As a new writer, you might be tempted to accept the erroneous goal of scoring a contract with any old house who will take you. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, per se, if you happen to be someone who would marry the first person who proposed offering a couple of kisses a week and a Christmas card once a year. Or if you’re the type of person who hands over your pride and joy to the first clean-shaven man at the park who comes along offering a ride on the merry-go-round, handing over your year’s worth of carefully crafted words might not sound all that nutty. After all, beggars can’t be choosers.
But why is it your goal to be published? Do you remember? Wasn’t it to impact lives? It isn’t possible to stress this too much: write to impact lives and being published is just a matter of time. Your goal should be to ensure your words are given their best chance of reaching their intended audience. But how?
Learning a house’s publishing philosophy is taking their mission statement (often in the writer’s guidelines, catalog, or home page), comparing it to the books they’ve recently published (say, the past 2-3 years), and getting a feel for the type of content they like. The bigger the house, the harder (and arguably less important) finding the pub philosophy is going to be, but as a beginner, don’t make the mistake of letting your agent tell you where you belong only to find out down the road that your agent doesn’t read client’s books.
Senior editors and the acquiring editor you will be working with have the most to do with the success or failure of your book. Marketers, publicists, sales reps, and bookstore conglomerates will strongly disagree with this statement. But they generally don’t actually read the books either (yeah, I’m being evil). If you have to, and you probably will, be prepared to ask your editor some direct questions like, “Why did you get into publishing? What is your highest goal for the book? What invigorates you about this project?” Les Stobbe, writer/editor/bookseller/publisher, recommends asking every interested editor about the publishing philosophy of the house, what examples best reveal that philosophy, the tenure of the editorial team. Who have they published and what is the message of those books? Has the publisher published books that are compatible with your philosophy? And how did those books sell? It’s a relatively simple thing to look at the bestseller lists on the sidebar or even Amazon’s current numbers.
Now don’t misinterpret. I’m not saying hold out for a golden goose. Compromise. And don’t be pushy. But sleuth around. This book is the tip of the iceberg. Most seasoned authors have a handful of books they consider “sacrificial lambs” that helped land the bigger deals. But they could have avoided a lot of headache if they’d taken the time to wait a bit before signing the contract.
So, be a smart seller and check out the house before signing. Of course, you increase your chances of making a good decision by listening to your literary agent.
More on that tomorrow.