Sunday, February 22, 2015

Putting Together A Team (Craft Brewing Part 3)

In the previous two posts I talked about the differences between being a writer and a publisher. I used craft brewing as a metaphor for the creative process and the business process. And I talked about what you can learn from traditional publishing that will help to shape your business planning for indie publishing.

In this final installment I'm pulling it all together by discussing the need for a team working toward your success, and how to put together that team.

Put Together a Team

Traditional publishers have a team of people who put out a book: editors, interior designers, cover designers, marketing people, managers, accountants, computer people.  You need this team too! Depending on your personal skill set and your willingness to learn, you may be able to take on some of these things yourself. I have not yet found someone who can do it all themselves and be successful.

Yes, it is hard to work with a team of people. It means you have to be diplomatic. You have to be open to suggestion and critique. You have to treat your book like a product, not like a baby, and think in terms of what is the best way to present this book to the buying public and have the greatest possible return on your investment.

There are many ways to put together a team. One is to hire the expertise you need. I hire accountants, attorneys, cover designer/graphic artists because all of those are things I know a little about but not enough to be really good at it.  On the other hand, I have background in technology and business management so I do my own website(s), format my own books, do all the uploading to distributors, and do all the analytics to evaluate what works and what doesn't. Yes, it does costs money to hire people, but it is necessary!

In the beginning, spending that money was VERY hard, especially when I was no longer working another job full time. But I know, from my experience in business, that it is rare for any business to make a profit the first 3-5 years. That means you have to capitalize the business with enough funds to make it through those first years.

Another way to put together a team is to join with other indie publishers who have different expertise from yourself. This may be a formal group, like an author cooperative, or an informal group with five or six other authors you know and trust. In this environment, you are bartering services in some fashion. This may happen through a formal agreement or an informal agreement.

In a cooperative, there is a formal agreement as to how this bartering takes place. At Windtree Press, each member agrees to take on a task that benefits all members. For example, one person handles all the Facebook postings, another handles all the Twitter postings, another puts out a monthly newsletter, another does all the website development and maintenance. In other cooperatives, these services may include a group of people who agree to do editing for all the titles and another group who does cover design. In yet other arrangements, everyone contributes so much a month to a pot of money that is used to hire a virtual assistant or other professionals for the entire group.

Informal arrangements are also made between people who know and trust each other. For example, I believe all books are better with an editor. I know several editors and sometimes I've paid for that service, at other times I've bartered with them. With one person I maintain his website and he does line-editing for me. With another person, who is both a writer and a professional developmental editor, we exchange manuscripts. For me, I want input on the story and character arc and she is very good at identifying those structures and offering feedback. For her, she wants feedback on emotional connection and how the story does/or does not meet genre reader expectations.

The way any one person decides to put together a team has a lot to do with network, funds, and perception of value in the long term. I am a pretty independent person--always have been. But I admit I definitely need a team. Yes, I can do a lot but without a team I can't survive in the long run. I'm currently working on my 20th book and my 56th short story submission. I can't track it all anymore. I can no longer keep all the balls in the air, do the writing, and make sure that the business is humming along. Without a team I would have to make a choice to give up writing as much as I want, or give up on continuing to promote backlist titles, or give up my personal relationships.

Resources for Finding Your Team

The best resource is to ask fellow authors who they recommend. Need an accountant an attorney? Not just any accountant will do. You need someone who understands how book publishing works, how a product is out there for your lifetime and beyond and how to leverage and account for that product over the long haul. As for an attorney, you need someone who understands intellectual property, copyright, and all that entails. That is a specialized field that most general attorneys don't have the expertise to tackle effectively.

Editors? Cover Designers? Formatters? Marketers? PR people? Virtual Assistants? Again, ask other authors you know. There are also lists on the web, lists from writer organizations, and lists from a variety of independent author discussion loops. Look into them and vette, vette, vette. Put together your questions in advance and be sure to ask them. Don't just take the guy with the slickest website, or the team with the highest profile clients. Make sure YOUR team fits your needs and where you are in your career now.

Finally, take classes and learn how to do these things yourself. Even if you don't have the time to do them regularly you need to understand what the job entails so that you can supervise your team member. It really is ALL up to you in the end. Your career is based on YOUR decisions. So hire well and carefully. Remember it's all business now.

Find your team and include the time and costs in your business planning.

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