Partnership Publishing Defined: What Authors Need to Know

In my last post, “The New Era of Publishing,” Kelly Hayes-Raitt asked me to elaborate on partnership publishing, specifically “what factors authors should consider when choosing a partner.” This post is a response to that request—and a further articulation of what this “in-between” publishing space actually looks like.

 

Partnership publishing is just one of many terms springing up to describe something that’s between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Partnership publishing is different from co-publishing, because co-publishing suggests that the publisher pays some percentage of the cost of editorial or production, generally for a larger share of the royalties on the tail end. Another term you might hear bandied about is hybrid publishing, and to me, partnership publishing (and therefore She Writes Press) is a subcategory of hybrid publishing. Hybrid models vary and might include an author who hires a coach or consultant to manage their process, start to finish. Hybrid publishing can also include co-publishing, even at a traditional house with a nontraditional model. Other creative company models include Booktrope, where a team—which includes the author, editor, designer, and marketing manager—shares a percentage of the author’s royalties in exchange for working on the project for no up-front fees; and Inkshares, a company I got the chance to explore this weekend at AWP, where the authors use crowdfunding to finance their production and printing (at a minimum), and more if they so choose. These models are both clever, creating alternate ways for authors to publish (one using no-cost labor and the other using crowdfunding). I think our model is more stable, but I applaud these and other companies for entering the space and coming up with new and exciting ways for authors to get published.

 

In a recent Forbes.com article on the topic of hybrid publishing, She Writes Press was compared to Author Solutions. Because we are a “pay-per-service” model, we can’t say that we are not a subsidy press, but not all subsidy presses are partnership publishers, and not all “pay-per-service” models should be allowed, in my opinion, to call themselves publishing houses. Author Solutions is not a partnership publisher; Turning Stone Press, a company I like and respect--and that has a model similar to ours--is.

 

It does drive me a wee bit batty when She Writes Press gets compared to Author Solutions, because Author Solutions we are not. Author Solutions owns a bunch of imprints, including its own, like iUniverse, Xlibris, and others, but it also runs the self-publishing arms of major companies, like Hay House’s Balboa, Thomas Nelson’s Westbow, and Simon & Schuster’s Archway. These companies might call themselves publishers, but they’re actually self-publishing companies, and therefore not hybrid but simply on the self-publishing side of the spectrum. Here’s what distinguishes She Writes Press from the Author Solutions imprints.

  1. We have a publisher at the helm.
  2. We are mission-driven.
  3. We vet our projects for editorial quality, and we have strict standards. (If an author really wants to publish with us but we deem their book not-yet-ready, we will work with them in an editorial capacity to get their book publish-ready, but we will not publish it if it’s not.)
  4. We use Ingram Publisher Services for our distribution, and we take advantage of their services on behalf of all of our authors.
  5. We have deep expertise in book publishing, with a U.S.-based team committed to the authors and their books.
  6. We are dedicated to creating covers and interiors that are unique, right for our authors’ books, and that compete with traditionally published books.
  7. We do not make false promises.

 

I do have a bone to pick with Author Solutions, mostly because they aren’t transparent. And while I truly admire Hay House, Simon & Schuster, and Thomas Nelson as companies, and know people who work for all three houses, I also know that their self-publishing arms are not high on their radar, other than as a means to bring in money. To me, this kind of mill publishing is not partnering with a publisher. If a press has a mission, the books should uphold that mission, and be held to a standard that the publisher and the press stand behind. I stand 100% behind every single book She Writes Press has published, and if you’re an author wanting to partner with a press, you should know this to be true of your publisher and your team.

 

Partnership publishing, therefore, is about a publisher, a team, and a mission—and that drives the sense of community and satisfaction. Not all of our books have performed to our authors’ expectations, but every author we’ve published to date is proud of her book. We have the most kick-ass authors around, and they’ve been amazing and patient and diligent in their trailblazing efforts to shape and form She Writes Press and to raise awareness about what we’re doing. The next thing we must tackle (and more blog posts are to come on this!) is ending the discrimination against author-subsidized books, which get barred from many traditional review outlets and awards opportunities. We are already making great progress on this front. But I argue that author subsidization as a measure of a book’s worth is elitist, archaic, and unfair. In conversation with other artists, the comparison to the film and music industries often comes up. And this weekend, when this topic came up, as it always does when I talk and travel, Kamy Wicoff said once again, rightly so, “Can you imagine a musician or a producer being stigmatized for their work because they dared to put up funds to get their work produced?” No, and publishing will change too. Mark my words. We’re making little but important strides.

 

And now to answer Kelly’s question about what factors authors should consider when choosing a partner. Here are several good places to start:

  1. Is there a project manager or go-to person who will answer all your questions and hand-hold you through the publishing process, if that’s what you need?
  2. What is the quality of the covers and interiors? Do your research. Buy books that company has published. Spend $20 before you spend thousands.
  3. Find out what the experience of other authors has been. It’s shocking to me how many authors buy into packages without due diligence on this front.
  4. Explore whether the press has a mission. What is it, and does it resonate with you?
  5. Who will print your books, and do you have options?
  6. Is there a minimum “buy-in” on the initial print run? If there is, make sure you understand why.
  7. Where (physically) are your cover and interior design being done? Big companies are outsourcing to Asia. I’m not saying there aren’t good Asian designers, but you should get to know something about this person—what is his/her knowledge of book publishing? This matters, and you have a right to know.
  8. Is your publisher transparent? By this I mean, are there any hidden expenses? Ask outright! Are they trying to “hard sell”? Do you really understand what you’re getting for your money, or your efforts, or your campaign? We want authors who want to partner with us and it has to be a good fit. This would be another measure of a partnership publisher. They don’t take--and don’t want to take--just anyone.

 

I want to thank Kelly for prompting this post. It’s always helpful for me to better define this for myself. This space is changing rapidly, and it’s an exciting time to be an author, and a publisher too.

Partnership tree courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com.

As you comment and edit, I'm going to post more info here about other partnership publishers and resources. Thanks for contributing!

Beta Books is a "pre-publisher." This is a cooperative of freelance editors, illustrators, book designers, etc. ready to help would-be authors get to the stage of sending out ARCs (Advance Reading Copies), not just manuscripts. The author negotiates independently with any or several of the freelancers. Beta Books is not a publisher, it's a resource.

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Comment by Toi Thomas on March 11, 2014 at 3:47pm

I've heard many of these terms and this argument many times. I think educating yourself is the most important thing. I don't believe that one standard works for everyone, but as you said, I think there is a stigma that makes many authors feel limited in their possibilities. Many authors run the risk of never being published because they are made to feel that this if it's not through a major big 5 traditional publishing house then it doesn't count- but that's just the beginning. There are other stigmas targeting every opportunity that might present itself to an aspiring author such as: small press publishing, hybrid publishing, partnership publishing, vanity press publishing, independent publishing, digital publishing...I could keep going. As long as an author does their due diligence and knows exactly what they want and exactly what they are willing to do for it, how they achieve their goal shouldn't be so scrutinized.

This however does not mean that I believe people should be taken advantage of or that authors should be allowed to pursue unethical means to meet their goals.

I think as a community, the publishing industry needs more education, motivation, and less judgment.

Comment by Brooke Warner on March 5, 2014 at 12:07pm

Glad to help. Thanks for the positive comments everyone!

Comment by Glynis Rankin on March 5, 2014 at 9:05am

This was very informative. Thank you, now I have some guidelines to follow whenever I'm ready to have my story published. The publishing world can be a cold lonely place to be, but your insights have made it a little less frighten.

Comment by Frances A. Rove on March 5, 2014 at 8:01am

Like many other people, I have folders on my computer with articles on marketing, publishing, etc. My publishing folder might as well be labeled "Brooke."  Thank you again for another excellent explanation.  

Comment by Shary on March 5, 2014 at 7:28am

Phenomenal post, Brooke. Pitch perfect. Thank you for helping us (especially newbies like me) navigate through  the publishing jungle with your always pithy, objective, wise machete (perspective.)

Comment by Mary Wallace on March 4, 2014 at 3:30pm

oh, that's heartbreaking.  I cannot believe Forbes failed to do the research necessary to differentiate.  That's almost slander to compare SheWrites to Author Solutions.  SheWrites is a hybrid, Author Solutions is a glorified vanity press.  I am interested in watching how the old paradigm business model changes, with authors choosing to trade % of value in their books instead of accepting pennies on the dollar and giving away all rights to old line publishers.  Author Solution is not a player in the new publishing paradigm, it's a money taker for those not aware that they are looking for hybrid!  I'm repeating myself but I'm actually so shocked at Forbes for such shoddy research.

Comment by Brooke Warner on March 4, 2014 at 12:52pm

Thanks, Birdie. Happy to have this. I'll put it in the post!

Comment by Birdie Newborn on March 4, 2014 at 12:31pm

Beta Books (www.betabooks.us) aims no higher than "pre-publisher." This is a cooperative of freelance editors, illustrators, book designers, etc. ready to help would-be authors get to the stage of sending out ARCs, not just MSS. The author negotiates independently with any or several of the freelancers (including myself for interior book design). Beta Books is not a publisher, it's a resource. 

Comment by Brooke Warner on March 2, 2014 at 2:12pm

Thanks for the support, Elisabeth!! So appreciate it.

Comment by Elisabeth Zguta on March 2, 2014 at 2:06pm

Brooke and fellow members -

She Writes is nothing like Author Solutions, who fleeces unwarranted costs to naïve authors. Any self-publishing author can sub contract the same services for themselves at a much lower cost. If an author needs more support and cannot fathom performing all the various subcontracts themselves (formatting, editing, book layout etc), then supportive places like She Writes fills the gap. She Writes is more like an Indie press with up front costs along with transparency, but She Writes is also selective.

I think She Writes is a new hybrid between self-publishing and Indie Press.  Best luck and continued success to all She Write authors, and all She Write Independent members. I am so happy to be part of a large group based on support.

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