Think Like a Publisher

Joe Biel
12 min readJul 23, 2018

This is an excerpt of Joe Biel’s 8th book, A People’s Guide to Publishing, in stores in December 2018 with preorders shipping in August!

Publisher Peter Workman (1939–2013), according to popular anecdote, believed that successful publishing relied upon a sturdy “three-legged stool:”

1. The book must have the right price, format, and trim size for its shelf and subject.

a. The content must challenge existing wisdom.

b. It should be the best possible book in its category and become a “category killer.”

c. It should be an attractive value with emotional appeal.

2. The author and publisher must have a great relationship, and the publisher must have an authentic relationship with the book’s audience.

a. Content is created.

b. Book is introduced to professionals and the trade.

c. The author and concepts are introduced to the audience.

3. Commerce at every level: the book must benefit everyone who touches it.

a. Author, publisher, sales rep, account, and reader must all benefit from “value stream.”

b. This prevents disruptions in the supply chain and keeps deep discounting from retailers like Amazon from undermining a book with a community behind it.

If any of these legs were missing, Workman believed that the stool would collapse and the book would fail.

In 1984, Workman Publishing Company released What To Expect When You’re Expecting, one of the first books about pregnancy for new mothers. The primary author, Heidi Murkoff, had no medical expertise or credentials to write the book and was motivated by the lack of resources available when she had a baby. Worried about the credibility of the author, Workman strengthened Murkoff’s second leg by pairing her with medical experts and specialists to check the risks and accuracy of her advice and began sending her as a speaker to professional conferences. What To Expect When You’re Expecting is now read by 93% of people seeking a book on pregnancy and has become Workman’s flagship title. More importantly, the book has entered the cultural fabric of the U.S. When a movie wants to convey that someone is pregnant, the…

Joe Biel

self-made autistic publisher and filmmaker formed by punk rock,