How to Spot a Professional Book Shepherd: Questions to Ask Your Book Shepherd Before Hiring by Mary Neighbour

Questions to Ask Your Book Shepherd Before Hiring by Mary NeighbourPlease welcome back guest author Mary Neighbour as she shares with us “How to Spot a Professional Book Shepherd: Questions to Ask Your Book Shepherd Before Hiring.” Enjoy!


California treesPlainly, the onus is on the author to diligently conduct their own assessment of anyone they hire. Review websites, credentials, and prior projects of a freelancer to help to shape your perspective.

Spot a Professional: Evaluate

When you get to the interview phase, I recommend that you give each candidate your book to evaluate.

Tell them what your goals are, and encourage them to ask questions.

Spot a Professional: Ask Questions

Finally, as you enter the stretch where you will make a final selection, the following questions will help you make a good choice.

  1. I see from your website you have shepherded a number of books in my genre. What is your view on the current state of the market for my genre? Is this a good time to enter that marketplace?
    Listen for: Insights about the release date. Timing matters. An ideal time for making a self-help book available is January, when New Year’s resolutions are fresh. Releasing it in August, when families are focused on kids going back to school, may strike a death knell for sales.
  2. I’ve told you what my goals are, but do you recommend I consider additional factors?
  3. Now that you have evaluated my book, how do you think you can contribute to its publishing success?
    Listen for: Anything that hasn’t yet occurred to you. Ideally, a book shepherd will broaden your perspective on publishing.
  4. I’d like an estimate of time and costs involved before making my final decision. Do you charge for providing such estimates?
    Tip: A discussion of tasks you can complete—and not pay her to do—should precede the written scope of work.
  5. How often will we meet? How much needs to happen in person?
  6. Do you recommend that I create a business entity for publishing my book?
    Listen for: A constructive reply about how treating your book as a business can help you achieve your goals.
  7. Will you help me create a better title and subtitle? Will you help me price my book?
    Listen for: Advice on researching keywords, competitive books, and market prices.
  8. What blogs, podcasts, or webinars would you advise me to subscribe to, so that I can continue to learn as I go?
  9. Do you think I should register the copyright for my book? Do I need a trademark? Do I need a disclaimer?
    Listen for: A knowledgeable reply regarding rights and proprietary standing. However, book shepherds aren’t usually legal experts, and they should say so up front.
  10. I’ve included just two lines of a song lyric in my story. I don’t need a permission for that, right? (Wrong!)
  11. Would listing PCIP data on the copyright page help or hurt my book?
  12. I didn’t hire a professional editor, but I’ve had my writing group read the manuscript and alert me to any errors they found.
    Listen for: Strong advice that you hire a professional editor. Don’t be surprised if a book shepherd declines to work with you if you haven’t had your book edited by an expert.
  13. I’m not sure I’ve correctly cited the data in my book. Will you review that?
  14. I hate Amazon. Can I publish without using them?
    Listen for: With the question above and the one below, an experienced book shepherd will be able to explain the pros and cons, as they pertain to your book.
  15. I hate marketing. What’s the minimum marketing effort I’ll need to make?
  16. Please tell me about pre-publication strategies. Are pre-sales and ARCs the same thing?
  17. What are reader personas?
  18. Yikes! I’m feeling overwhelmed by all these details. Isn’t there a simpler way of going about all this?
    Tip: One of the principle jobs of a book shepherd is to help keep the complexity orderly and manageable. If she can’t keep her cool, then maybe you shouldn’t keep her.
  19. Should I just let KDP convert my MS-Word file to an ebook?
    Recommended: Ebooks and audiobooks are two areas in constant flux. Listen for indications that the book shepherd’s reply is up to date.
  20. What type of printing and binding processes should I research?
  21. How do I obtain a barcode?
  22. Should I order a physical proof of my paperback, or is the digital proof sufficient?
    Recommended: Always order a physical proof to determine if your book is ready for the market.
  23. Will you help me create a marketing plan for pre-publication, launch, and post-publication?
  24. This is my first book. What kind of distribution do you recommend?
  25. How long will my book be on the market before I know if it’s a success or not?
    Listen for: An answer that is tied to your goals and objectives. Each author defines “success” differently.
    Tip: As mentioned in a previous blog, be wary of anyone who claims to be able to ensure market success. Whether it’s a predetermined number of reviews, a number-one ranking, a certain amount of sales, or any other type of achievement—book shepherds do not control markets (even though they understand them).

Southern edge of the Lake DistrictIn Conclusion: To Spot A Professional

In this blog series we have covered a lot of terrain—book editing, design, and production, as well as standards, terminology, and telltale signs of a professional in each area.

I’ve provided examples, tips, and recommendations to help you choose the best support team possible.

It is my hope that, by now, you feel much more knowledgeable and confident as you engage other professionals to help you publish your book. The book world is a beautiful one. Enjoy it!

My forthcoming book anthologizes these blogs in one, handy guidebook:

The Help You Hire:
How to Tell If an Editor, Designer, or Book Shepherd
Is a Self-Publishing Professional

It also will include an additional chapter on how to fix a problem relationship, should that arise, as well as resources for authors to learn more about self-publishing.

I welcome your input, feedback, and questions—just contact me through my website, listed below.

It has been an honor to write these blogs for the readers of Writers’ Fun Zone. Thank you.


Editor’s Note: Mary, It has been an honor to have you share your knowledge and wisdom with us. We look forward to your book.



Mary NeighborSome call Mary E. Neighbour a “book shepherd,” though Mary wields a blue pencil far more expertly than a herding rod. For the past ten years, she and her husband have helped dozens of writers bring their manuscripts to the marketplace, through MediaNeighbours, their publishing services business.

Passionate about helping authors make their work shine in the world, with a combined professional expertise of over 50 years in editing and design, this family team is one you’ll want to adopt as your guide through the challenging world of independent publishing.

Mary’s other passion is learning about the history of slavery and how it impacts race relations today. She incorporated much of her research into her novel, Speak Right On: Conjuring the Slave Narrative of Dred Scott

You may also like...