October 1, 2018

At Your Service: book shepherding with Judith Briles

By Camilla Sterne

 At Your Service” is an ongoing blog where we ask a self-publishing industry professional to describe his or her services, in order to help self publishers understand the intricacies of each step in the self-publishing process.

Today, Judith Briles shares with us an insider’s perspective on the concept of the book shepherd.

Briles is an award-winning author, publisher and publishing consultant who has mentored up-and-coming authors and publishers for years. In 2009, she created Author U, a membership organization that offers instructional seminars and workshops designed for self-publishing authors who want to be successful. Briles chaired the first Writers Conference for the National Speakers Association and started its Writing and Publishing Professional Expert Group, which has 400 members. The Author U group on LinkedIn boasts 3,900 members.

She is past president of the Colorado Independent Publishers Association (CIPA) and the Colorado Authors League (CAL) and has chaired several publishing conferences, including the Author U Extravaganza, which is held the first weekend of every May. She writes “The Book Shepherd” entry for the BookMarketing.com newsletter and numerous columns, along with leading publishing salons. Her latest book is “Snappy, Sassy, Salty … Wise Words for Authors and Writers.”

 In addition to all this, she has been a book shepherd for seven years.

Q: Explain your role as a book shepherd.

A: A book shepherd helps people who don’t know the first thing about self publishing. Every client is different. I never know if someone is going to be coming in with a situation where they are totally done with their book or if I’ll be going through the fine-tuning (of the content) or a morph in the structure, or project management to get it out the door. Sometimes (my role) is more along the lines of creating the client’s own publishing company, or helping them develop their platforms and marketing strategies. The other phase is people who come in saying “I want to write a book.” Then you bring the book out of the ground. Sometimes I do developmental writing (helping an author with the writing process).

Q: Who needs a book shepherd?

A: For a first time author, it’s a really good idea. The book shepherd is not cheap, but the mistakes that I can help a person avoid will save them thousands of dollars down the road. One of the things that a book shepherd does is keep new authors away from the publishing predators. The vulnerability and naivety of new authors is truly alarming to me.

For the recurring author, a book shepherd who can bring a creative factor to the project and the “what if?” is an essential element to the authoring process. I view one of my essential roles is to keep the project on track and back on when it falls off.

Q: Where do you start when an author comes in seeking your services?

A: For every author I work with, I have a one- to two-hour strategy session in order to understand their dream, their mission, their strategy and how much money they’re willing to spend. For one hour, I charge $450 and for two hours it’s $600. They can spend far less and learn (on their own), and I’m all for that. It’s important to understand what the processes are. In the strategy session, we go through what the book is, what it’s about, who the audience is. I need to understand all of that. And they do, too. And then we go forward.

The other thing that’s very important for me to understand is whether there is a timeline. I spend a lot of hours behind the scenes going back and forth with the team that we bring in. Sometimes a book needs a full-blown book doctoring process (which will take more time and cost extra).

Books are not cookie cutters. I have to really understand their book in order to work with an author.  I’m in for creation and production, as well as what to do with it when it’s done.

Q: What do you mean by “the team we bring in”?

A: It’s critical to have professionals — editors, designers, artists — you can work with who are consistent, flexible, and reliable. Most book shepherds take a markup on those services.  I don’t do that. I just set authors up so they can interact with these professionals, stay in contact as these people do their stage of the work, ready to pass to the next in the process.

The professionals I work with are on the alert for new ideas and concepts and are tuned into trends that are surfacing. What’s critical for me when I assign an editor (for example) — whether it’s for cookbooks, fantasy, business, technical, etc.—is that that person knows the field. If it’s indexing, the indexer must have the software to do a deep-dive into the book using multiple layers of search. If an illustrator is called for, is it cartooning I’m looking for or is it fine-line drawings? If an illustrator doesn’t get the author’s vision quickly, replacement is needed–pronto. Some interior designers are better suited for fiction vs. nonfiction, as are cover designers. Matching the book and author with the right provider is critical, and it’s imperative that the right fit come into play. It takes a while to develop teams that you’re comfortable with. It’s important that when you find people who you trust, you stick with them.

Q: What do you look for in a potential client?

A: As a book shepherd, I’m looking for people who get their book, who are committed to their book and who have passion.

Q: What is unique about this relationship? What’s the most important quality for a book shepherd to have in order to successfully interact with authors?

A: It’s an intimate relationship. For me, I always want to have a sense of fun and joy in here. There’s got to be a reward. That reward for me is a finished book that the author has no regrets about. I want you to have a book that you’re really proud of.

For the author, you should be looking for someone who “gets” your book, not someone who thinks you’re part of their monthly cash flow — someone who likes your book and wants to birth it and teach it to walk. Work with someone who has the dedication and the track record. I would not want to work with someone who doesn’t have at least five years of experience.

Q: Do you ever turn a book away?

A: If I don’t like it. I have to like it and I have to like the author. I have to really believe that the author is committed to their book. If he or she doesn’t want to bring up the baby, I lose my interest and it becomes a drain to work on. I really want each to succeed.

Q: How much do you charge?

As mentioned before, for a one-hour meeting, we charge $450, and for two hours it’s $600. If they become an ongoing book shepherd client, I have a fee of $1,700 dollars for eight hours a month, on a six-month contract. If I don’t use those hours, I will bank them for the next month. Most book shepherd clients come in on a six-month run, and I should be able to get a book in and out of here in that amount of time.  If a book comes in that’s clean, once I start on it, full completion and turnaround can be around four months.

Q: Where do most self-publishing authors go wrong?

First of all, they don’t get their book edited. Your mother doesn’t count; your teacher doesn’t count; your school friend doesn’t count. They rush to publish and the quality suffers. They fail to grasp that this is a business, and it is a business. They don’t put together any kind of marketing strategy. There’s so much to marketing and learning about the business. They don’t understand who their market is or how to reach it.

Q: Can you elaborate more on your opinions about traditional publishing versus self-publishing?

A: In most cases, if you go with traditional publisher you have to make a decision: Is control of the book important? Is timing important? Is making money important?

If the author has a timely topic that needs to get out, traditional publishing isn’t going to work; the lead time for acceptance to publication is not just a few months, it’s a year plus.

If the quality of the book is important to the author, from the cover, to the paper, to the use of art and design within, (self publishing is the better option because) traditional publishing has cut back significantly in design — and creativity for that manner….

There is still a general myth out there that if you’re with a traditional publisher,  they will take care of everything. But they will not. If they take you on, they will certainly produce the book, but whether they promote it is iffy. Your (marketing/publicity) window after traditional publishing is very, very short. I call traditional publishing “Velcro publishing” because they take on books and throw them up against the wall, and whether they stick or not will decide how much the author will have to be out there trying to get their book bought (vs. relying on the publisher for publicity and marketing).

Most authors with NY houses make a few thousand dollars, if they are lucky. Typically, a midlist author—which the great majority of authors will be considered—sell less than 5,000 copies during the life of the book. That is less than $5,000, usually much less. Now, if the same author “gets” how to market, how to connect with his or her crowd, how to offer value (which could be simply providing entertainment or solving a problem), and if that author sells 5,000 copies on their own via website, public speaking, Amazon, working through a local bookstore, that 5,000 in sales translates to a multiple of what New York pays.

When you learn what publishing is and how it works, going the traditional route today almost becomes the lesser publishing option.  As a former NY publishing snob, believing that only legit books, quality books came via NY, I say now:  I wish I knew in the 1980s and 1990s what the 2000s and beyond taught me: You can publish a quality book; you can have total control; you can learn the business; you can do it in less than a year; you can out-market what most (publishers) do; and you can make money. It’s not easy; it’s work. But it is doable. And if you self publish a book successfully, don’t be surprised if a traditional publisher comes knocking on your door.

Q: Thank you for your time!

BlueInk Review offers credible and unbiased reviews of self-published books exclusively. Visit us at www.blueinkreview.com.

Camilla Sterne is a senior at the University of Denver, where she studies creative writing and media studies. She is the Editor-in-Chief of “Foothills Visual and Textual Journal” and Assistant Lifestyles Editor at the “DU Clarion.” She is a former freelance writer for the “Boulder Weekly” and  BlueInk Review’s Staff Writer.


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