A Recap of My Weekend at the Bay Area Book Festival – Part 2: Author-Driven Publishers

By Stacy Jerger (@ApoideaEdits)

This past weekend, June 6th and 7th, I attended the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley. Aside from the awesome events, the weather was sunny and breezy and beautiful. Surrounded by book people, and the warm breeze blowing, I felt like I was walking in a nice dream. This is one of the reasons why I love living in the Bay Area.

There were so many panels to choose from about writing, books, and publishing. I think it’s important to keep up with what people in this business are saying. Here’s a small recap of the discussions I attended on both days. 

Sunday, June 7th

The Birth of a Book: Authors

Elizabeth Rosner (Electric City), Joshua Mohr (All This Life), Bucky Sinister (Black Hole), moderated by Jack Shoemaker (editorial director of Counterpoint Press)

I honestly wasn’t sure what I was walking into with this panel, but I’m so glad I attended. It’s refreshing to hear more from small presses.

The panel was a lot of nodding self-promotion for Counterpoint Press. But, you know, I’m not really bothered by that if people are giving you valuable information. In this case, the authors of Counterpoint had a lot of interesting things to say.

What does it mean for a publisher to be author driven?

If you’ve had experience with a small press where you, the author, work directly with the publisher and have a close partnership to bringing your book to fruition, then you probably know some aspects of this relationship.

During the discussion, the panel said publishers generally focus on marketing the book, but some focus on marketing the author. They invest in the author’s career from book to book (and sign on with authors who continue to produce).

A press like this also has editors who dig deep into each book to help improve content and sometimes re-shape the story. This level of editorial support seems pretty unique compared to what many publishers offer now.

Elizabeth Rosner told a fascinating story about this. When she thought she had a solid, complete story, her editor told her she needed another character. This was shocking and unusual to her. But as soon as the editor suggested this, Elizabeth instantly knew who that character was.

Her book had left the impression of a “ghost character,” an empty thread in the story that begged to be filled. And once she added that extra character, the book came together perfectly.

It takes a very talented editor to see what the book needs beyond the author’s original idea.

This aspect of developmental editing of course caught my attention. And it reminds me why I love doing this work.

You might think that it would be terrible news to hear from an editor that your completed draft was an unfinished story and missing characters. But Joshua Mohr also had a lot to say on this subject:

To paraphrase, the only thing authors can control is the words on the page. So do as many drafts as it takes (he listed 9, 12, and so on number of drafts) to make the story as bullet proof as possible.

It’s not just about writing the book you want to read, but about writing the book only you can write.

Some agents and publishers might not understand what you're trying to do, what story you're trying to tell, and might have trouble finding a place for it. Only you can know what feels right for your book and what doesn't.

And when you find your champion who gets it, in this case a small publisher with a talented team of editors, you know they’re committed to your writing, and both of you are in it together.

Jack Shoemaker, editorial director of Counterpoint, said the avenue to a small press isn’t to check the Big 5 first, then settle for a press. Small author-driven presses give authors exceptional attention to their books, producing fewer books a year but of higher quality.

(Disclaimer: I've never had the pleasure to work with Counterpoint or their editors.)

Have you ever worked with a small press? I'd love to hear about your experience!


My second day of the Bay Area Book Festival is broken into two blog posts to make it more manageable to read - little bites! Stay tuned for the last post. *smile*

Read Part 1: The Business of Publishing here.

Stacy Jerger is a freelance developmental editor who's had the privilege of working with fiction authors to organize and strengthen their stories. If you need help with your manuscript, check out her website.