What are publishers looking for?


Writers understand that publishing is a business, but novice writers seem to think that business begins when their book goes to print. not so The business begins with a brainstorming session.

Idea meetings are often attended by a mix of a publisher’s editorial and marketing staff, and attendance can vary depending on who is available on a given day.

Although they may be scheduled for the same day and time each week, these meetings are basically informal and unstructured, more like group discussions. They usually don’t have a written schedule or agenda; everyone sits around a table and the atmosphere is collegial, relaxed and frank.

Publishers update the group on book proposals to generate discussions in which everyone participates. The group asks questions, gives opinions, and offers information about similar or competing books.

Brainstorming is essentially exploratory. Its purpose is to challenge proposals by closely examining and analyzing to see if the proposed project would make a good book for the house to publish. They discuss whether they think the company should spend more time and resources on each book discussed.

At brainstorming sessions, proposals can be rejected, but they cannot be given final approval.
In these meetings, the group wants to see if the book has a strong hook and how it is placed. The proposal must clearly answer the following questions:

What is the book about?

Is there an audience for the book?

If so, who is that audience?

Where will it be stored? Books that do not have clearly identifiable places on bookstore shelves are lost. Booksellers don’t know where to put them and potential buyers don’t know where to find them.

Can the book be produced in a way that adds value to readers? For example, if all the books on a topic are priced in the $30 range, can the publisher deliver this book with a higher word count or information not in the competing books and sell it for $12, 95?

“A book has to be clearly identifiable as something new to the market,” according to Gary Krebs, editorial director of Globe Pequot Press. “New to market means it can be about the same topic as something that’s already out there, but there has to be a new twist, a new direction, which can sometimes just be a change of format. Or, it could twist an existing topic …for a new demographic like female entrepreneurs, when all other books were aimed primarily at men.”

All decisions are market driven; the group must believe that the proposed book can make money for the company. Publishers, as well as marketing representatives, will generally not support a proposal unless they believe the book may be commercially viable.

If the proposal survives the brainstorming, the publisher who defended it usually prepares a report or pitch package for another committee; one who has the authority to acquire the property. The report or package includes research on sales figures, competitor books, comparable history of the publisher’s other books, recent publishing trends, and whether this proposal fits with their overall view of what they’ve done in the past and want to do in the future.

In many houses, the champion prepares a profit and loss (P&L) statement for each proposed book. If the company decides to make an offer to buy the book, the profit and loss statement forms the basis of the price the company will be willing to pay for the book.

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