Berrett-Koehler has been holding Author Days since it initiated the program roughly 20 years ago, a few years after the company was founded by Steve Piersanti in 1992. PW sat in on the July 12 Author Day at the company’s Oakland, Calif., office, where coauthors Kay Peterson and David A. Kolb (Kolb via phone and Peterson in person) went through B-K’s thorough process of reviewing all production and marketing details for the pair’s April 2017 book, tentatively titled How You Learn Is How You Live: Nine Ways of Learning That Can Transform Your Life.
B-K hosts an Author Day for each title on its list about eight months before the book’s publication date. Like a kickoff event for a new product launch, the full day of programming includes meetings between the author and the entire B-K staff. The author meets with the various publishing departments, attends marketing and sales meetings, and reviews the production timeline and process.
At the center of the day is the Author Lunch, in which the author presents his or her title to the entire B-K staff and guests. At the end of the day, both the publishing team and the author have a comprehensive overview of every aspect of the book’s production and marketing efforts.
The collaborative day PW attended included breakout meetings with various departments, including one in which the authors gave feedback on issues including cover design, marketing strategies, and layout. Peterson, a first-time author, said that being successful in business means you “need to pay attention to relationships.” She added: “I value relationships so much and was so pleased that B-K values relationships as well. I was able to meet the people that I had talked with on the phone during the submission and contracting stages, and honestly, I understand their culture now firsthand. It was such an efficient way to introduce me to the whole process, and it’s setting us both up for success because we know each other now. I know who to call. I understand the process more.”
Piersanti, who founded B-K after a career at Jossey-Bass, said he noticed that when Jossey-Bass was sold in 1989 to Robert Maxwell, the balance of power shifted dramatically with the transition from being an independent publisher to being a division in a large corporation. Instead of collaboration, it was top-down management. “It didn’t matter that we had authors we’d been working with for 20 years,” Piersanti said. “None of that really mattered. All that mattered was the call from the corporate headquarters. That’s when I realized something’s not right with this picture.”
So one of Piersanti’s goals with B-K was to restore the balance between all parties involved in the publishing process. “There are many parties that create value in a publishing company,” he noted. “The core concept of B-K from the beginning was that the company needed to be operated in the benefit and interest of all the stakeholder groups, including authors.”
That idea is what forms the core of the Author Day program, which started out with simply taking authors out to lunch with the staff to talk about their book, before evolving into its current form: a full day of programming. Piersanti said that this evolution of the program was “all in reaction to what authors were asking for.” In the early days of the program, authors paid their own way, but as of five years ago, B-K now covers travel and lodging expenses.
Though some publishers often conduct something similar, it’s usually reserved for big-name authors. What distinguishes B-K’s program is that it holds this full-day event for every author with a book coming out.
The program may take time to put together, but in the end, it is a time saver. Instead of fielding months of back-and-forth inquiries and conversations, the staff and author can handle many issues and questions all in one day. The staff can coach new authors on their platform and answer any questions an author might have about the publishing process, which can be mystifying for first-time authors.
The one drawback of giving all authors a full day’s attention is that it limits how many books B-K can publish to around 40 titles annually. “That’s the biggest downside of our process,” Piersanti said. “It does provide a severe cramp in scalability.” He added that he is sticking to the formula B-K has created. Since B-K’s founding, its mission has been to be “more author-friendly, more author-centric, to share power,” Piersanti said. “The intention from day one was that we needed to relate to authors differently,” and authors can cancel their agreement with B-K at any point in the process.
For Peterson, going with B-K was a no-brainer; it was the only publisher she wanted for her book. “B-K has such a fine reputation in our field of organizational development,” she said. “They are a mission-driven organization, and their mission is dedicated to creating a world that works for all. That’s so much what our book is about. It felt like such a perfect fit.”