Behind the Scenes
at a Pub Committee Meeting
Let’s pretend this is a small-ish imprint where everyone gets along and respects each other. In other words, it’s a bit of a fantasy but you know, we like to pretend here on my blog. This is vastly simplified – it’s just supposed to give you the flavor. And we’re only going to see about ten minutes of this meeting (which usually lasts a couple of hours.)
A boardroom with chairs and a fancy table made of Peruvian Mahogany that was purchased with proceeds from the imprint’s first bestseller. On the back wall, a matching bookshelf filled with all the imprint’s bestsellers since then.
Everyone brought their own coffee because no two people agree on which is “the good stuff.” Assistants have provided bottled water – the environmentally irresponsible kind – and cookies.
We sneak into the session just as the team is finishing up discussing a project presented by Editor One.
Sales Director: I just don’t see how we can sell enough to make that P&L work. Ten, twelve thousand, maybe. But nowhere near thirty. His previous sales are just too low to warrant a bigger number. Last two books sold ten thousand each. Hey, can you pass me a cookie?
Editor One: It’s one of the best manuscripts we’ve seen this year. It could be a breakout novel.
Publisher: I’ll agree he can write, but the numbers just don’t add up. Could we get it with a much smaller advance?
Editor One: Maybe…
Finance Director: The numbers don’t make sense even with a smaller advance.
Marketing Director: I don’t think that would change my vote. I just don’t know how to position it. I agree the writing is excellent, but there’s no compelling hook. “A motley group of expatriates goes to Pamplona for the running of the bulls.” Who wants to read a novel about bullfighting?
Sales Director: My vote’s a definite no on the book but a definite yes on this cookie.
Publisher: Well, then let’s not waste any more time on it. This one’s a pass. Next?
[Editorial Director offers consoling look to Editor One, who grabs four cookies and leaves the room. Editor Two appears and takes Editor One’s seat.]
Editorial Director: Editor Two is here to present A Bite of Justice, a young adult novel by New Author. We think this could be huge.
Marketing Director: Ah, I loved this one.
Publisher: I didn’t get it.
Marketing Director: What’s to get? It’s To Kill a Mockingbird, but with vampires.
Publisher: You mean it’s True Blood, the novel.
Marketing Director: You don’t watch HBO, do you.
Publisher: No, stab in the dark. Okay, my question is, can we still sell vampire books?
Sales Director: We can today, but I don’t know how long the vampire window is going to stay open.
Publisher: I thought it was already closing.
Marketing Director: Maybe for other vampire books. But there will always be a market for vampire books that don’t suck. Or that do. However you define a good vampire book. This one’s really good. And different enough to stand out.
Publisher: [To Editor Two] So tell us what’s so special about this.
[Editor Two spends two minutes going over the uniqueness of this book, sales figures for recent similar books, the author’s savvy social networking and huge Twitter following, and the potential for building this author into a major brand for the imprint.]
Sales Director: How soon could we get it into the lineup?
Editor Two: Manuscript’s complete and in great shape. New Author seems easy to work with.
Editorial Director: I think we can slip it into fall 2011 – there’s a bit of a hole there.
Publisher: I’m already talking to Big Name Author about that slot. Spring ’12, maybe.
Finance Director: [Studying P&L statements.] That’s a lot of money for an unproven novelist.
Editorial Director: The second P&L scenario is a bargain for a three-book deal.
Marketing Director: Can she deliver the other books?
Editor Two: The outline of the second one was in your packet. I think it could be better than the first.
Marketing Director: [Shuffles through papers.] Sorry – missed that. Mad Men was on last night.
Sales Director: Ah, Joan.
Marketing Director: It’s all about Peggy for me. We could use a few more Peggys around here.
Sales Director: And a Joan. The sales department needs a Joan.
Marketing Director: Take it up with HR.
Editorial Director: Well? Do we make an offer on A Bite of Justice?
Finance Director: Cut that advance by ten grand. Then yes.
Marketing Director: I vote yes. It’s clever and smart, but accessible.
Sales Director: My new secretary Joan and I vote yes.
[Editor Two avoids smiling, takes a sip of coffee and burns her lips but doesn’t let on.]
Editorial Director: I think we may be wasting our time if we offer any lower than this. We might even need to go higher.
Publisher: It’s not my kind of book. But if you can sell 25,000 in the first six months, I can live with the second P&L scenario at the advance listed here.
Sales: We can sell that many if you can release it no later than spring 2012.
Editorial Director: We can.
Marketing: Can she deliver book two in time for fall 2012?
Editorial Director: Absolutely. [Sends a look to Editor Two who is visibly cringing.]
Publisher: Okay then. New Author, this is your lucky day. Editor Two, P&L number two is approved with that advance and not a penny more. You think we’ll have competition on this?
Editor Two: Most likely. It was shopped wide.
Publisher: Talk to me before you up the offer. [Signs the P&L and passes it around the room so marketing, sales & finance can sign off.] Okay, what’s next?
Editorial Director: Bathroom Break.
Sales Director: [Shuffles through papers.] I didn’t get that one.
And so it goes…
Q4U: So what’s the takeaway here? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent
[…] pay cuts and layoffs. While many of them may be well meaning book lovers, they’re still in conference rooms and they’re similarly caught up in the scramble to restructure and remain viable. By the […]
Hey, you used to write magnificent, but the last few posts have been kinda boring’ I miss your great writings. Past few posts are just a little bit out of track! come on!
The Zune concentrates on being a Portable Media Player. Not a web browser. Not a game machine. Maybe in the future it’ll do even better in those areas, but for now it’s a fantastic way to organize and listen to your music and videos, and is without peer in that regard. The iPod’s strengths are its web browsing and apps. If those sound more compelling, perhaps it is your best choice.
>Wow, this was an eerily accurate portrayal, Rachelle. Signed–the Finance Director at a small-ish imprint where everyone gets along and respects each other.
>Pretty much what I would have expected. People are always going to be the key factor in deciding what hits the shelves and what does not. Personal opinion and reading taste, personality clashes in the office and market forces are the true determining factors.Talent is rarely considered in my opinion as there are tons of poor writing on bookshelves. This just gives me another reason to self publish.
>poor Hemingway. Well the business of America is business–even if its in the book biz.
>eeeek! my new agent is taking my first manuscript to pubs this fall! I read this post with an almost morbid curiosity, but kinda wish I didn't know (a great post, nonetheless. funny too). ! I'm going to go back to focusing on improving the book, trusting my agent.. .and the rest? Well it sounds like it depends on whether or not the moon (and economy) is in retrograde that week. again, eek! 🙂
>Ha, ha. I am sure glad I went the Indie way. Great post. Very funny and probably very true!
>whew, glad I missed that meeting!
>Yes, it's very good that this particular pub board didn't get to vote on The Sun Also Rises. They probably would have thumbed their noses at anything to do with bullfighting. Although "Death in the Afternoon" isn't exactly my favorite Hemingway story. I prefer clean, well-lighted places!
>Excellent post, Rachelle.
You write the book of your heart, because that will have your own unique spin on it. You write it as well as you can. You sign with an agent who believes in you (writing and potential).
Once you've subbed it to your agent, it's out of your hands. You trust God to direct your life (incl'g your agent and the pub board) and you begin your next project.
I had no idea what friends meant when they said it was going to pub board, so thank you Rachelle.
>I just KNEW they all watched Mad Men. I vote for Peggy.
>You just sent a zillion authors down the personal ebook publishing route.
>That I wish I was a newbie again, because us midlisters do not stand a chance.
The Sun Also Sets
>Note to self: accompany query w/batch of fresh baked cappuccino chocolate chip cookies. And include vampire, lamprey or leach subplot… Historic rehabilitation meets exurban flight with a blood sucking soundtrack!
>I object to publishers: the one service they have done me is to teach me to do without them. They combine commercial rascality with artistic touchiness and pettishness, without being either good business men or fine judges of literature.
– George Bernard Shaw
>My takeaway is that I'm glad I'm on the writing side of the desk, and not the other side. Big Name Author gets first dibs on holes in the publishing schedule and a marketable book trumps a great well-written book? Good to know, I guess, but I'm still glad to be more on the creative end of things than the business end.
>Sounds like the way meetings go from pre-school committees to parliament!
>"So what's the takeaway here? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?"
Obviously, you're telling me to chuck the bullfighting novel. Or that my protagonist has to be a vampire. A matador vampire. Wait, no, the bull has to be a vampire…
>So, even if book is one of the best manuscripts they have seen, and one that could be a breakout novel, it's all about the marketability.
And Big Name Author gets any hole available.
Brownies. More substantial than cookies, and chocolate does raise the happy levels.
>Informative yes but it should come as no surprise to any author or would-be author. This is the way it is, in board rooms across America and not just in publishing. With my first novel deubting in July 2011, I am well aware that my book made it through this process and am damn glad about it.
>This was so funny.
Thank you for writing this, and sharing it.
Like any industry where you're selling a product, it -has- to marketable, no matter what. You really showed that.
>This was interesting. I knew it was much more than the writing but to see it like this gives great insight. Thanks for the peek!
I agree with Jody H., script writing suits you.
Have a great weekend,
>Cookies must be new. I never got cookies when I was an editor.
>and here I thought the hard part was writing a killer query letter and getting an agent….
>Wow! Great post. Painful, but true.
Totally understand the position of Marketing Director, Sales Director and Finance Director. I worked in a finance department in a bank, and I remember how we discussed our budget. Same here. It's not about craft – it's all about business.
But keep hope in your heart and write.
>Maybe it's all the non-fiction author advice I've been reading – but it was apparent to me that platform matters for fiction too. Professor and a few others hit on it above, that it's up to the author to prove he or she has an audience waiting anxiously to buy.
>That was hilarious Rachelle! I want to see more of this. Maybe we should all be baking cookies as a sideline.
>Sad. On a couple of counts.
1. Peruvian mahogany? I hope you made that up ~ turning a profit from a bestseller into an environmental disaster…yuck.
2. The lack of thought evident through the comments made by the actors.
>I was cruising along enjoying the mesmerizing screenwriting until I imagined the ms they were discussing was mine and I face-planted on that slick Peruvian Mahogany.
My take: keep writing nose to the page and pray the dice all line up one day in my favor.
>Very insightful. Thinking maybe I'll smear my manuscript with cookie dough before mailing. Perhaps the aroma will influence the decision… or at least keep it on the table longer.
>New subscriber here. And am I glad!!
I'd heard something of this scenario from an acquisitions editor a year or so ago, so I wasn't surprised. It merely confirmed that he had given me the unvarnished facts.
I've had one miracle. My first effort (devotional gift book) will be out in January, so I may have used all my "luck" for the time being. Still writing, though, and hopeful.
>What great fun it was to plug my name in there for "New Writer." But wait! You left out the best part. The big auction…numbers being thrown out…telling my agent "Show Me The Money"…publishers grappling in hand-to-hand combat.
"Hello…Dorothy…Dorothy…are you awake? Now take off those ridiculous ruby slippers."
>LOVE this!! My take away is that at it's core, the publishing business is pretty much the same as any other business. The bottom line is that you have to make money to stay in business, and your company has to stay in business to have a job, so the employees of a publishing company are trying to figure out how they can make the company the most money. They have to balance risk with sure things, but throw in the "ah, why not, let's give it a try" every once in a while as long as the risk isn't too great.
>I think this is so funny. I worked in the art dept. for a publisher before freelancing. Just to be realistic, you should add something about a project being four weeks behind because the writer and the editor were trying to fix a problem and how the design department will make up the time difference.
You know, if you're after reality.
>Thanks for the peek at the industry side – it is a business, writers should never forget that!
>My take = realistic, not surprising, and all in a day's work. Thanks for your honesty and humor…well written.
>Yep, sounds like any other field in corporate America.
>This was entertaining and enlightening – thanks, Rachelle! (It was also kind of a cold dose of reality…)
>Sounds like, in the end, it takes an act of God to get published no matter how good you are.
I really like this post, by the way; it's intriguing. But I'm thinking of going into editorial work as a career, so naturally I drop everything to read it 🙂
>It’s weekly Case Conference in a homeless shelter! Insert the word “lice” wherever “vampires” is used. The editors are the social workers advocating for their clients; the publisher is our clinical manager that is short on words, but long on opinions. The directors play themselves, just like in shelter…Marketing-we need to spend more money, Financial-we need to stop spending money and Sales-we can raise more money to spend. Take away…it's a miracle that a room filled with brilliant, loyal, talented, hard working people get so much done.
>Ouch! I think my project hit pub board with one publisher this week. I was ok… till I read this. 🙂
But this was perhaps the most insightful thing I have read in understanding a pub board. Ouch but thanks!
>Thanks again Rachelle…
This is somewhat discouraging, but, I am not discouraged. Most of life is a gamble. And, I feel lucky!
>I'd have to say after reading this that I wouldn't want to be an editor for all the tea in china. (Sorry about the cliche.) And that it sounds like a lot depends on what was on TV the night before.
>Wow, this just goes to show how very subjective the publishing biz really is. Very good script (although I imagine the dialogue may also be peppered with more than a few curse words :-), especially if an editor is very passionate about his or her choices). Now, more than ever, I realize the importance of sticking with the day job…although my dream for the past half dozen years has been to write full time.
Oh well…so it goes…
>WOW, Rachelle, this was a very enlightening and entertaining look at the other side. Thanks for the insider's POV.
have a great weekend!
1) They're all guessing. And sometimes, more than rarely, they guess wrong.
2) I feel awful for editor #1
3) You can really write!
>Rachelle: Congrats on making the "Top 27 agents who want your work" in the current issue of WRITER'S DIGEST. Does that mean you're open to queries again?
>My novel survived THAT???? I'm the SHIZZLE!! LOL Just kidding. Here's what I got: Cookies good. P&L statements bad.
>This is brilliant. Thanks for this, Rachelle. It’s great to get a sneak peek at the inside scenes.
>I feel like I've been in this meeting a thousand times. I'm a Creative Director for a major video game publisher and 4 times a year I play the role of Editor and present concepts to "the board". The attitude is right one, P&L and RP (Responsibility Profit) make the decisions for pretty much everything that goes into production.
Amazing insight – thanks Rachelle – this was a lot of fun 🙂
>Your scenario is exactly what I was afraid of: Writers can spend months or years working on their books, only to have it blown away in a matter of minutes…sigh. Are almost all adult novels abandoned in favor of YA? Double sigh. Adults still love to read, and the last time I looked, most of the NYT bestsellers were mysteries and thrillers.
>It's amazing the publishing industry has survived so far, and completely obvious why print publishing will die soon.
>This is absolutely hilarious! And accurate too!
I remember one time having to ask the group to "pay attention" to my presentation because they were all tired and wanted to go to lunch! That poor author's proposal didn't have a chance.
My very first blog post attempted to pull back the curtain on this experience a little bit: http://www.stevelaube.com/book-contract-or-rejection-who-decides/
>Poor Hemingway. His "The Dangerous Summer" will never make the New York Times Bestseller list now. And he definitely will be a washout when it comes promoting his works with TWITTER.
>This would be hilarious if it were exaggerated at all. The only fantasy element I see is the fancy table and the bookcase of bestsellers. I've been in these meetings (call me Editor One), and I've had to give Author One the bad news. Given that none of my books feature vampires, sucky or otherwise, I probably won't be in New Author's shoes any time soon.
>Great post! I took away that it comes down to timing, personality conflicts, luck, the market, ego, and cosmic twists that no one can predict. Just like all aspects of life, no guarantees and plenty of curve balls.
>Meeting dynamics. Decisions that day are based on what's going on in the room, who's in the room, what they did/read/saw the night before and what the economy looks like on that given day. Rejections/contracts can't be predicted. Are never a sure thing. And we'll all go crazy searching for the "magic formula" for publication 🙂 I'll go with Aimee – boxers or briefs?
>I can't believe Billy said it was awesome, while I was dissolving further into a puddle of terror on the floor with each swig of the environmentally irresponsible water.
Before my agent landed me my three-book deal, we had a lot of near misses at the editorial board level. I always wondered what these meetings were like. Thanks so much for enlightening me!
>I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who makes big decisions over a batch of cookies.
You have a nice voice, tight writing, witty-engaging plot– Hey, I think you should write a novel! Or a screenplay, either or.
Can't wait for my novel to hit the pub board. Sounds like I'll need a miracle, but that's never stopped me before.
>I agree with Jody. Make it a TV show! Mad Publishing Men (and Women).
>First off, I want to smack my head against a wall.
The takeaway: What I already knew–that great writing isn't everything. That timing and topic and a bunch of other random things can factor into a sale. And that a second sale is never guaranteed.
>If God is for you who can be against you?
No matter how daunting the odds, if you've done everything within your power to get for yourself wisdom, discipline, and understanding; applied those principals to your writing, then you will eventually succeed.
Don't look at rejection as failure, look at it as another step on the educational ladder to reach your publication dreams.
>This made me laugh! My take aways: 1. Send chocolate. Good chocolate. 2. Sneak into said players' personal libraries to make sure your genre and style match more than half of the personalities represented.
>Great post, Rachelle! What I take away from this:
1. Write because you love to write and what you are inspired to write.
2. Keep working on your next book no matter where you are in the publication journey.
>Takeaway: You can write _The Sun Also Rises_ and reshape American writing for a generation (or more), or you can write _Twilight_ and get a good book deal. Strangely, it is a difficult choice….
>You've got your agent. You've got your publisher. And they're all rooting for you. Doesn't mean your book is going to make it on the other side of publishing. In the end, it's going to come down to perspective numbers. $$$
>Great fly-on-the-wall glimpse. Even better screenplay skills.
Not at all depressing, since reasonable variables that authors have some control over emerge:
Does the author come with an audience? (Even Twitter followers matter. Punch your cross-over audiences, speaking gigs, online presence in the proposal.)
Is the author unpublished or prior pubs? (Different anchor #s seem to be projected.)
Did your agent manage to shop the book widely? (And, does the acquisitions editor know this?)
Of course, it is also clear that, by necessity, it is a Guessing Game.
Yet, we love writing: the best activity that lets you play with your imaginary friends at all hours, well into adulthood.
>Awesome information! It's generous of you to share your inside observations as a past editor with over 13 years experience.
From the research I've done over the past year and half I have heard most of that information but your clear example has enabled me to visualize an actual setting of how the publishing process works.
Thank you for this great information!
You're the best!
>This was fun to read, and interesting, but as you say, the simplified version, only slightly suggests power dynamics among the group. In other words, who wins.
My guess would be most often, marketing, just because of what I have heard at conferences, etc and from the times I have been asked to change things in books, often expressed to me as what "marketing wants." "Marketing doesn't want us doing any more titles with the word… " etc. Or rejections saying "Marketing didn't know how this would fit on our list" etc.
So a lot seems to come down from marketing.
I usually have mixed feelings about that — on one hand, they have their hand on the pulse of sales, and we all wants sales.
On the other, I am a writer, and I want to write a story that's the best I feel it can be, not adding or changing elements that may or may not fit because of market numbers, etc. I think my editor is usually on board with this, but marketing is not concerned about creative integrity, etc. And editors often come back to us with changes asked for by marketing.
This more or less matched what I have imagined, but also I think the editors and the authors are often at the will of the departments that are more sales/finance oriented these days…
>I certainly hope the vampire window is closing.
Bring on the zombie love stories!
>This was actually encouraging to me. The more tools I have in my arsenal of information the better my chances will be, so I'm encouraged by the fact that I now know what a pub meeting is like.
I was also surprised by the part where they say "Do you think we could get it for a smaller advance?" "No."
Don't these people know that us writers will jump at anything to get our book published? I guess they see authors a lot better than I thought they did, and it now gives me some confidence. I DO have a choice and don't have to jump at the first offer made.
Thanks, Rachelle, for the insight.
1 – Getting that five or six figure advance on a first novel is exactly the opposite of the way for me to escape corporate politics or the drudgery of corporate life 😛
2 – I'm sooo glad I work for a marketing company now. Time to learn some new tricks.
>I think this was a great blog. It gives a great inside look, even if it is glorified, to whether a book is published or not.
>Thanks for confirming that these people have no idea what they are doing.
Self-publishing for me!
>I vote best post ever.
It was nice to get a taste of the business side.
>OneBigHappy: Consider this one small snapshot among an album of hundreds of other snapshots.
Yes, of course, all publishers have various considerations depending on what kind of book they're looking at, whether it's fiction or nonfiction, and what else is already on the list. Most publishers will balance "known quantities" with "fresh voices" (i.e. risks). Most also publish a few books that clearly have a smaller sales potential but are "important" books in some way.
>Makes me wonder about different kinds of publishers looking for different kinds of manuscripts. What might the difference be? Do certain publishers like to balance sales with prestige, like the film industry does?
>LOL! Thanks! A great post to start off the morning.
>Wow! I. loved. that. and I truly got it. What can I say? I'm a business person. You really captured the multiple personalities coming together for a common purpose. My take away? It's not personal to the people sitting around that table no matter how personal it is to the writers they're discussing.
1. You were enjoying your birthday champagne and had a lot of fun writing this.
2. It's all about the money. Always.
3. Editors like cookies.
4. Self publishing might be the way to go if you don't know how to bake cookies or write books about vampires.
>Thanks for the inside peek. I suppose if I send my manuscript inside a box of just-baked cookies and toss in some Starbucks gift cards… at least I'd know it would make it to the meeting. LOL
>LOL I loved this!! You showed them as real people in a setting that most of us can relate to if we've ever been in business. Thank you:)
>Great post! I felt like a fly on the wall. Kind of sad that while an author slaves away at his/her art, their future is often reduced to the publisher's P&L. Maybe best not to think about those things while writing….
>Confirmed some suspicions, but really, really confirmed that watching Mad Men is essential for success of my publishing career. I just need to write a book with a heroine who resembles Peggy.
>Will Rogers said that sausages and laws are two things one should never watch being made. For authors, I'd add "decisions at a pub board meeting."
Thanks for sharing. Oh, and what kind of cookies were those, and would it help to send some with the proposal?
>I was depressed BEFORE I read this.
>Aimee hit most all of it, but I would add:
Must have a compelling hook Marketing feels they can sell.
Your previous sales record matters.
>Hi Rachelle- The takeaway for me is that before sending a proposal, I need to spend a LOT of time researching ALL of the aspects of the book… not just the writing. I need to show that my book is a) sellable and b) well written and c) unique and– perhaps most important– d) I'm nice and fast and easy to work with and flexible as an author.
>My takeaway is what a few others said– you did a great job writing this. The Mad Men sidebar and the editor burning her lip on the coffee… good stuff!
>I'm struck by the similarity of interplay no matter the purpose of the meeting. Reminds me of departmental faculty meetings deciding on admissions to a competitive graduate program.
This is definitely a good take-away message for anyone trying to break into a competitive market. Thanks to Michael Hyatt for tweeting this post. Barbara
>My takeaway, like most of my insight from you regarding the publishing industry … It's all a crap-shoot; there's no accounting for taste; and the love of cookies is universal.
>That was awesome!
>Yikes! Hilarious and painful at the same time. Thanks for the inner look. I know it may sound horrible to some, but every business has this, whether it be publishing, law enforcement, or banking. Eventually, things come down to whatever the bottom line is for that particular business and the personal isn't relevant sometimes.
Are you sure you're not a scriptwriter? This was fun to read. 🙂 (as long as it isn't my book they're talking about, lol!)
>Awesome, Rachelle!! Loved this post and the creative way you described everything! I'm thinking maybe you need to take up script-writing in all your spare time! 😉
>Having an agent provides a voice for the author at crunch time.
>Write awesome books, say your prayers, and bake really fantastic cookies?
>It sounds horrible.
>Always write about vampires!
Um, wow. I know it's business, but it's sort of like brain surgery. There's only so much I want to know about the details.
(Goes back to desk with motivational quotations on walls, and looks for comforting blueberry bagel. Thinks about watching Jetsons' reruns.)
>It's also widely recognized that if the Marketing Director's tie is green, it's going to be a no.
>It's not just the writing, but the business. And who's at the table. And what the market's doing. And whether or not your Editor is having a good day. And whether the ED wears boxers or briefs….