The Process of Publishing
June 10, 2007 | Written by admin
Tons of questions — I’ll try to get to a couple of them today.
First, Cheryl wrote to ask, "What is the process of getting your proposal selected by a publishing house?"
Think of a publishing house as being an actual building. Your proposal is more than likely sliding into the building by way of a window known as an acquisitions editor (often an acquaintance of your agent, sometimes a person you met at a conference, or maybe a guy who lost a bet). They’ll read through it, make some suggestions, talk it over with your agent, and eventually make a decision on whether or not they think it’s worth pursuing. (Most publishers are relying on agents to do the initial filtering of junk, so the slush pile has sort of moved from the publishing house to the agent’s office…which means you’re going to have to sell it to an agent first, therefore adding one more step to this process). If the acquisitions editor likes it, he or she will take it to some sort of editorial committee, where they sit around grousing about their pay and making editorial jokes ("I’m having a DICKENS of a time with this one!" "Yeah, let’s catch a TWAIN out of town!" Editorial types love this sort of humor. That’s why they’re editors and not writers.) Eventually they’ll run out of bad puns and be forced to discuss the merits of your proposal. If it passes muster, it moves to the next step…
The Publishing Committee, which is a group generally made up of folks from editorial, marketing, sales, and administration. They’ll meet somewhere between once a week to once a month, and they’ll have an agenda of books to talk through each time, with the various representatives offering their own perspectives — the editors will talk about the mertis of the words; the accountants will figure out the costs and potential dollars in play; the sales guys will begin thinking up excuses for why they won’t be able to sell many copies; and the marketing people will sit there trying to think of how to cover their own sorry hind ends. (True story: Thomas Nelson just announced they’re doing a new book with Bill Cosby. I was once in a pub board meeting talking about a book from the world famous comedian, and the marketing representative spent her time explaining to everyone why she wouldn’t be able to garner any media for him. For Bill Cosby?! When I asked her about it later, she explained that she "couldn’t put herself in a position where others would have a lot of expectations" of her. Uh-huh. All that heavy weight of expectation for trying to get TV shows to talk to one of the world’s most famous entertainers. I explained that I could use my cel phone to immediately start booking him. Of course, editors have expectations put on them every time they bring a book to pub board. Just another example of those hard-working marketing types in CBA.) Anyway, this is the group that will explore the feasibility of doing your book. They may send it back to the ack editor to do some work.
At that point, the editor has to run a Profit & Loss sheet or pro forma, in which they’ll take wild surmises as to how many copies they can expect to sell in the first year, what the hard costs of ink/paper/binding will be, how much money they’ll have to throw at the money-grubbing author, who, if she really loved Jesus, would write her damn books for free, since we all know the publishers are only in it for the ministry. The editor will take all this information back to the publishing committee, who by now has had all sorts of time to think up new reasons why they shouldn’t do the book. Eventually the pub board will be forced to make an actual decision, so they’ll probably throw the Urim and Thummim, read their Ouija board, and make a decision.
All of that points to one thing: It’s tough to get published. A publishing house has all those filters in place so that they can do the easy thing and say "no" to you. (Really.) The purpose of the process is to say "no" to most everything. Therefore create proposals they can’t say "no" to.
Second, Andrea asked, "If a publisher turns down my proposal, does that mean everyone at the publishing house has rejected it?"
Maybe not. It’s possible the ack editor loved it, and the marketing people drooled over it, but the accountants replied, "We don’t see how we can make money with this one." If that’s the case, you or your agent may end up having another discussion with the company about their objections. Or you may have better luck with a different imprint, if the group you’ve been talking with said they liked it, but felt it would fit better with someone else at the company. Still, my experience has been that once a group of people have said "no," it’s hard to get that word out of their minds.
Going to another imprint may be a perfectly valid response, especially if you’ll be talking with a different publications group. I have been told "no thanks" on a project by one Random House imprint, only to be offered a contract by another Random House imprint. Sometimes it’s a matter of sticking with it and answering objections, other times it means you’ve just got to find the right group.
One thing to stay away from is to send something to different editors at the same imprint. Nothing ticks off an editor more than walking into a meeting and discovering someone else on the team is looking at an idea he or she just rejected. Unless you’ve thoroughly revised the proposal, it’ll make you look bad.
Lots more to come – keep those cards and letters coming.