, appear on radio shows, utilize social media, and speak as often as possible."
Here’s the problem: intending to do anything offers no guarantee that you will, nor does it guarantee that you will be successful. I can say that I will ask the queen to endorse my book, but it remains unlikely that she actually will. Publishers can go only on what authors have already achieved, not on what they intend to achieve. An author wont suddenly become a social media maven or a successful speaker appearing on nationwide media just because he or she now has a book. Remember this rule above all else: books do not start movements; movements start books.

Example: Almost every (nonfiction) bestseller had its momentum building well before the book came out. From Freakonomics to The Secret to Free, these books were written by authors who were actively speaking and writing about their work first. The book was just the capstone. And regarding social media, how many requests have you had to “like" someone’s Facebook page? Do you even bother to go back and visit the page even if you do "like" it? Remember that a top author can boast over 5,000 such "likes," but a farting cat can garner over a million. So, yeah, your competition is a farting cat, and it's beating you senseless. And how many times have you bought a book because of the author's Twitter feed? Think of how many authors you know -- and how many of their websites you have actually visited.


Nine Ways to Give Better Editorial Advice

These tips are not ideas or techniques I created but just what I have observed working with others in the field. I have been arranging editorial reviews for over a decade, so I have seen firsthand the feedback that authors and editors cherish and find useful. Remember, an editor is ultimately only as good as the percentage of his or her suggestions an author adopts.

Here are just nine tips for giving solid editorial feedback:

1. Start nicely. The process seems almost formulaic -- you start with compliments and what you like about the work, and the author is obviously just reading through your comments and waiting for the "but" or the inevitable other shoe to drop, right? Possibly, but starting with supportive and encouraging statements works because it lets the author know from the start that you see the value in the work and that your intention is to help bring that value out further.

2. Know that how you say it is as important as what you say. Given that the best feedback is only as good as its manner of delivery, you're not doing anyone a favor by being harsh and ripping a work to shreds. You'll just isolate authors to the point that they stop listening. You may raise some incredible points in your feedback, but if those points are delivered in a harsh manner, they will never be seen or responded to. A callous approach is a total waste of time.

3. Tear it down, but build it up, too. When pointing out what does not work, always say what will work. Anyone can look at a written piece and remark on the flaws and shortcomings. Real feedback includes offering other avenues or options when encountering problematic areas in the spirit of resolution. Criticism without offering suggestions for improvement is just whining.

4. Don't skimp on the details. Cite examples and give details of both the good and the bad in a work. Making general statements like "There are points when the author just goes off on tangents" is not helpful. And though a lot nicer to hear, compliments like "There are points when the author really inspires me!" also offer little help. Consistently provide specific examples of where something works or doesn't work -- chapter and verse -- because the author can't read your mind.

5. Promote from within. When you are trying to explain how to make a particular section or argument in a work flow better, use parts of the manuscript that work well as examples of what the author can do to improve the parts that don't work as well. This type of feedback is the best because it reassures the author that he or she already knows how to fix the problem -- and the criticism is a lot less intimidating when delivered in this praising manner.

6. Become invisible. The temptation exists to start offering feedback from the "If I were writing this book" point of view, but it's not your book. I am always amazed by the number of seasoned editors who still lapse into this mind set. Your goal in giving feedback is to help authors write the best book they can, and all of your energy should go to that end, not to furthering your own agenda or thoughts. And if the author takes all your suggestions but then takes ownership for the ideas? That is the ultimate success.

7. Be an expert. Don't be afraid to say what other authors in the same field have said about the same issues your author contends with. How did others overcome similar obstacles, what are their ideas, and how can we apply those techniques here? When you use others' works in your feedback to an author, you strengthen your own argument by giving authoritative supporting evidence.

8. Avoid the laundry list. I've seen some feedback presented as laundry lists, where chunks of suggestions or points are offered on different issues, one after the other, on a lengthy bulleted or numbered list. What author wants to see a list numbered 1 to 56 of all the partsthat need addressing? Divide all concerns into three or four larger subjects (almost all issues will fit under the categories of structure, language, or argument) and then group the feedback under each heading accordingly.

9. Introduce yourself. So much of the feedback we offer stems from our own cultural and educational backgrounds, yet we forget how the authors we provide feedback to remain unaware of these details. Knowing your background, professional and personal, as well as your qualifications and areas of interest gives authors context for your feedback and helps them understand why you took a certain stand. It never hurts to write an introductory paragraph to relay this background information.

There are plenty more techniques, but this list is a start.


What Got You There Won't Get You There Again

Cynthia Shannon, previously BK's Communications Manager, has now taken a new role with Goodreads (and is just down the road). This post is her parting gift to the BK community.

As noted in my previous article, working as a book publicist does not require a formal certification or training. It requires a love for books and a desire to tell other people about them.

Not much about the publicity process has changed since I started in this department seven years ago: galleys made from final manuscripts get sent out to early reviewers; review copy mailings go out to producers and reporters a month prior to publication; interview requests and reviews come in, and then start to fade as the publication month comes to a close.

And yet there are some things that just don’t work like they used to and giving these too much attention could end up being a waste of time. Here are three of them:

1. Book reviews. I used to know the names of the top 50 book review editors at daily papers in the country. Not anymore. Prestigious papers getting rid of  book review section has been one of the saddest changes to watch unfold in the last few years. Of the ones that are left, even less space is dedicated to book recommendations. This means it’s harder for a book to get the attention it deserves since it’s competing with many other titles for limited space. This means that the prime real estate is pre-reserved for the marquee names so it’s not worth the time and effort, necessarily, to try to break through if you are not an A-lister.

2. Author tours. I used to spend so much time setting up not only the event (at a university or bookstore or other venue), but also booking the flights and hotels, and coordinating the pick-up from the hotel for the author. Not anymore. Authors are expected to figure all of that out by themselves now.  You can imagine how well (or not) that can go.  Without the tight planning and organization of such tours by individuals who know which venues, times, and dates to choose and how best to exploit the author’s time in various locations, author tours are pretty much hit-or-miss (and usually more miss) these days.

3. Tchotchkes.  I used to send out Clif bars and scented soaps along with books to get the attention of an editor. I’d send elaborate press kits with DVDs and 4-color spreads. But then I found out that the editors throw them out. Tchotchkes have no bearing on how they perceive the book. When everyone starts selling to you, you become numb to the stimulus. So why spend the money on extra postage and the production of coasters and key chains?

The job of the publicist is to spread the word about a book. And the two things that still work are the fundamental qualities of a good publicist:

1. Building relationships with media. There are a few reporters who I’ve had the pleasure to work with consistently for seven years. I know what kind of books they like, when they need the material, and whether they quote from the press release or actually read the book. Those relationships took years to build and maintain, but for the right books, it’s worth it. And of course, they know and respect me, so I can sometimes “jump to the head of the line.”

2. Sending out books. Because reporters might ignore the book or they might review it poorly, but at least you’re giving them the chance to do so; if you don’t send a book, they would never have that opportunity. There are no guarantees when you send out the books that reporters will review them (especially since they receive countless publications daily), but you still have provided the crucial materials for them to do so, the rest is up to them.

Good luck to you all!


Five Insider Secrets of Publishers That You're Not Supposed to Know

I am BK's Editorial Director, and I have five secrets to spill about the world of publishing. Brace yourself!

1. Are You There, Amazon? It’s Me, Publisher. Amazon’s customer service is so great that you may find the next sentence to be shocking: You, the customer, have a better chance of getting someone from on the phone than we, the publisher, do. This is no criticism (really, Jeff Bezos, you’re the best!), but most of Amazon’s buying and marketing procedures are so automated that they’ve cut out human contact points. Publishers who sell hundreds of millions of dollars with Amazon spend way more time talking over books with the buyer at your corner bookstore who sold ten books last year.

2. Come Hither to My Book. Author photos are important for editors when they consider first novels—and lots of other kinds of books, too. My first job as editorial assistant at a top-five New York house gave me a shock. I still remember my surprise when I saw 8 x 10 glossy photos of the authors attached to manuscripts and proposals. Basically, your chances doubled or tripled if you had a steamy head shot. 

3. We’re Printing 20,000 Copies—No, Make that 50,000! Publishers are usually lying when they announce print runs or sales numbers. Publishers don’t mean to lie, but there is a chicken-and-egg conundrum in building a big book. If I don’t brag about how many I’ll print or how many I sold, you the bookseller won’t take a risk and order more copies. If the booksellers don’t order the book despite my hyperbole, however, I would be silly to print the first number I threw out. So the final print run is based more on the orders that come in, not on some aspirational idea cooked up in the publicity department. (BK does not announce print runs for this reason, although we’re sorely tempted at times.) The irony is that most people in the book business know how to break the code. For example, an “announced run” of “25,000” probably means around “15,000.” I will say this: all publishers WISH their announced print runs were true—that’s something, isn’t it?

4. What if You Had a Bestseller and Nobody Came? Anyone can have a bestseller if his/her pockets are deep enough. (Read the Wall Street Journal Story from February 21, 2013: “The Mystery of the Book Sales Spike.”)  Many bestsellers started out as manufactured bestsellers with multiple orders channeled through marketing companies. The companies can game the system by sending copies through accounts that they know report to the Times or other bestseller lists. There is an amazing amount of manipulation going on, but some of it is just capitalism at work and not completely unethical. (For example, if an author’s client really wants to buy 1,000 books, is it wrong to split that number up among several key stores in order to hit the bestseller list? A sale is a sale, no?)

5. I Am A Book Publisher and I Approve this Message. Your bookstore displays copies in prime spots because the publisher paid them to do that—they’re not making a personal recommendation.  Chain bookstores operate on a “co-op” system similar to that used in supermarkets—books that are face out, on higher shelves, ends of shelves, or front tables probably had to pay for the privilege. (Good store managers go rogue and slip their own favorites into the mix anyway. Also, independent bookstores rely far less on this type of payola.) One of Borders’ final co-op programs (called “Make”) required publishers to pay for one-on-one verbal recommendations by staff to customers. You can’t make stuff like that up.

The Insight at the Heart of Berrett-Koehler

The dominant view in book publishing has long been that when an author signs a publication agreement with a publisher, the publisher now owns the book and the rights pertaining to the book.  The publisher “acquires” the book and it belongs to the publisher.

In 1991, as I was reflecting on my nearly fourteen years of experience in book publishing, the insight came to me that there was a better way to structure the relationship between publishers and authors: they could be equal partners, with shared rights and responsibilities, instead of publishers owning authors’ work.

This insight has influenced all I have done in publishing since then and it has had great impact on the design and operation of Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

One initial consequence of this insight was the BK publication agreement.  Our objective, as I wrote, was “to create a more balanced and fair agreement – one that is more of an equal partnership – between the author and publisher,” whereas “most publishing agreements today are grossly one-sided: the author has few rights and many obligations, while the publisher has many rights and few obligations.”  Accordingly, the original BK publication agreement created nearly 22 years ago contained many provisions – all of which are still in our agreement today – to give authors rights that they often desire (such as partnering with the publisher in deciding many publishing details) and to strike from the agreement common provisions (such as the publisher having the right to the author’s next book) that smack of the publisher owning the book.

The most radical and unique provision is that the author is given the right to terminate the publication agreement after the book is published “if, for any reason, the Author is not satisfied, in the Author's sole judgment, with any aspect of the relationship with the Publisher or with the Publisher's performance in any aspect of publishing and selling the Work.”  This turns on its head the normal publisher-author relationship – wherein authors sign away their rights for life – and gives BK a powerful incentive to be responsive, collaborative, and high performing in all aspects of the publishing relationship.

This partnership insight has also led to a host of other distinctive BK practices, including:

- A “Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for BK Authors.”

- Viewing authors as insiders within BK who can interact whenever they wish with any and all BK staff rather than being expected to interact with just one “gate keeper” who tries to keep them from being a “nuisance.”

- Supporting the creation of an independent organization, the “BK Authors Cooperative,” that is owned and managed by BK authors to represent their interests and to aid each other.

- Launching each new book with an Author Day that connects the author to the whole BK staff, gets everyone excited about the book, and creates close collaboration between the author and publisher on all aspects of making books successful.

Because of these and other partnering practices Berrett-Koehler is viewed by many authors as one of the most “author-friendly publishers.”  As a result, even without our having any contractual obligations for authors to give BK first option on their next books, authors keep coming back to Berrett-Koehler.  Over 100 BK authors have already published multiple books with Berrett-Koehler, including 22 of our top 25 bestselling authors.

This partnership relationship with authors is clearly one of the secrets of Berrett-Koehler’s success.



Five Lessons from Five Colleagues

The great advantage of this job is the ability to learn so much from some of the brightest authors in the nation and the world. But some of the most important lessons have come not from our books or authors but from my colleagues. Here are five lessons I have learned from my five main editorial coworkers:

1. Steve Piersanti (President and Publisher):  
"We are all sinners and saints." 

I once spoke with Steve about one of our authors who actively  supported organizations with ideals that were in opposition to the values BK espouses and about how working with this author made me feel uneasy. Steve responded by giving me the "saints and sinners" talk. We are all sinners and saints in the sense that every human has qualities that are admirable and others that are less desirable. No one (ourselves included) can be considered "ideal" in any way because to be human is to be flawed. So no one has the moral high ground to judge another. Instead, we should aim to embrace that which is good and positive in others and spare as little energy as possible on the negatives.

2. David Marshall (VP for Editorial and Digital): 
"There is a mostly subconscious passive-aggressiveness in all of our social interactions with almost anyone at all levels."

I was at a loss to explain a particular author's seemingly hostile behavior toward me and was discussing the incident with David when he suggested that the author could have simply manifested deep-seated (but different type of) passive-aggressive behavior. This type involves being upset at someone about one issue, but instead of confronting it directly, being difficult or unresponsive on a totally different issue (or even a different person). It's subtle but can cut deep. Such passive-aggressive behavior remains very common within groups, organizations, friends, and even couples, but that most of it goes unnoticed because it's part of how we function and interact with each other. We notice passive-aggressive behavior only when it is egregious and therefore obvious, and this awareness gives the illusion that the root cause of such behavior is always evident. Whenever you are at a loss to explain a particular reaction or behavior, consider whether a passive-aggressive strain runs through the interactions. You'll be surprised at how often such strains represent the underlying factor in many scenarios.

3. Neal Maillet (Editorial Director):
"Being a good editor means that sometimes I need to edit and work with books and authors whose ideas I don't necessarily support."

Neal and I were debating a particular title with a controversial message when I asked him point-blank how he could support an argument that he did not entirely believe in. Neal pointed out that his role as an editor is not to help present to the world only those messages that he approved of. His role is to disseminate a wider range of philosophies to help people understand how studying multiple points of view -- whether they agreed with what they were studying or not -- made them better informed global citizens. In other words, Neal wants to furnish people with as much information as possible so that they can reach their own conclusions rather than tell them what to think. His selflessness sickens me at times, but he's right.

4. Charlotte Ashlock (Digital Producer and Editor):
"I am a strong environmentalist, and I am also not a vegetarian or vegan. Why should one predicate the other?"

I remember being surprised when I first heard Charlotte order a meat dish when we went out to eat. I had assumed that all ardent environmentalists were also vegans or at least vegetarians. (If you know many environmentalists, you know this assumption isn't a completely ignorant one.) Charlotte explained how one choice does not equate another, but more importantly, she showed me that we often assume certain characteristics about a person based on just a few factors. And we often try to fit certain molds ourselves. Can someone be a liberal and still support gun ownership? Can someone be conservative and still support a woman's choice? Can someone be a libertarian and yet support social welfare? Yes, yes, and yes. We pigeonhole others, and we even force ourselves into convenient stereotypes because we can't or won't accept our own complexity. And labeling is just sad because it crushes true dialogue, debate, and personal choice.

5. Seth Adam Smith (Editorial Assistant):
" Faith is its own foundation and is not based on facts. Faith is making my mind believe that which I cannot through reason alone prove for certain."

Seth is a sharp young man and a practicing Mormon. The atheist in me can't help but challenge him on various ideas and concepts within the Mormon faith, but he has also wisely shown me the limitations of my own beliefs. I believe in facts, so when I find facts questionable, I find everything that those facts support to be equally questionable. Seth, however, has his faith in, well, faith. Whether the facts of certain events are valid or not is irrelevant because facts change. (The truth is rarely the truth, but rather only an interpretation.) Faith, however, is a constant and remains. It matters little to Seth if certain facts are questioned or even proven wrong because his faith is real and solid -- and more concrete than any facts could be.


Five Ways to Make Sure Your Outside Publicist is Competent

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Hiring an outside publicist to work on your book is a big investment, so it’s important to make sure you know what to look for when hiring. Since being a book publicist requires no formal certification or training, a lot of people consider themselves publicists despite having little experience or knowledge. They in turn are hired by authors who have even less experience or knowledge of book publicity, leading to an inevitably disastrous outcome.

But how do you know a competent publicist from a bad one? BK's Publicity Manager Cynthia Shannon shows you five ways to know you’re in good hands:

1. Your publicist reads your book before putting together a proposal for her work for you. If you get a template proposal, you don’t know if the publicist understands your message. A good publicist will always tailor even an initial proposal to reflect the specific demands and marketplace for your book.

2. Your publicist listens to what you want and sets reasonable expectations. Not every book is “perfect for Oprah/John Stewart/Good Morning America!” and knowing which audience will most likely buy your book is more important than naming a random bunch of top-tier publications and media venues. Your publicist should also take the time to talk to you about your goals of the campaign - for instance, whether you want to promote your company along with your book, if you want the publicity to increase your speakers’ fees, or if you simply want to sell a lot of books.

3. Your publicist has worked on successful books similar to yours. A publicist’s work and level of success on similar books to yours will indicate whether they know the relevant media for the topic. Go one step further and ask if those authors they worked with are willing to endorse them.

4. Your outside publicist coordinates with your in-house publicist. This means being very transparent on who the outside publicist plans to reach out to and coordinating strategy with your publisher’s publicist. There are only so many relevant media contacts out there, and a lot of contacts will overlap between the two of them, so figuring out who has the better relationship before reaching out to contacts is key.

5. Your publicist reports on her progress and activities to you and your in-house publicist on a consistent basis. You have the right to know at what consideration stage the book is at with various media outlets, and what the process is to proceed. Your outside publicist should also communicate confirmed media hits to your in-house publicist so that the information is shared with the publisher's sales team.

At the end of a campaign, the results should be compared with the original goals. If the final publicity report matches the initial proposal, you know you've had a successful campaign. Then it’s up to you as to whether to renew the contract!