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January 27, 2019

ABA Publishing is “hungry for content” -- How to get into print

“If you become an ABA author, it’s the imprimatur of your profession.”

That was assessment of Melanie Bragg, chair of the American Bar Association Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division and the author of several ABA books, including “HIPAA for the General Practitioner.” She moderated a panel on “Leveraging Your ABA Author Experience: Editors’ Advice,” held Jan. 25 at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Las Vegas.

Bryan Kay, director of ABA Publishing editorial and licensing, opened the program with an overview of the marketplace.

The Pew Research Center did a survey of American reading habits in 2018 and found that

  • 67 percent of Americans read a book over the last 12 months
  • 26 percent read an ebook over the last 12 months
  • 18 percent listened to an audiobook over the last 12 months.

“Audiobooks as a format are now the most aggressively growing format across most publishing categories,” he said. Hence, ABA Publishing will be experimenting with audiobooks in the next 6-8 months.

In addition, there is format diversity. “Print still has life and vitality,” Kay said, but books are harder sell these days.

In the legal publishing market, the top publishers are Thomson Reuters, Lexis and Wolters Kluwer, and now Bloomberg. In the last 4-5 years, he said, they’ve had consistent losses in their print revenue because their formats have become so expensive. Law librarians who used to buy everything have had to make choices and are increasingly buying electronic texts.

As those publishers generate less original content, Kay said, they are beginning to look to the ABA to provide it.

Hence, in addition to publishing books as usual, the ABA now also creates ebooks and is going out and

licensing the content to other publishers.

Kay also provided would-be authors with a few specific tips for success.

As you write, Kay advised attendees, think about your reader. Think about your own reading and how the internet has changed that very subtly, he said. Be guided by your voice and expertise, but “if you can write shorter chapters, do it,” he said, providing an example of how authors can better serve today’s reading habits.

Kay also recommended that authors use more descriptive chapter headings. “Your reader wants to be able to dive into your book and do a bit of research, then step out and come back and have descriptive headings…and other summaries that allow them to pick up the thread again and do their research.”

Building an audience today involves developing a relationship with them. Readers value someone they can trust, Kay explained, encouraging authors to share their resources and their personal journey with readers.

Above all, master the summary of your book, he said, and your talking points on why smart, busy people should buy it. Develop that statement and share it with your editor and marketer and it will travel the book’s journey and become its own “metadata tag” that allows people to find it, he said.

In addition, Kay said, authors have platforms, including speaking engagements and social media, which are more powerful for promoting books than what ABA Publishing can do. “At the end of the day… it’s the ABA brand, but it’s you, as the author, who is the expert.” Readers and librarians will go back to an author they trust, he emphasized.

Jeff Salyards, an editor at ABA Publishing, described the process an ABA book proposal goes through, including being assigned to a book board, which reads chapters and identify gaps, etc., and a peer review, in addition to an editor, copy editor and marketer.

All ABA entities are “hungry for content,” he said, and want to add more books, so acquisitions drive everything they do.

Book acquistions come about in three ways:

  • Entity book boards will look at the entity’s portfolio and identify gaps, and solicit a manuscript from a potential author;  
  • A book board member will attend a CLE or seminar, and see a potential book and approach the speaker;
  • Someone comes to ABA Publishing with a proposal.

Salyards advised would-be authors to “spend a lot of time on the proposal,” including being thorough on the details, include your CV, provide a working table of contents, a writing sample, “anything that demonstrates ….expertise and your approach.”

“There’s room for all kinds of different manuscripts, and they want to see what you’re going to provide,” he said.

An ABA editor provides a business case for each book proposal, including an analysis of the marketplace and competition and a cost analysis.

Donna Gollmer, division director of ABA Publishing, spoke of their author guidelines, which provide all the details about editorial and marketing processes. The ABA publishes a mix of trade (books for the general audience) and professional books, with the latter being more profitable. She said about 40 percent of book sales are to non-ABA members.

Right now, she said, ABA Publishing is looking to fill in gaps, such as in cybersecurity and block chain.


“We’re in an expanding mode right now,” Kay said, “looking for more content, not less.” He said they are also being much more deliberative about reaching out to partners and identifying gaps in licensing.

Don’t think about writing a book for the money ABA author Bragg advised, but for all the other ways it could benefit you.