Making Good Author Decisions

IN ADDITION TO BEING A BRILLIANT WRITER, you want to be an author who makes smart decisions


Your publishing career will be full of fairly constant decision-making, each decision leading to your next options and each with consequences. What is a good decision? It should be based on:

  • knowing your goals, so your direction is clear
  • full information about the choices in front of you
  • perspective on the part of the process you are in at the moment, and what is next
  • recommendations from knowledgeable peers and professionals
  • understanding the consequences if you choose A or B
  • seeing how the decision will impact a future opportunity or choice

If you’re writing your first book, some early decisions are:

  • Is this being written for you or to be published for the public?
  • How will writing this book affect your life (family, work, hobbies, play time?)
  • Do you know enough about the craft of writing to do this well or should you take come classes and study the craft?
  • How much are you willing and able to invest, time-wise and cost-wise?
  • How much do you need to understand about publishing before you start down this path?

On a later book, with some publishing experience under your belt, your decisions shift to:

  • Should you have an agent (or change agents)?
  • Is it worth it to hire a marketing expert or publicist?
  • What happens if you change publishers?
  • Do you have to keep writing within the genre of your previous book(s)
  • Will extra marketing investment translate to higher royalty earnings?
  • Does it cost more to pursue licensing opportunities than you can make back?

 Depending on how complex your decision is, a Decision Tree is helpful. Seeing how A affects B and B affects C will help you look down the road a bit before making your decision, sure that it will keep your career and writing going the right direction. 


     Picking Your Battles

There is a good reason to not “fight every fight” with your publisher as you try to make good decisions:  Your publishing team will quickly tire of you, which will sabotage their efforts on your behalf. It is critical to pick your battles from the beginning. Figure out what is most important to you.

With all the editorial decisions to be made, you can’t disagree with everything your editor suggests though you should make a strong case for anything that offends the book or fundamentally alters it.

Title battles are infamous in publishing:  You can pretty much bet that your publisher will suggest changing it (according to what Marketing and Sales believe is best at that time in the market), so do not get attached to it or weave the concept so thoroughly into the manuscript that it’s a disaster to change it. Be prepared going in with alternate titles.

When it comes to cover design, figure out early on what kind of covers you like and make color samples to show the designer right up front in the process. Don’t wait until the publisher, freelancer, or designer is locked onto something before you say “This is not what I had in mind.” 

Ask questions ahead of time, get as much perspective and information from your publishing team as you can, then buy yourself time to research, call some peers, and THINK it through. Not weeks, just a few days. 

The Fastest Way to Resolution of a Conflict

When you find yourselves at a stalemate–the publishing team wants X and your strongly want Y–ask this question: “What in this is most important to you? What are we trying to solve with this change?” Once you now this, you can almost always come up with an alternative that you can live with, which also solves their problem.

Go forth and DECIDE,




What The Editors Recently Bought: Nonfiction Highlights

Pub Contract

This is always a popular item — seeing a few of the recent deals. Be inspired.

Journalist and author of biographies of Huguette Clark (THE PHANTOM OF FIFTH AVENUE) and Brooke Astor (MRS. ASTOR REGRETS), Meryl Gordon’s biography of the philanthropist and White House Rose Garden designer Bunny Mellon, to Gretchen Young at Grand Central, by agent Gail Hochman of Brandt & Hochman.

Founder of Atsby New York Vermouth Adam Ford’s VERMOUTH: The Revival of the Spirit that Created America’s Cocktail Culture, the first-ever look into the history and recent revival of this aromatized, fortified wine, including photos and cocktail recipes, to Ann Treistman at Countryman Press, by agent Jessica Regel at Foundry Literary + Media.

History/Politics/Current Affairs
Former Fortune magazine writer Christopher Knowlton’s RISE AND FALL OF THE CATTLE KINGDOM, a revelatory history of the American West that shows how 19th-century beef bonanzas and range wars shaped world economy and culture, to Eamon Dolan for Eamon Dolan Books, byagent Jeff Ourvan at Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency.

Blogger for Sarah Rosen’s KOSHER PORN, a collection of tongue-in-cheek memes that marries humor with Jewish traditions and values in a modern-day, humorous way, to Jordana Tusman at Running Press, by Lydia Blyfield and Myrsini Stephanides at the Carol Mann Agency.

Author of PERFECT GIRLS, STARVING DAUGHTERS, journalist, TED speaker, and Editor Emeritus Courtney E. Martin’s THE NEW BETTER OFF, an account of how young Americans are reinventing success and redefining “better off,” through lives that reject status in lieu of fulfillment and value relationships over money, to Stephanie Knapp at Seal Press, by Tracy Brown at the Tracy Brown Literary Agency.

Jennifer Teege and Nikola Sellmair’s AMON, which recounts Teege’s discovery, in her late 30s, of an appalling ancestry unknown to her, the Nigerian-German granddaughter of Amon Goth, the notorious commandant of Plaszow concentration camp (who was depicted in Schindler’s List by Ralph Fiennes), which encompasses a wider exploration of the guilt and shame experienced by the descendants of Nazi perpetrators, to Matthew Lore at The Experiment, by Gertje Berger-Maass at Rowohlt.

Leon Logothetis’s THE KINDNESS DIARIES: One Man’s Quest to Ignite Goodwill and Transform Lives Around the World, the journey of one man who sets out from Los Angeles to circumnavigate the globe on a vintage yellow motorbike fueled by kindness, to Fiona Hallowell at Reader’s Digest, for publication in December 2014.

Trent Gillaspie’s JUDGMENTAL MAPS, based on his viral Tumblr with over one million views of satirical maps of the great cities of America, created by natives with a special understanding of the stereotypes of each locale, to Colin Dickerman at Flatiron Books, in a pre-empt, by agent Daniel Greenberg at Levine Greenberg Rostan.

Author of EDISON’S CONCRETE PIANO Judy Wearing’s FRINGE BENEFITS, which combs through our tangled relationship with our body hair, looking at it from both biological and cultural perspectives, with a healthy dose of Mary Roach-esque humor, to Christie Henry at University of Chicago Press, byagent  Eddie Schneider at JABberwocky Literary Agency.


Defining Your Own “Success” As An Author

As an agent I always wanted to know an author’s expectations and goals for their writing, and now as an author’s consultant my conversation begins with “What are you trying to do?” There are usually layers to the answer.

  • Layer 1:  “I want to finish what I have long wanted to write, and I want it published.”
  • Layer 2:  “I want to publish something of value to people, to pass on what I have learned in my life.”
  • Layer 3:  “I want to transition from my current work and profession into writing full-time, and I want this to include books and speaking.”

Logo ABC.Tiny

And so it goes, digging until we figure out what the book in front of us is really all about.  Until you know why you are writing, you cannot answer the next questions like:

           Who is this book for?  What is the take-away message for the reader (nonfiction) or What is the experience for the reader (fiction)? What is the correct structure?  What is the best point of view? The right voice? etc.

How you will eventually define SUCCESS for yourself has to do with knowing your goals and motivations, as well as being able to articulate your dream and hopes.

“Success” in publishing is always possible, although less likely if your goal is “To be published by Random House and sell one million copies of my book.” If that is, in fact, your dream and goal, then there is a way to achieve it; just not while having a full-time job, family, other obligations, and so on. If this is your goal, it will need to be the single focus of your life, much like an athlete setting out to win Gold at the Olympics.


Your  publishing options today are (1) Traditional, (2) Independent self-publishing, or (3) Combination hybrid publishing. There are many ways to reach your goal although the strategies and processes have changed over the last several years. The marketing aspects have shifted such that the author needs to look at his or her part in it slightly differently now. The marketing “tool kit” for the author includes  mastering the myriad skills of Social Media. It isn’t enough to write a good book, and it hasn’t been since corporate publishing took over decades ago. Now, however, social media has actually replaced all publishing marketing as we ever knew in the ’90s.

And yet, you can simply decide that all this marketing, social media, learning a gazillion new things is just not how you want to spend your life; you simply want to finish your book and publish it well. Then decide this earlier rather than later. There are perfectly good options in self-publishing to accomplish this, and talented freelancers to help you with editing, final formatting, conversion for publishing online, and getting your book listed on Amazon. You can do as much or as little as you like if you have a budget for the freelancers to do the parts you don’t want.

For those who aspire to have an agent and publish with a respected publisher, you are committing to learning a lot of things besides how to write a damned good manuscript. And you are committing to the time (years), patience, and multifacted efforts it requires to build this future career one brick at a time. Learn to use Social Media as an efficient “calling card” to draw the people you want to you instead of having to hunt for them.

building_blocksIt is one thing to want to write a book. It is another thing to want to be published.

Define your goal(s) as specifically as you can, and the next steps will become clear. Success will follow.

To your success–