Advice From Pros: Michael Piekny

Advice From Pros: Michael Piekny

Michael Piekny is the publisher and acquisitions editor for Grailing Press. He has extensive experience at growing a client roster and subsidiary rights sales, and establishing a network of industry and author relationships. A creative, analyst, lawyer, and business mogul rolled into one, Michael is known for leveraging industry relationships to build enterprise and a publishing house that celebrates authors of new and classic literature. Michael combines his background in law, editing, and acquisitions to propel his team and author clients at Grailing Press to uplift great works in a wide variety of genres. He’s also a really nice guy!  Meet Michael…

Have you always wanted to work in this field? I love reading, and everything grew from there. I always knew I wanted to be surrounded by books and to be working with them in some way. I had no idea what publishing involved or all the different ways there are to be part of the industry–I learned all that but everything started from a love of books. So the short answer is maybe no, I had no idea about publishing until I fell into it.

What do you like best about your work in the publishing industry and at the Grailing Press? Working with great writers is the best part of publishing. Whether it’s an author I’ve worked with frequently over the years or someone I just met, it is exhilirating to get a great book through the door and then go through editorial with the author. When you are working with a writer you trust entirely, and that trust is reciprocated, the process is an incredibly creative experience. We riff back and forth, play around with edits, and ultimately have a great time getting to a great finished product. Going through editorial with a talented writer is such a rewarding process.

Tell us about your background in the field and what brought you to work at Grailing Press? Besides loving books, I had no idea what a career in publishing looked like. My career started by accident when a friend sent me his manuscript asking for a read; what I thought was going to be a quick back and forth over the book and its high and lows ended up being a six month process and a full developmental edit (before I even knew what a developmental edit was). I was enjoying the work so much that I started looking for more manuscripts to work (this time for profit). I started out freelancing and my publishing career was born.From there I had the opportunity to intern with an online literary magazine and learn about acquiring short fiction and poetry and how to start managing author relationships and a publication pipeline. I suppose my story in publishing is that the more aspects of the job I was introduced to, the further into the industry I wanted to go; and so from this experience I learned that I loved the acquisitions process and the mission to go out and find great writing to publish and wonderful authors to work with.

From there I went to work for a small publisher as an acquisitions editor and got to learn that side of the job and spent three years connecting with agents, authors, and others in the industry and building up my skillset. I love acquisitions and am addicted to the thrill of the chase in finding that next great project to work on. After a few years dedicated just to acquisitions work, I had the chance to move into a leadership role and start functioning more like a mini-publisher within this publishing company. This was another broadening out moment where I was able to see publishing from a wider perspective and learn the business and operations side of things that any publisher needs to know. After spending time in that role I finally felt as ready as I’d ever be to launch out on my own and start a publishing company. Grailing Press began in June of 2023 and I suppose that’s how it got here.

What does Grailing Press focus on in the publishing industry? What books do you publish? Grailing Press focuses on the writing. We probably skew literary in our list but the list is truly open to all. Whatever genre, whatever side of the fiction/non-fiction divide, there is a home for all good books at Grailing Press. More specifically, our focus is on publishing our digital magazine, Grailing, which features new short fiction, cnf, flash, poetry, and more. And then we have our print publishing side which publishes new authors and some classic titles. But our mission is pretty simple, publish great writing and get it to a wide readership.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to succeed in your professional industry? Like in any industry, build your contacts. Having people you can turn to for advice, for help, for business, for referrals, this is incredibly valuable. If you like the work and want to do it, that part of your professional development will mostly take care of itself (but always keep your skills sharp!). But it’s that extracurricular aspect of having a lot people you can reach out to who you can help and who can maybe help you–that is a great way to start going further in publishing. It’s what helped me the most in terms of career development.

What is one (or more) fascinating insight you’ve gleaned from working in the publishing industry? Books make money in their first year and then again in their eleventh year. This was a pithy insight a publishing friend of mine shared with me that has quite a bit of truth behind it.

As an expert in your field, what advice would you give to published authors? You are your own small business and are the best CEO of your business. Your publisher is like an advisor and a facilitator and an investor, but the business is yours, build it like you would any other.

What advice would you give to unpublished authors? This is an interesting question because there are all sorts of unpublished authors. Some authors are unpublished because editorially the book doesn’t work and the writing or story quality isn’t there. Some are unpublished by choice and are not sure whether they want their book to be “public” or out in the world. This is compeltely understandable and I’ve worked with many authors in this position; some ultimately do decide to put the book out, and some prefer to keep it to themselves and their personal network. Then there are authors who are unpublished because they haven’t found the right publisher that they feel comfortable with and are still looking for a good place that will bring out the best in the project. Some authors are unpublished because they want to self-publish and build up their platform independently. There really is no singular type of unpublished author so I guess the advice would be case-dependent.

What is one (or more) cautionary “pearl” you’d like to share? The biggest cautionary tale is where a project is great but the author is not a good fit and therefore the book doesn’t get published. I’ve been in situations in the past where I liked a book and recommended it for publication but once we started engaging with the author or the agent the foundations of a positive relationship weren’t there and the publisher ultimately didn’t move forward. In addition to the creative side, the publisher is also looking at a book as a new partnership between author/agent and publisher and trying to find out whether this is someone it makes sense to bring into your sphere and be connected with for the lifecycle of a book (both pre- and post-publication).I’ve been around other publishers who are blunt about it and say they don’t want headaches. I think of it more in that partnership vein–will you be able to work intensely with this person for a long period of time and weather creative and financial discussions together on a fairly regular basis. There’s a lot to consider there and if the relationship doesn’t get off to a good start then it’s probably going to turn the publisher away from going any further. This is certainly rare, but also cautionary.

What do you think is the biggest reason someone doesn’t get their book published? At Grailing Press the reason would be that the book hasn’t met the editorial level we’re looking for. We don’t believe a book can succeed if the quality isn’t there.

What do you like to see on an author’s platform? Platform is incredibly overrated because it is very rare to see someone with a truly convertible platform, meaning you put the word out to your network and the sales flood in. In my experience that is the rarest of things; that person with a fifteen-thousand person email list who can just click send and bring in 20% conversion is for all practical purposes a myth. Yes they exist, but just in vanishingly small numbers such that you never expect that to be the case (and don’t rely on it). What I’ve seen more often is authors touting a platform and even having what looks like a substantial following, but then the sales figures completely don’t match up to that. Most publishers should not get excited about platform because its usually not that deep and not that good of a sales predictor. If someone is still counting up followers and projecting that number into a book sale model, they’re probably in for a harsh surprise.

Most online networks just really aren’t that deep. For us, the quality of the writing matters more than the platform. A great network or large following can’t make up for subpar writing. First and foremost we want to publish great writing; when we find something we want to publish, we make sure there is a good fit between us and the author and then go forward. Publishers can certainly get intoxicated by platforms, but like all intoxicants, it impacts their judgment and ultimately isn’t a good thing to go by in my opinion. The thing I think many publishers want to see is that an author wants to be part of the marketing and sales of the book. For me, that is an ideal partner. So for Grailing Press, demonstrating that you’re engaged and taking a leading role in getting your book out there (a really well-written book) is even more important than platform. Have a good book, get active in the marketing, and that’s the platform we’re looking for.

How do you suggest authors (published and non-published) build their platform, including social media and website? Ha, well after just trashing platforms, I guess a good way to build them is sincerity and quality. Instead of looking at it like building and adding, look at it like offering and providing. What are you offering people in your platform; what are you giving them in exchange for being part of your platform–hopefully it’s high-quality material that benefits them and not just platform spam.

Are you an author? If so, what is your author website where readers can find your books? I am an author, but one of those whose writing lives on a hard-drive.

What conferences or events do you recommend authors and writers attend? An easy one is to attend all book events within an hour drive from where you live. You never know who will be there. Showing up is so incredibly important. Start with that and you’ll probably be amazed at the connections you make, and how they ripen into more and more connections over repeated interactions.

Do you speak at conferences or conduct trainings? If so, where can we learn more? I have spoken at publishing events but have nothing upcoming at the moment.

What book uplifts you? So many books uplift me; it’s such a wonderful inheritance we are all heir to–the amount of great books we have going back thousands of years and coming forward all the way to the present.

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