Copyright 2020 Melanie Spiller. All rights reserved.
Choosing a Publisher, Part 2
MelanieSpiller and Coloratura Consulting
Now that you’ve spent hours in the bookstore gathering opinions and information, it’s time to go online. On the publishers’ websites, you’ll see a description of the series they publish, and they might also have handy descriptions of all the books on your topic in their series. If you’re really lucky, they’ll have a section for prospective authors, telling you what you need to do to get published. Have a look at each publisher in context of what you observed for yourself at the bookstore. It’s important that you do the bookstore look first, because a publisher’s ability to deliver on a promise is at stake here. If you came up with other interpretations of the publisher’s series, you need to look again, or possibly eliminate that publisher as a target because they’re not marketing accurately—sales will be low. Now, search Amazon for your topic. Strangely, Amazon has a six-month sell-in cycle, and they often publish information on upcoming books months before the publishers post to their own sites. Amazon posts information like page count, price, table of contents, and physical size, so you can see whether the advertisement and the truth match. Be sure to look up all the books in your preferred stack and get a few from outside that stack as well. You want to be completely informed about the competition so you can deliver something unique. Most likely, you’ve selected a publisher or two as your targets from all this research. It’s okay to pitch a book at more than one place, as long as you’re honest about it. For the pitch, you need an outline and audience description, your study of the competition (or lack thereof), and an approximate schedule to write. The Acquisitions Editor will come back at you with loads of questions and suggestions, so don’t get too attached to any single idea. The Acquisitions Editor’s job is to know what will sell and to help you focus your book to make the most sales.The Acquisitions Editor will talk to you about schedule, royalties, and advance monies. You can’t equate hourly compensation for the advance monies or royalties—for the most part, writing a book is not a good way to get rich: It’s a good way to get famous. Royalty rates are a percentage of sales, and you have to earn back the advance monies from sales before you get paid royalties; you and the publisher are making a bet on the success of the book. High royalty rates and low advances are probably the best way to get rich, unless the publisher really thinks yours is a one-of-a-kind book. But as a first-time author, you can’t expect high anything, so go into negotiations knowing that you are not famous yet, so you can’t demand the big bucks. It’s also okay to go with a publisher who pays less but who might offer more editorial support. Editorial support is irreplaceable for first-time authors. (Of course, you can always pay me to provide those missing services. I’m always happy to find new clients, because my old clients are getting too good to need my services much anymore.) Your first book is not likely to be as brilliant as you’d like it to be if you are writing without a good editor on your side. And if the first book isn’t brilliant, in this day of instant venting on the Internet, you probably won’t get invited to write another. It’s important to know what kinds of books a publisher produces, and what sort of support they offer their authors (check out my previous blog, Flavors of Editors, so you can ask about their process). Once you’ve gained your own insights about the publishers in general from bookstores in brick-and-mortar and online stores, email or call a few, ask for the appropriate Acquisitions Editor, and find out whether you connect with the person on your project. If you don’t feel comfortable with the person who is your advocate at the publisher (the Acquisitions Editor), you’re in for a very unhappy arrangement. The most important things to remember are:Stay flexible about what your book will look like.Stay flexible about the kind of book you’ll write.First-time authors don’t command big money.Writing books is a good way to market yourself.Believe me, there’s a lot more to preparing to write a book than just these pages of research advice. If you’re willing to do the work of preparing, you’re probably also willing to do the REALLY hard work of writing a book. There will be future blogs on royalties and other contract complexities, and on the difference between writing a series of related magazine articles and writing a book.