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What I Look for in Authors

Jeevan Sivasubramaniam Posted by Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, Managing Director, Editorial, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

What I Look for in Authors

Books and websites abound advising authors on how to craft successful book proposals. Thousands of agents can guide authors on securing an editor’s attention. The many available resources do a fine job emphasizing the need for original, quality content, research on competitive titles, and direct connections with the community the author hopes to serve. But what’s missing from these guidelines? Here, Johanna Vondeling, BK’s Vice President for Editorial and Digital, offers curiosity as the professional characteristic most likely to secure an editor’s attention:

Curiosity About the Reader. I am always attracted to authors who place their readers’ needs first. Authors who have carefully researched the readers they want to serve -- and who know concretely what challenges those readers face -- are much more likely to design a project that serves a real market need. The first question on our proposal guidelines is, what is the need for your project? I suggest that, rather than responding to this question with the argument that no one has ever written on this subject before, it's more helpful when an author identifies a particular gap or unfilled need in the marketplace. What’s the author's pain point, or yet-to-be-realized opportunity? Editors appreciate author prospects who can help educate them (and their marketing and sales staff) about the dynamics at play in the target community. The more information and research you can provide, the better equipped your editor will be to help you craft a project that will effectively serve the intended audience.

Curiosity About the Industry. A well-educated author is a publisher’s best friend. It’s always extremely encouraging when author prospects ask questions about how publishing works. Myths about publishing abound; at Berrett-Koehler, we find we collaborate most effectively with authors who are willing and able to distinguish fact from fiction. We always share our 10 Awful Truths About Book Publishing, to help explain some of the harsher realities publishers and authors are up against, and I am always heartened when author prospects read the list carefully and pose thoughtful questions about what the recent and rapid changes in the industry mean for their hopes and efforts to serve readers.

Curiosity About Mutual Expectations. I am always glad to answer questions that help clarify mutual expectations, especially expectations that apply to process. Good questions include, Who are the decision makers in this process, and what do they value? How long does it take the average author to write a draft? What happens if I miss a deadline? Authors who have read our publication agreement (publicly available here) are encouraged to ask for clarification of any clause they might find confusing. Authors who suspect they might be better off self-publishing should ask, point-blank, what value the publisher would bring to the project.

For further guidance on BK’s expectations of authors and on our reciprocal commitment to them, please feel free to review our Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for BK Authors.