The Kryptonite Questions by Publisher Allen Arnold

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I’m a huge Superman fan. His strength is legendary. So is his greatest weakness — Kryptonite.

Your greatest strength is your story. In the end, it always comes down to the story.

But your greatest weakness — whether you’re a best-selling author or brand new writer — may be the questions you’re not asking.

I call these the Kryptonite Questions because the thought of asking them might make you a bit weak in the knees. It’s easy to want to avoid some of these discussions or put the burden on the other party to proactively provide you with the data….but it’s never best to be reactive or avoid big discussions. It’s hard to know if you’re in the right place to achieve success — or even what success really means — without asking them to your publisher, your agent and even yourself.

While there are more, here are several of the top Kryptonite Questions:

1. Do you know your publisher? I’m not asking if you know your editor or marketing point person … or just the publisher’s name. Do you really know the publisher? As great as the publishing team at large may be — it’s the publisher that oversees (or should oversee) the vision and the tone of the division. Since the direction and stability of the division directly impacts your books, it’s good to have regular contact with the publisher. If you’re an established author, I recommend a brief conversations with your publisher at least a few times a year. If you’re looking for a publisher, before you sign you should have a conversation with your potential publisher to ask if they are open to this type of author involvement. If the publisher isn’t open to this request — a great follow-up question would be why. As a publisher, I see author interaction as one of my main joys and responsibilities.

2. Have you asked how your publishing house determines if your novel is a success? Is it units sold — if so, how many? Is it earning a certain amount beyond the advance — if so, how much? Is it hitting a bestseller list? A percentage of growth in readers from the last work? There are several ways to measure success — but you need to know how the publishing house is measuring your novel’s success since that impacts so much for you and your stories. Bonus question — how do you deem a novel successful beyond the publisher’s definition? Knowing that will help you enjoy the process much more by replacing doubt, worry and stress with a true peace.

3. What are the long-term plans of your publishing division over the next several years? How do they plan to not just survive but thrive in the ever-changing world of publishing over the next five years? Are they planning to increase or decrease title count? Is their staff increasing or decreasing? Are they expanding to different genres or not? Do they lead or follow in the digital world of content — and how? That’s important to know since the decisions made today impact how you might fit (or not fit) into their future based on who they are becoming each day. If they don’t know or won’t share their long-term vision — that is valuable to hear as you consider your future.

4. Do you know how stable your current or potential publishing team is? It’s good to ask how long each member from the publisher down has been with the company. You want to make sure that the team there who is courting you has a high likelihood of being the same team there when your novel comes out a year or so later. Unfortunately, that’s not as common as one would hope with some companies … so ask on the front end since past history is often a good indicator of the future.

5. Is your input into the development of the marketing plans and cover design welcome? If so, when is the optimal time to share thoughts and contribute? Mark that timing on your calendar and be prepared to share early, succinctly and in a winsome manner.

6. How involved does your current or potential agent plan to be in the life of your novel? Some agents are more oriented to be deal-makers. Once the deal is done, you may not hear much from them unless you raise an issue. Some agents shine most in strategic editorial and marketing discussions after the contract is complete. Know most what you need from an agent and then make sure your agent is a fit for those needs. Also ask how many clients your agent personally serves. If it’s an incredibly high number — their time for any one author may be limited. Good to know.

7. If you are a published author, do you know how recouped you are for each past work? If you’re an unpublished author — do you understand the importance of recoupment? It’s a key measurement to a publishing house — and a goal that you can work together towards achieving. Ideally, an author recoups (or earns out) their upfront advance for a novel soon after that novel is available — and then begins earning royalty. Some will tell you it is unrealistic to count on royalty — and to drive the upfront advance as high as you can since you’ll likely never earn royalty checks. I say run from that advice. The best path is to receive a fair advance — which is one that can reasonably earn out shortly after the novel is published. The goal over time is to live off the revenue stream from books actually bought by consumers (royalty) — not the advance based on what we hope consumers will do. Recoupment and long-term royalty is the best mark of a profitable, healthy publishing career.

8. Do you know how you are perceived within the publishing house? When an e-mail comes from you — is it the first one the person opens or the one they wait until after lunch to click on? Does it bring a smile or create an ulcer when they hear you’ve called? It’s a hard question, perhaps, but one worth asking since everyone gravitates toward those they enjoy working with. An overaggressive ego or a communication style that leads with blame or never being satisfied does (not may — but does) have a negative impact on an author’s growth potential. The reason to change is not primarily for career growth – but to become more Christ-like, which is the call of every Christian. Ask hard questions here — and dive deep on this front..

It’s great to know these Kryptonite Questions. But remember — these questions only lead to breakthrough if you actually ask them, listen well, and then learn from them. I wish you SUPER results on this journey!

Comments 0

  1. Great questions, Allen! I’ve heard you talk about several of these during workshops, but it seems you’ve said more about royalties here than I’ve heard before. I think every author wants to be successful for her publisher, and these are great benchmarks to gauge if that is happening or not. Thanks!

  2. Wow, this is an amazing post. As a newly contracted author, a lot of this stuff still intimidates me. I know I need to get over that. I need to get out of the “I can’t believe they are publishing me” mode and into the “I’m part of this team and how can I be a positive contributing member” mode. But it isn’t an easy transition!

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