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Featured Member Paul Krieger – Working with small publishers, niche markets, and alternative publishing opportunities

Paul Krieger is an award-winning professor and the creator, author, and illustrator of Morton Publishing’s Visual Analogy Guide series. Due to the success of his first book on human anatomy in 2004 (now in its 5th edition), this unique book concept quickly evolved into a four-book series. He is Professor Emeritus of Biology at Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan and also works as a scientific illustrator.

Here Paul discusses the evolution of his writing career, including decisions about publishers, alternative publishing opportunities in the educational teaching materials market, and lessons learned through his years in the industry.

TAA: Your Visual Analogy Guide series is positioned in a unique niche within the textbook and educational materials market. Can you tell us about that niche market and the opportunities it offers?

Paul Krieger (PK):  As opposed to work-for-hire books, all my books are stand-alone supplements, that is, royalty-generating, independent titles that are not bundled with any textbook. Examples of these types of books include lab manuals, dissection guides for biology, and specialized topics in various fields. The vision I had for my first human anatomy book was to create an inexpensive two-color, consumable book in a modular format with text pages on the left page and large illustrations on the facing page. The unique learning feature in my books was that it used visual analogies which compared anatomical structures to objects from everyday life.

Years ago, when I pitched my supplement concept, large publishers rejected my proposal because it did not fit their strict categories of either textbook or lab manual. Other publishers wanted to make it a work-for-hire which was a deal breaker for me. After receiving numerous rejections, I approached a small publisher, Morton Publishing, about my book idea and they immediately saw the value in my approach and offered me my first book contract.

The stand-alone supplements category represents a publishing opportunity for both veteran and novice authors. Moreover, by focusing on smaller, simpler books, you have more time to pursue other projects.

TAA: What are the benefits of working with a small publisher? What are the drawbacks?

PK: Smaller publishers can offer unique opportunities that may not be available with large publishers, as small publishers have the flexibility to pursue smaller niche markets and alternative product concepts. Moreover, working with a small publisher minimizes the chance that you will be treated as a small fish in a big pond.

My experience with Morton provides an example of the many benefits that small publishers offer. I have found the publishing process is extremely streamlined, running smoothly which greatly reduces my stress. The staff turnover rate is low, so there is greater continuity, and they know me and the market for my books very well. In fact, in over 16 years I have had only two different developmental editors. In addition, Morton can give far more attention to stand-alone supplements such as mine than a large publisher ever would.

In terms of drawbacks, small publishers do not have the financial resources of larger publishers to produce and market a textbook with all the latest bells and whistles to compete with the best-selling titles.

TAA: Do you have recommendations for best practices to follow to maintain a successful author/publisher relationship?

PK: I strongly recommend that you hire an intellectual property attorney to negotiate your first contract. Fortunately for me, I did hire an IP attorney for my first contract. Looking back, this was a very smart move that has given me a big return on a relatively small initial investment. It is also imperative that you help your publisher with marketing your book. No, your job isn’t over when you turn in your final manuscript. You need to play an active role in making your book a success. At professional conferences, network with fellow authors and publishing professionals, give presentations, and sit at your publisher’s table. Make and post promotional videos on social media and get your products out there for the world to see. And lastly, keep communication lines open with editors and sales reps. Do your best to always meet your deadlines and to build trust with your editors.  Reply to all business correspondence in a timely manner. If you run into a problem and need some extra time, your editor will be much more forgiving if you inform her right away. And don’t forget that sales reps are your direct connection to the student. Solicit their feedback as to how to improve your book and show your appreciation.

TAA: What are your three top productivity tips that helped you hone your writing practice?

PK: My top three productivity tips are relatively simple. The key to their success is that I remain deliberate and consistent in applying them to my ongoing writing practice.

1) Break up a new book project into small doable steps. It took me over two years to write and illustrate my first book. The task seemed overwhelming until I broke the entire project up into a weekly schedule. Once I focused on only what I needed to complete day by day, my anxiety subsided, and I realized my goal was achievable.

2) Get regular feedback on your writing.  It’s always helpful to have a second pair of eyes on your writing for objective feedback. A colleague or collaborator works well for this role. I am fortunate that my English teacher wife serves as my second eyes and initial editor. This makes for a much more polished product before I submit to my publisher.

3) When preparing for the next edition, remain highly organized.  I prefer to mark-up pages on both a hard copy of my book indicated with Post-it flags and to also keep an e-copy in MS Word. I keep one document for corrections and a separate one for improvements. Later, I go back to the improvements document and prioritize which items are most important to complete.