Author Insights from Source Books Senior Editor Stephanie Bowen
This year, we’ve asked several of our faculty to answer some key questions to offer more insights to PubSense Summit attendees. Enjoy these answers from editor and PubSense Summit faculty member Stephanie Bowen, Senior Editor at Sourcebooks, Inc., one of the fastest growing independent publishers in the U.S.
1) Part of the purpose of PubSense is to help folks make sense of the changing publishing landscape. What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the traditional model that offers the best opportunity for writers wanting to be traditionally published?
Stephanie: One of the changes I’ve noticed is that as some of the larger publishing houses are merging together or facing challenges in the turbulent book market, they’ve become a bit more hesitant to take on debut authors who don’t have a well-established brand or solid sales track record.
Into that gap have stepped a number of smaller, independent houses that have more flexibility to take chances on writers with great ideas, appealing voices, and compelling content, regardless of whether or not they’ve been previously published or have a platform. These houses offer great opportunities for writers looking to be published for the first time and authors looking branch out into other categories that perhaps their current publisher can’t support for some reason or doesn’t specialize in.
In addition, I’ve also seen that large and small publishers alike are investing more in helping their authors build their platforms and giving them the tools to build those themselves too.
These days, it’s crucial that authors to work with their publishers to actively promote their books and their brands in addition to what their publishers are already doing for them (and of course with self-publishing, authors have to be their own self-promoters as no one else will do it for them). Publishing is a partnership between publishers and authors to help authors shape their content into beautiful finished books that will entertain, educate, and engage readers. That requires dedication, hard work, and enthusiasm from both sides, and the results are incredibly rewarding.
2) You’re an editor at Sourcebooks, the fastest growing independent publisher, and you asked to sit on “The Rise of the Small Press” panel. What can Sourcebooks offer writers that the big five can’t? Give us an example?
Stephanie: Similar to my answer to the previous question, Sourcebooks has the flexibility and the passion to take chances on authors that larger publishers may have decided were too risky to take on for any number of reasons: no previous track record, not enough of an established platform, too complex of a project (say it’s a combo print book and interactive ebook release), etc.
We also are willing to step outside our normal publishing sphere for the right projects, which is how we’ve created some of our biggest successes and growth. For example, one of my first acquisitions here was a current affairs/cybercrime title called Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime—From Global Epidemic to Your Front Door by Brian Krebs, the independent investigative reporter who discovered and broke the Target credit card breach in December 2013 as well as Home Depot and numerous others since then.
Sourcebooks had never published this kind of book before, but Brian’s story was so fascinating, we just had to go for it. We published it at the end of November 2014, and our incredibly hardworking publicity department garnered a massive media lineup for it, including 60 Minutes, CBS This Morning, NPR’s Fresh Air, PBS NewsHour, USA Today, Fortune, The Economist, Wired, Slate.com and much, much more. It hit the New York Times bestseller list and opened up a new area of growth for our nonfiction list.
Another thing is that we publish authors, not books, and we work hard to build opportunities for them. We’ve taken numerous debut writers and turned them into perennial bestsellers (Julie Ann Walker and Miranda Kenneally for example), as well as building on existing platforms to help expand their audiences (NYT bestsellers Susanna Kearsley and Elizabeth Chadwick, for example). We even will envision new directions for them if something doesn’t seem to be working. We work very closely with each of our authors to create individual success for them and their books.
3) One of the things we’re seeing on the increase are various book services — from editors to book formatting to cover design. You’ll be on a panel discussing such, but we’d love to know now — How can writers vet the myriad offerings out there? How do you?
Stephanie: It’s hard! We do most things in-house at Sourcebooks (I edit all the books I acquire, for example, and never use outside editors), so I don’t have a lot of personal experience vetting these myself, but there are still some rules of thumb you can follow.
First of all, do your research and look for compatibility. Find out as much as you can about any editors, designers or freelancers that you’re considering hiring. Try to check out their work yourself or ask them to show you examples of projects they’ve done that have been successful in a measurable way.
For example, did an editor-for-hire edit any bestselling books or can they give you sales numbers for books they’ve edited that are similar to yours? What kinds of books or categories do they specialize in editing? (You don’t want an editor who’s only worked on women’s fiction to edit your cookbook, especially if they’ve never seen a recipe before!) Has a freelance cover designer created any award-winning cover designs? What kinds of books do they typically design? (If you’ve written an erotic romance novel, you don’t want to hire someone who can only illustrate children’s book covers.) How many books has a typesetter laid out into pages for traditional book publishers, who are much more likely to work only with the best and most careful typesetters? What types of books has an indexer indexed before?
Seeking out this information and being clear about your own expectations and ideas up front will help you evaluate the quality of their work and whether they will be able to fulfill your needs. Ask for references as well, especially for ones from people who are employed by traditional publishers and work on a regular basis with the freelancer or book service you’re interested in hiring.
These references can give you the best sense of a freelancer’s or book service’s strengths and weaknesses, which will help you make an informed decision on who to use and/or whether to use them.
Last but not least, decide what services your book really needs, and if you have limited resources, put them toward the most important elements that will guarantee your story the best shot at success. A great editor is a must for any book; s/he will help you turn your rough draft into a polished final product people want to read!