How to Select and Partner With A Publishing Consultant

Lou Sabatier Publishing Consultant

Claire Reinburg, Director of NSTA Press, has spent the majority of her professional life working in publication development, production, and editing. Her extensive publishing track record and  experience sourcing and working with publishing consultants made her a natural choice for this interview.

What is your definition of a consultant?

 A consultant is a person who can work with you to bring a wider look at your processes and businesses and potentially help you grow not just your financial situation, but also your professional knowledge. It is like a mini-certificate program where you have access to knowledge and an opportunity to enhance your own understanding.

Throughout your career, have you hired consultants, and what led you to take that action?

I have hired and worked with consultants twice in my professional career. Both times it was because we were on the cusp of doing something new and wanted to maximize those opportunities.  Likewise, we had hit some challenges with our program and needed help figuring out how to navigate them. 

What kind of knowledge and experience should you look for in a consultant?

It depends on the problem. If your focus is a single area of publishing, you should select a specialist in that area. If the problem is broader, about the whole publishing process, you need a broader team.

How well-defined should the publisher’s problem be before having recourse to a consultant?

A publisher should spell out the problem as explicitly as possible. Of course, the caveat is, what the publisher sees as the problem may not be the underlying cause of difficulty. A good consultant starts with the publisher’s concept of the problem and works his or her way to the real problem. I included a final question in our request for proposals that left space for this possibility: “What have we left out that you recommend we examine?”

What did the process of hiring a consultant look like?

Our process was a series of presentations to my senior management. I positioned both projects as a study to bring in benchmarking expertise and objective views and advice. We approached the projects as investments with hopeful returns. Though in both cases it was not easy, I was able to move forward.  After I introduced the idea of hiring a consultant and it was approved, the next year I put it into the budget.

When we were ready to proceed on the first project, I hired a subject-matter expert with whom I had been familiar for several years.

For the most recent study, I put forward a request to my professional working group for recommendations and tapped other colleagues who provided names and referrals. This produced a pool of potential partners. We issued an RFP that represented collaboration from my team. Using my network made it a much better process. 

How important is the size of the consulting practice you hired?

Size is not important. Experience and understanding of the publishing field is what counts. 

What did you learn from working with consultants? 

Every process prompts professional learning. The questions and requests for information generated by our consultants really helped us focus on information, data, and analysis we had not considered before. When you bring in a team with much more background knowledge, you get your eyes opened in so many ways. For example, the consultants requested reports we had never thought to run before. Even with this fresh perspective, I felt we were part of the process and involved in the solutions put forth. It was a partnership and very collaborative. 

Projects come to conclusion — what comes next?

At first you take a pause, read, and study the recommendations deeply so you can prioritize. Fortunately, our partner helped us do that. We determined what we could do on our own and where we needed support from our executives to accomplish our goals.

What do you say to someone who tried working with a consultant but found it did not work?

Success hinges a great deal on your willingness to grow. A certain level of humility is required to listen and learn.

Understandably, many organizations and companies struggle with the decision to hire a consultant. What do you say to someone who thinks they cannot afford a consultant?

Consider this decision as an investment. If you knew you needed software or other resources, you would find a way to make that investment. Partnering with a consultant is a similar scenario. Company leaders can learn from consultants. It is often more than simply vetting business ideas, highlighting inefficiencies, or looking for revenue — it is learning to think like the consultant does.

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