Strategic Relationship Management, Part 2

The Ideal Publisher

In my last post, I outlined the concept of Strategic Relationship Management. In this post, I want to begin to apply these principles. Since professionally, I am a publisher, I will start with publishers.


What would the ideal, high-profit, low-maintenance publisher look like from the agent’s perspective? Here are fifteen characteristics:

Profile of the Ideal Publisher
High ProfitLow Profit
1. Demonstrates a win-win financial paradigm.1. Demonstrates a win-lose financial paradigm.
2. Offers competitive advances and royalty rates.2. Does not offer competitive advances or royalty rates.
3. Makes advance and royalty payments on a timely basis.3. Takes forever to pay advances or is slow in paying royalties.
4. Maximizes product sales through every market channel.4. Focuses on only two or three market channels.
5. Proactively manages client’s backlist and, as a result, maximizes royalty income.5. Allows backlist titles to languish or slip out of print, costing the author royalty income.
6. Refers prospective author clients to us (i.e., the agent).6. Wouldn’t think of referring a prospective author client to us, let alone do it.
Low MaintenanceHigh Maintenance
7. Sees the agent as a partner (i.e., a customer), welcomes his involvement, and reinforces his role with the author.7. Sees the agent as an adversary (i.e., “the enemy”), resents his involvement, and tries to undermine his role with the author.
8. Has a standard contract for the agency so that contracts can be negotiated quickly.8. Everything must be negotiated from scratch every time, adding cost and frustration.
9. Distributes easy-to-understand royalty statements.9. Distributes confusing royalty statements.
10. Responds promptly to inquiries, proposals, and completed manuscripts.10. Is slow or negligent in responding to inquires, proposals, and completed manuscripts.
11. Takes the initiative to prepare a written marketing plan and follows up on it.11. Only prepares a marketing plan when the agent demands it and then, once created, hopes the agent and the author forget about it.
12. Proactively provides information—including sales information—to the agent on a regular basis.12. Reactively provides information to the agent—if at all.
13. Under-promises and over-delivers, thereby making the agent look good with his or her clients.13. Over-promises and under-delivers, thereby making the agent look bad with his or her clients.
14. Includes the agent in all communication with the author.14. Circumvents the agent either intentionally or unintentionally.
15. Responds quickly to rights reversions requests.15. Drags feet in responding to rights reversion requests.

As I read back through this list, I realized that there are probably some areas we need to shore up. Like Jesus said, “Before you try to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye, take the log out of your own” (Matthew 7:3-5).

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  • Michael A. Banks

    What do you see as a “win-win financial paradigm?” To me, that’s simply an overused phrase (and within that phrase, paradigm is ‘way too overused. For that matter, “win-win” is almost as worn.) Do you mean “the agent is willing to accept more on the back end than the front end” (i.e., accept a small advance), or … ?

    Item number 7 (and other elements of this discussion) seems to place far too much emphasis on agents. As an author I hope the publisher sees me as a partner. That’s how I’ve always regarded author-publisher relationships.

    There are many successful authors who do not use agents. And there are too many agents who do not fit the profile of an ideal agent. For example, agents who take on 65 clients when they can only serve 30 or so. And agents who ignore both authors and publishers as they focus on one or two deals to the detriment of other clients.

    Having said all that, I should add that I have been an agent (for writers such as Martin Caidin, creator of The Six Million Dollar Man), as an acquistions editor for Baen Books, and as an author (41 published non-fiction books and novels).

  • Michael A. Banks

    I of course meant to address the preceding post to Michael Hyatt.

  • Michael Hyatt


    Perhaps the phrase “win-win” is overused. I could use a variety of terms, but the idea is a partnership where there is shared risk and shared rewards. If it tilts too far in either direction, somebody loses.

    I have written four books and served as an agent for six years, so I know that both sides have to get value out of their investment or the relationship inevitably breaks down.

    With regard to agents, I wrote it this way because 90% of the authors we deal with are represented. I can’t think of one major author we publish who doesn’t have an agent. They are all represented. Regardless, your point is well taken. That’s just not my world.

    Thanks for your comments,


  • Michael A. Banks

    My curmudgeon’s attitude on agents and worn-out phrases aside, we’re on the same page regarding the shared risk/shared reward. Most authors do not appreciate (and some do not consider) the fact that a publisher puts a lot on the line with each book published. When I give a talk on writing for publication I often go through a hypothetical P&L to illustrate this, and then talk about what the publisher does to market the book. (I do the same when non-writers ask why the author gets “only” X percentage of the publisher’s net.)

    On the other side of that, some authors feel they risk nothing themselves. The time and energy committment, in addition to the financial investment (research and other expenses) is something to be considered carefully by the author before she commits to a project. And there should be a committment on the author’s part to not only produce a good product, but also to help market it. Altogether it’s quite a committment.

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