Book publishing: behind the scenes

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WARNING: There is publishing lingo in this post. I’m sorry. I haven’t used a lot of that so far because I don’t like the false glass wall between publishers and writers. But for this discussion, I figure it’s good to hear some of the terms that might be thrown at you, in case you’re ever at one of those power lunches and your editor’s talking an alien code language.

Discussions: When your agent brings your manuscript to a publishing house, many things happen. If it’s good writing and deemed appropriate, the agent will be called and a meeting set up to explore the possibilities of working together. More and more it’s becoming commonplace early in the process to discuss whether your book will include a study guide or other supporting material. And yes, even in fiction. Not that you would necessarily be writing the study guide yourself, but acquisitions boards want to know if there’s a practical aspect, marketing angles, “spin-off” or series potential. Basically, they’re considering how much life they’re going to get out of this. No one wants a “one off” that maybe sells, but then doesn’t go anywhere—or plug readers into more. Increasingly, books are campaigns and authors are brands, and even in the Christian ghetto most publishers want to see you’re an author with “legs” and an “evergreen” concept.

After your book is read and discussed a little in editorial, someone (usually the author’s in-house contact) writes up a vision statement.

The vision: In my publishing microcosm, this short and sweet document is the honeymoon phase where the acquiring editor or author rep. gets to wow everybody with your amazing book. It’s not much more than an initial memo or email that goes to the other pub. board members to say, “Here’s a book we like; what do you all think?”

The strategy statement: This document is where the acquisitions board evaluates things like “project background” and “justification for publishing,” “project objectives,” “primary target audience,” “distribution channels,” assumptions about the audience, “desired change” and “primary benefit,” and finally tone and style. Every effort is made to characterize your book as a big deal, unique, and powerful. As an author, you won’t be involved at this stage, but you can bet you’ve been evaluated and found to be all these things at least by your editor before getting this far.

Tomorrow we’ll get a bit more detailed about the contract and other negotiations that often happen up front here.

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