Six takeaways from ‘Paths to Publishing’ panel for aspiring authors

The cold air and rumors of snow didn’t stop a group of about fifty guests from filling the seats at Parnassus Books on Nov. 15 to hear a panel of industry experts discuss “paths to publishing.” The discussion delved into the pros and cons of self-publishing as well as the traditional publishing route. Panelists shared tips on self-promotion and building a team and legal and business issues were highlighted. Presented by the Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville (ABC) and The Porch Writers’ Collective (The Porch), the event sold out more than a week early. Nashville’s literary community is clearly rife with talent and aspiration.

The panel featured Jennifer Chesak, indie publisher, editor, and owner of Wandering in the Words Press; Claire Gibson, author; Margaret Riley King, agent, William Morris Endeavor; Julie Schoerke, publicist, JKS Communications, Lily Wilson, author; Ginny Smith Younce, executive editor, Penguin Press/Penguin Random House. Dan Foutz, assistant general counsel, HarperCollins Christian, moderated the discussion. With such a high demand for the topic, we reached out to a few of the panelists after the event to ask them to share what they thought were key takeaways from the discussion. We hope you find their insights helpful at whatever stage you are in your “path to publishing.”

1. Treat your writing career as a small business.

Embrace that you are a small business owner and politician when it comes to your book. Looking at book promotion as a business and accepting that you’re the head of that endeavor will help you formulate a plan and hold yourself accountable. Being a politician means getting out and “kissing those babies” or meeting the readers and connecting with them in person through book conferences, book festivals, individual events at bookstores, speaking at book clubs and through social media.” – Julie Schoerke, publicist

“Try as much as you can to treat your writing career as a small business. Invest in classes. Create a website and do freelance writing to build a portfolio.” – Claire Gibson, traditionally published author

2. The process takes time.

“Regardless of which publishing path you take, traditional or self-publishing, the process takes time. Plan for at least 9 to 15 months for self-publishing, from sending your manuscript to an editor to holding your completed book in your hand. For traditional publishing, the timeframe will often be longer. First, you must hook an agent, who will then work on selling your book to a publisher. Then your book will go through a litany of processes before it’s ready for the masses. Either way, the wait will be worth it.”  – Jennifer Chesak, editor and owner of independent press

“Don’t rush. Writing a book is a long road and publishing makes that journey longer. But every step in the journey serves to make your book even better. Embrace the wait.” – Claire Gibson, traditionally published author

3. Don’t edit your own work.

“The main advice I’d leave people with, esp. those who want to do self-publishing is, you cannot edit your own work on a professional level.  If you cannot afford to pay a professional to do this, maybe find a way to trade work with someone. Still, a professional editor is gold.” – Lily Wilson, self-published author

4. Build a team of professionals around you.

“If you’re opting for the self-publishing route, assemble a team of professionals to help you manage the process. With impeccable editing, a standout cover design, clean formatting, and a carefully crafted publicity campaign, a self- or indie-published book will shine.” – Jennifer Chesak, editor and owner of independent press

“In order to have the most robust publicity campaign possible, your book must be in the best shape you can possibly make it. If going the self-publishing route, hiring a book editor, book cover designer, and consultant to take your project through the business end of publishing, which will be key to creating an “industry standard” book that could sit on the shelf next to any book published by the major publishing houses. If you have industry experts working on your book, it’s no longer self-publishing, but indie publishing.” – Julie Schoerke, publicist

5. Build a readership and personal brand before publishing.

“The more fans and readers you can cultivate before you submit your book for traditional publishing consideration or prepare to indie publish, the better the chances of success for selling copies of your book. Being truly active and engaged with others on social media and building your followers, blogging, guest column submissions for print or online magazines, entering short story book award competitions, etc.” – Julie Schoerke, publicist

6. Nail your pitch.

“Do your research and know who you’re pitching. Put your best foot forward – only send your best work to agents. Nail your pitch.” – Margaret Riley King, literary agent

“When a manuscript is ready, make sure the pitch as strong as what you’d deliver on a television show like Shark Tank. —  no more than three sentences.”  – Claire Gibson, traditionally published author

There you have it! Insights from industry experts to help authors navigate the road from idea to manuscript to publication. The Arts & Business Council thanks The Porch and Parnassus Books as well as the moderator and panelists whose bios are listed below.

For more information seminars like this one, see ABC’s Education Calendar.

The panelists were:

Jennifer Chesak

Jennifer Chesak runs an indie publishing and editing business, Wandering in the Words Press, to help authors cut through industry red tape, take control of their royalties, and get their books to the masses in a polished and professional manner. Jennifer earned her Master of Science in Journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and has had a storied career as a freelance adventure and medical writer for several international publications. She is currently working on a fiction novel set in her native state of North Dakota. Read her work at

Claire Gibson
An Army kid who grew up at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Claire Gibson is a writer and avid reader whose work has been featured in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor, among many other publications. Her debut novel, Beyond the Point, is forthcoming from Harper Collins’ William Morrow Books, April 2, 2019. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband Patrick and their son, Sam. Visit her website at

Margaret Riley King
Margaret Riley King is an agent in the Literary Department at William Morris Endeavor, where she began her career after graduating from Princeton University with a BA in History and a Certificate in Theater and Dance. She represents both literary and commercial fiction, young adult and middle grade, some narrative nonfiction and memoir and lifestyle titles in the areas of food, psychology, health, faith/spirituality, and well-being.

Her recent and upcoming projects include: bestselling author Glennon Doyle’s memoir, Love Warrior, which debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and was selected as an Oprah Book Club pick; Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award winner and New York Times bestselling author Chloe Benjamin’s novel, The Immortalists; award-winning civil rights advocate and interfaith leader Valarie Kaur’s debut, Revolutionary Love; Pantsuit Nation edited by Libby Chamberlain; and NYT bestselling author Ann Kidd Taylor’s new novel, The Shark Club. A selection of clients includes Jacqueline Woodson, Nadia Bolz-Weber, the Robertson family of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, Laura Moriarty, Khalida Brohi, Cammie McGovern, NYT bestselling author, and world-renowned yoga instructor Rachel Brathen, Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan and Newbery Award winner Sheila Turnage.

Julie Schoerke
A public relations expert with 30 years experience, Julie Schoerke specializes in developing winning book publicity campaigns for authors and publishers. But it’s her infectious smile, always-positive attitude and die-hard support that welcomes authors into the JKS family. Her hallmark is creative campaigns that fit the lifestyle of the author. She’s been on the forefront of industry trends, being among the first to work with book bloggers, to produce and creatively distribute book trailers, and to secure book sale numbers reporting for indie authors to hit bestseller lists. And, in bucking trends, she reinvented the book tour to be more author-friendly. Julie is frequently interviewed on radio, literary blogs and asked to speak before audiences of all sizes. Most recently invited by The University of Chicago, Sarah Lawrence College, Decatur Book Festival, and James River Writing Conference among others throughout the United States, her advice and ideas for promoting books are endless, current and inventive.

Lily Wilson
Lily Wilson believes that storytelling is a powerful force for good. She has read her work in many of the storytelling shows in the Nashville area and continues to see stories as one of the best ways to open new perspectives, connect humans, and along with humor, help keep us sane. Her first book, “In the Glow of the Lavalamp” was published last year and is available where books are sold. Lily lives and works in Nashville.

Ginny Smith Younce
Ginny Smith Younce is an executive editor at Penguin Press/Penguin Random House. A native of Macon, GA, she lives with her family in Nashville. Ginny is a graduate of Yale and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), and she has also worked at Ecco/HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. She has worked with authors including Celeste Ng, Nate Silver, Pamela Druckerman, Jonathan Haidt, Greg Lukianoff, Sherry Turkle, and Andrew Delbanco.

The moderator was:

Dan Foutz
Dan Foutz is currently assistant general counsel for HarperCollins Christian Publishing and HarperCollins Focus, based out of Nashville, where he manages the Legal Department and oversees all legal and transactional matters, including the drafting and negotiation of author contracts. He has over fifteen years of experience working in legal and business development roles in the entertainment, publishing and sports industries. He earned his JD from Marquette University Law School and a BS in Business Administration from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, majoring in Marketing and minoring in Business Legal Studies. Learn more at