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The Executive Editor Speaks

Jeevan Sivasubramaniam Posted by Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, Managing Director, Editorial, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

The Executive Editor Speaks

Our Executive Editor reflects on his first year at BK and everything that threw him for a loop about us (despite the fact that the man has been in publishing for decades):

I must confess that I was a bit stumped when Jeevan asked me to share my biggest surprise on joining Berrett-Koehler. The problem was most certainly NOT a lack of surprising things from which to choose. I’ve been pretty much amazed since the first day I got here at one thing or another. To name just a few awe-inspiring examples:

1. The employees got to vote on whether or not to give themselves a bonus at the first staff meeting I attended. Heck, we even vote around here on which holidays to take.

2. Berrett-Koehler authors are so proud of their affiliation that they’ve formed their own “club,” an independent co-op that stages retreats and provides tools and mentoring.

3. Berrett-Koehler does not “announce” whimsical print runs for marketing purposes as do many publishers. (Hint: If you read “First printing of 50,000 copies,” this translates in publisher-speak to 10,000 copies.)

Of all the things that have surprised me, our standard Publishing Agreement with authors has surprised me the most. First, I can’t resist pointing out that I was once chided as a young editor for sending a blank standard agreement to an author who was a member of the Author Guild. Trade Secrets! Here at Berrett-Koehler, we just post all our agreements for all to see here.

There are plenty of forward-thinking and equitable parts of our author agreement, but one paragraph, namely Paragraph 13, really stands out: “Right to Terminate Agreement.” To my knowledge, Berrett-Koehler is the only book publisher to offer authors, without asking, the right to cancel their agreement at any time for any reason. This one clause does more than anything else to signal our collaborative model-if an author just doesn’t feel that our publishing partnership is working for them, they are entirely free to move on. (And, unlike other publishers, we also don’t insist on an “option” for the author’s second book when signing the first.) I don’t know any other publisher who would consider taking the risk of adding this clause to their standard agreement. Yet, I’m told this clause has been exercised only once in the company history, and that parting was entirely amicable. (The departing author even asked us to continue selling his book’s subsidiary rights on his behalf.)

This clause is just one symbol of BK’s fierce determination to treat our authors as equal partners. Some of our other initiatives in this effort are our “author days” and our Author Bill of Rights. It’s a good feeling to know that Berrett-Koehler authors publish with us not because they’re locked into a contract or option, but because they have the freedom to choose the best place to be.