Book by Committee: Creating an Effective Steering Committee for Your Book Project

Publishing a book is a lot of work and, traditionally, organizations and businesses taking on book projects dedicate a group of people to act as a steering committee. Whether it’s a bicentennial book for your city, an anniversary book for your company, a history book for your museum or nonprofit, or even a collectible book for your capital campaign, a steering committee will give the project momentum.

When Columbus, Ohio celebrated its bicentennial in 2012, it brought together donors, sponsors, and stakeholders from leading organizations and businesses across Columbus. Its bicentennial book Revealed: Columbus evidenced the diversity in input by capturing a wide cross-section of Columbus culture.

When Columbus, Ohio celebrated its bicentennial in 2012, it brought together donors, sponsors, and stakeholders from leading organizations and businesses across Columbus. Its bicentennial book Revealed: Columbus evidenced the diversity in input by capturing a wide cross-section of Columbus culture.


But book-by-committee can be tough, as it involves multiple stakeholders and opinions. It helps to focus on a few key objectives when you’re assembling your team:

1.    Your goal is to manage expectations and outcomes—not production: You need a team of people who can help manage what the book will look like, what purpose it will serve, who it will be sold/given to, which company will handle its execution, and how much it should cost. You may help assemble materials for the book, or assign people to approve copy, photos, etc., but this group should not be responsible for actual production details, such as formatting the acknowledgements page or designing the cover. These are details best handled by a publishing partner.

2.    You will need diverse voices: A successful book project will incorporate a marketing and sales plan, compelling content and vision, and follow-through. It will help to assemble a team with varied experience either within your company or your community. City bicentennials, for example, often involve business and civic leaders across several industries.

3.    You will need a strong leader: This person sets the goal and timeline, manages competing opinions, determines the course of publication, and communicates with company or community leaders on progress and outcomes.

4.    You will need a project coordinator: This is the person who will communicate with your publishing partner. He/she will assemble and deliver content for the book, approve drafts and proofs, and relay feedback between your publishing partner and steering committee. This role is crucial—the process can break down if too many people try to communicate with your publishing partner.

Custom books are an investment in time and creativity, and they are only successful when they have internal support and a group of committed people. Don’t let the committee become too cumbersome, and don’t let competing opinions halt progress. With clearly defined roles, most obstacles that pop up during publication can be overcome.