Who Decides to Publish Your Book?

terminatorThe editor you met with at a writers’ conference liked your proposal and asked you to send it to her after the conference. She was already talking about format and promotion ideas. Or you submitted a proposal through the mail and received an enthusiastic response from the acquisitions editor. Four (or maybe six to eight) months later, a rejection letter showed up in your inbox or mailbox.

What happened?

No matter how much editors like potential books, they don’t have final say in sending contracts A lot of other people are involved in the decision of whether to issue a contract or a rejection letter.

Before becoming an agent I worked 11 years as an acquisitions editor and later as an editorial director for Bethany House Publishers. Most publishers have two physical board meetings to help make the decision whether or not to publish a book. This process varies from publisher to publisher and each company has its own name for its board meetings. Thus many authors get confused when hearing different labels.

Some rejections state that “the book did not get past the committee.” This statement can mean a lot of things. It could even mean it didn’t get past stage one below. So take a comment like that with a grain of salt, or at least get clarification if you wish to know how far your book actually went in the process.

Let’s look at the stages your proposal goes through in this process:

Stage One: Editor

The first stage is with the editor, one-on-one. This person must decide which book projects he or she wants to sponsor to colleagues. Most rejections happen at this desk. For some reason it didn’t click. Rarely does anyone else in the company see the rejected proposal at this stage. Some junior editors may show it to a senior editor, but not in a formal presentation meeting.

Stage Two: Editorial Board

The second stage is the editorial board. Editors gather together and pitch their discoveries to other editors. The editors create consensus for the project and occasionally brainstorm a different direction for it. If you get approval at this stage, many editors will call the agent or you and tell you the good news. But this is only a mid-level step.

Stage Three: Publishing Board

The third stage is the publishing board meeting (aka pub board). This is the biggie. Again, each company operates differently, so consider this description as a generalization. In this meeting are the company executives, presidents, vice-presidents, sales and marketing folks, and editorial representatives. I’ve heard of these meetings having as many as 20 people in attendance. Likely it is closer to 10 at the most.

Most editors have worked hard prior to this meeting. They have put together pro-formas that show the projected sales and profitability of the project. Likely they have already gone to the sales department and received a sales projection. Some go as far as gathering printing bids for the book prior to the meeting. Each member of the committee receives the pro-forma and a copy of the book proposal. (I can’t emphasize enough the power of a top notch proposal.). The executives receive this information before the meeting but not all are able to read it in advance.

It is this meeting where every objection possible is thrown at the book. Participants come up with reasons why this idea is a failure and why it should never be published. The discussion can be brutal. The editor is the advocate who defends the book against objections. If it survives this gauntlet, it will likely survive the general marketplace. In my time at Bethany House each project took a minimum of 15 minutes to present and receive rejection or approval. But some discussions lasted an hour.

There were times I went into the meeting expecting a slam dunk and got rejected. Other times I thought I’d get shot down but ended up with approval. An editor considers it a good day when 80 percent of what he or she presents in the pub board meeting gets approved.

Reasons for approval can be everything from pure economics to personal agendas by an executive. If that executive loves the topic, he can push the rest of the meeting toward approval. If everyone is tired and cranky, then the proposal may be doomed for publishing success. This is a subjective business, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the pub board meeting.

At this stage, the editor has company approval of the book. Some publishers authorize the contractual parameters in this meeting. Others have to have a separate meeting with the finance department.

But now is usually when the editor calls you or your agent with the good news. Negotiations begin on the contract, and you are on your way to your next published book.

Originally published Published in The Advanced Christian Writer, September/October 2005.

24 Responses to Who Decides to Publish Your Book?

  1. RefreshMom June 25, 2009 at 3:45 pm #

    Great info Steve (would expect nothing less from you!).

    Welcome to the dark…er…blog-side. Better late than never!

    Mary Hampton

  2. Robert Treskillard June 27, 2009 at 5:38 am #

    Welcome to the world of blogging, Steve!

  3. S.D. Smith June 27, 2009 at 6:21 am #

    Thanks for linking here Robert Treskillard. Looks like this will be a helpful place for useful advice.

    As far as blogging goes, Steve Laube is no longer a secret agent man.

    Good.

  4. Dineen Miller June 28, 2009 at 10:09 am #

    Welcome to the blog world, Steve! Looking forward to stopping by often :-)

  5. Claudia Mair Burney June 28, 2009 at 10:41 am #

    Welcome to blogging, Steve! Great to see you here.

  6. Robin Caroll June 28, 2009 at 11:02 am #

    Welcome to the realm of blogging, Steve. Great, informative post.

  7. Fran June 29, 2009 at 3:25 am #

    So, after everything we go through in the agent-query stage, triumphantly finding one who loves the work, we have to face more of the same, perhaps three times over. And if that final board is tired and cranky, forget it.

    It’s a good thing that I love to write, and can’t put it aside. If I wrote to publish, I’d be be an optimistic fool.

    I have my my agent, after months of rejection, and thought I was in the home stretch. Now I’m not sure.

  8. Mary DeMuth June 29, 2009 at 10:58 am #

    Hi Steve, welcome to the blogosphere! Glad to see you!

    A quick note: I have a publishing blog called WannabePublished in case your readers are interested. I feature industry professionals (would love to interview you if you’re interested), do free critiques, offer feedback on pitches, and answer tons of publishing questions. Here’s the link:

    http://www.wannabepublished.blogspot.com

  9. Vickii Hinze June 29, 2009 at 11:03 am #

    Steve, I’m going to send this to my Writers’ Zone group. Not the article but the link. Great info and I think it’ll be helpful to them.

    Thanks!

    Blessings,

    Vicki

  10. Gina Conroy June 29, 2009 at 11:09 am #

    It’s about time you joined the blogosphere! Glad you made it!! Now we just have to get you to twitter!

  11. Jody Hedlund June 29, 2009 at 11:11 am #

    Wow, this was just what I needed to hear! I think my book is in stages 2 and 3 right now. Rachelle Gardner is my agent and got me through step one, the first editor. I knew more people would be looking at my book, but it’s great to know more specifically what’s happening. Thank you for such an informative post.

  12. Michael Snyder June 29, 2009 at 12:31 pm #

    Excellent! Not only will this new blog prove to be a valued and consistent source of good information…it looks like a fantastic place to hang out and procrastinate!

    So be warned…you may be contributing to the delinquency of an author(s) on deadline. I hope your conscience can handle it!

    Mike

  13. Rebecca Barlow Jordan June 30, 2009 at 12:11 pm #

    Great blog, Steve. The information will be helpful to so many. I’ll recommend it often, and link to it soon, so even more writers and readers can benefit.

    Blessings,
    Rebecca Jordan

  14. Tawna Fenske September 9, 2010 at 11:23 am #

    Terrific info, thanks!

    There were several times prior to my recent three-book deal where my agent would tell me we’d made it to the editorial board or pub board (only to get shot down). I never knew for sure what that process was like, so this is wonderful to see it broken down so clearly. Thank you!

    Tawna

  15. Lynn Dove September 9, 2010 at 11:43 am #

    I appreciate you sharing this with us. As a “rookie” novelist, it can be discouraging to get rejection letters. I appreciate your insights here.
    Lynn

  16. LaTonya Jones September 9, 2010 at 11:52 am #

    Nothing drives the advice, “Don’t quit your day job”, home better than articles like this. Thanks for the insight.

  17. Katie Ganshert September 9, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    I LOVE this post, since my manuscript has been awaiting pub board for several months now. The waiting isn’t fun, but it keeps getting pushed back. I really hope everybody’s in a super, super good mood when my manuscript finally gets there. :)

    • Luisette August 4, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

      This is a fantastic blog. My book in in stage 2 and I finally understand how it works. thanks so much.

  18. Jen April 25, 2012 at 4:22 am #

    This is crazy! I’m just getting started, so YIKES! Thank you very much for the information. I have finished book one and am on book two. I knew that the Book Proposal was important (still working on mine for the 1st book), but this makes it even more intimidating to get it right!

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