Tag s | Pitching

Who Decides to Publish Your Book?

The 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 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 (all of this presupposes that you already have a literary agent who has helped your craft your proposal so that it will get reviewed by the right person at the right publisher):

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. Revised 2009 and 2015.

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Unsolicited Proposals: aka “The Slush Pile”

All literary agents receive dozens of proposal each week. Some in the mail and some via email. Last week was a slow week, only 30 unsolicited proposals arrived. (Unsolicited means proposals that are not from our existing clients. We get a number of those each week too.)  The variety can …

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News You Can Use – June 25, 2013

Elevator Pitches: If You Build it, They Will Come. – Excellent post from Susan Spann! Do the exercise on your own pitch.

Christian Stores See 8.5% Overall Gain in 2012 – Looks like the growth came from non-book items. That is good news in that it means traffic in the stores has increased and reversed recent trends.

101 Things to Do to Build Your Writing Platform –  My advice? Don’t try all of them at once, your blood pressure can’t handle it. But pick ten and see what you can do with them by the end of Summer.

Helen Keller on Optimism – Amazing. If she could feel this way (she was deaf, dumb, and blind), why are you complaining?

Helen Keller on Optimism – Amazing. If she could feel this way (she was deaf, dumb, and blind), why are you complaining?

“Writing and the Brain” infographic. – You tell me. Does this help you understand how you think as a writer?

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News You Can Use – June 18, 2013

Self-Published eBooks Account for 12% of the Entire Digital Market – Watch the stats for trends.

How People Read Online – Does this mean I have to shorten my blog posts? And if I do will you still skip the last 2/3rds of what I write anyway?

Three Scriptural Cautions Against Self-Publishing – Do you agree or disagree? (and then read the next link below)

Three Reasons to Support Self-Publishing – A rebuttal to the previous link. I appreciate careful discourse and debate that does not devolve into chaos. This point-counterpoint is a wonderful example of how to conduct this type of conversation.

Did You Forget to Pay Royalties for Singing “Happy Birthday”? – A fascinating article which tells of a company who is suing to get “Happy Birthday” declared public domain. Ever wonder why restaurants all have their own song for celebrating birthdays? They don’t want to receive an invoice from the copyright holder who makes $5,000,000 a year in royalties.

3 mistakes to avoid when following up on a pitch – This article can be applied to pitching editors and agents too.

10 Blogging Tactics To Maximize Long-Term Results – Excellent advice from Heidi Cohen. I get this kind of question a lot from authors trying to use their blog to market their books.

The Overwhelming Force of “Gradual” – Seth Godin talks about building low and slow for maximum success.

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Do You Have Perfect Pitch?

Thanks so much for all the ideas for my mini-conferences. I’ll put those together soon.

Speaking of conferences, while I was at a writer’s retreat awhile back, I was struck, as I always am when in the company of writers, by the power of the right word used in the right way. On the first day of the conference, I had group meetings with the writers. This is where a group of writers come in, sit at a table together, and each takes a turn pitching his/her book to me to see if I would be interested in representing the author. I had six groups, each lasting a half hour, made up of anywhere from 5-7 people each. So folks had a total of 3-5 minutes to engage me in their project.

It’s the writer’s conference version of speed dating!

The cool thing is, a good number of those who came had such a strong understanding of their project and of the market that they were able to hook me in the first few words. Now that’s doing your homework! For example, one woman told me right off the bat her book was romantic suspense, what the main story line was (in a sentence), and what the conflict and spiritual takeaway were. That took about 45 seconds of her 4 minutes, so from there I asked questions about the story and focus and she was able to relax and just talk. I ended up asking her to send me the proposal. Don’t know if we’ll pursue it–the writing is what tips the scales, of course. But I was impressed with her well chosen descriptions. And if I’m considering two manuscripts and all things are basically equal, I’ll always go with an author who is, first and foremost, teachable, and then able to communicate the heart and soul of her story quickly and effectively.

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News You Can Use – April 10, 2012

Pew Research Findings on E-Reading – If you want a sense of what’s happening, read this article. Then once you’ve digested it, read Mike Shatzkin’s evaluation of the data. Together the articles may take an hour to absorb.

The Perfect Elevator Pitch for a New Job – Interesting article with applications for a writer creating the perfect pitch for their book idea

Five Best Bluetooth Headsets – A link for you techies out there. If you have a favorite vote in the comment section.

Judging a Book by its Cover – A 17 minute lecture from the TED conference by a book cover designer (Chip Kidd has been a designer at Alfred A. Knopf since 1986). At turns amusing and enlightening. If you are an author and want to get inside the head of a designer in an entertaining way, consider watching.

Five Great Movies about Writing – Have to admit never seeing any of these. Am I an uncultured sloth? Don’t answer that question. Instead add your two cents in the comments below.

Infographic on how the Internet is ruining our brain:

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The Wild Pitch

In honor of the upcoming baseball season I thought it would be fun to explore the art of pitching.

A couple years ago I was watching a Major League baseball game and the pitcher unleashed a horrific throw that sailed about eight feet behind the batter. It floated to the backstop without a bounce and everyone in the stadium wonder what had just happened. It looked like the pitcher lost his grip and could not stop his delivery. In baseball terms this is classified as a wild pitch.

Unfortunately many writers unleash a pitch on an agent or an editor before it is ready to deliver. Let me list a few actual letters I have received.

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Why Do I Have to Jump Through Your Hoops?

Recently, my assistant had a conversation with an author who did not send a complete proposal. The author was referred to our guidelines and gently reminded that we needed more material in order to make an evaluation. But instead of saying “thank you” for the guidance, the author declared they did not have to jump through any hoops, and took the opportunity to aggressively express their complaints about our review process.

What made this all the more frustrating to us is that it happens more often than you’d think.

Why All The Work?

Have you ever worked in an office where you could swear one of your coworkers could find something — anything — wrong with your work so they could get it off their desk and back onto you? Well, that’s not what we are doing when we ask for a proposal. We are not giving you busywork so we can get back to our soap operas and coffee.

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Charmed, I’m Sure

Dear Editor:

You really should meet this author! He knows all the best places to dine. I couldn’t believe the fabulous meal we were served at a hole-in-the-wall place I’d never heard of until I made his acquaintance. He has also been quite generous and charming to my family. My husband and my kids have nothing but great things to say about this wonderful author!

In our meetings both in person and on the telephone, he has convinced me that his book will sell millions! And because of his extroverted manner and considerable verve, I believe it really doesn’t matter if his book is any good or not. His platform isn’t anything great yet, but it will be — as soon as he gets paid your hefty advance so he can travel the country, taking meetings. In fact, he wants to meet with you at your early convenience. Can you fly out to meet him in Charlotte on Tuesday morning? 



Of course I would never send this letter like it to any editor, but on more than one occasion, I have found that this is how authors seem to think marketing to editors works.

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Would You Buy Your Own Book?

When I ask a room of writers if they would buy their own book if they saw it on the shelf at a major bookstore I am met with a variety of reactions. Laughter. Pensiveness. Surprise. And even a few scowls. How would you answer that question?

But the question is meant to ask if your book idea is unique. Whether it will stand out among the noise of the competition.

It is not a question of whether your book is important or valuable or even well written. It is ultimately a question of commercial viability.

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