February 9, 2023

As anyone who’s courageously acim of self-publishing knows–or soon will–there’s much more involved in the process than simply sending your manuscript off to a printer, dropping off review copies at a handful of bookstores, and kicking back and waiting for the revenues to roll in.

To the uninitiated author journeying alone, the critical decisions that need to be made along the way can be overwhelming, frustrating, and even downright daunting.

Fortunately, a new breed of publication consultants has grown up right alongside the flourishing self-publishing population to serve as guidance counselors through each phase of the complicated process. Though self-publishing is largely considered a DIY endeavor–hence the designation self-publishing–there may be many advantages to using a professional book shepherd (as book consultants have been dubbed by self-publishing guru Dan Poynter) that makes hiring one well worthy of consideration.

But, just what exactly is a book shepherd? In practice, many of the professional services book shepherds provide include either direct assistance with or advice on cover and interior book design, manuscript editing, printer brokering, forms filing, production, distribution, marketing, and publicity. Some shepherds work within fully staffed one-stop firms that will ferry your book through production and beyond; others work autonomously and will often refer you to experts in the areas they don’t handle.

The Benefits of Hiring a Book Shepherd

Collaborating with a good book shepherd can increase your chances for publishing success–in more ways than you might think. “There’s a bit of a misconception about what a book shepherd does,” says Ellen Reid of Smarketing-Infinite Possibilities, “that it’s all about book production. That’s a component of what we do, but it’s not the entire reason to hire a book shepherd.”

Reid likens her consulting approach to playing the role of a creative director at an ad agency or the producer of a film, and she revels in the creative aspect of her job. First, she assembles a creative team of resources for each of her clients–a copywriter, an editor, and a cover and interior designer–then she oversees every aspect of design, production, and distribution.

Book shepherds can save authors time and keep them from making the major mistakes that self-publishing rookies are apt to make. “Self-publishing is not a simple business,” says Simon Warwick-Smith, president of Warwick Associates and former senior VP of marketing for a large U.S. book distributor, “and people can either spend a few years learning about it, or they can go to someone who’s been there who can tell them what to do.”

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