How We Choose the Best Publisher

Recently I’ve placed several projects with publishers, and each of these projects had the good fortune of having multiple publishers interested in them. So my authors and I were in the position of being able to choose the best publisher among those who were interested.

Most people think these situations get resolved purely on the basis of money, i.e. whoever offers the biggest advance. However, as I discuss with each author who finds themselves in an “auction” situation, there’s more to it than money.

The real question is not, “Who’s offering the most money?” but “Who will be the best publishing partner for me?”

Here are 6 factors we consider when choosing a publisher.

1. The editor.

Crucial to the author’s positive publishing experience is the editor who’s acquiring the book. It’s important to us that the editor convey sincere enthusiasm for the author and their book(s). We want an editor who has truly caught the vision for the book and hopefully for the author’s career; someone who seems to appreciate the author’s unique style and wants to work with it (as opposed to immediately offering ideas for changing it).

We try to suss all this out in conversations with the editors. Usually when there are multiple offers coming in, the agent and author have conference calls with each editor. In addition, I have the advantage of already knowing most of the editors, so I have a feel for who they are before we even begin discussions.

2. The buy-in from the publisher as a whole.

It helps when the editor conveys that not only the editorial team, but sales and marketing and everyone up to the publisher and CEO love this book and author. A strong buy-in from the beginning can make a big difference in how well a book is handled.

3. The publisher’s track record with similar books.

We look at how well other books in the same genre have been handled. Often we have our own previous experiences with that publisher so we know how marketing and sales were handled, and we know how many units sold. If I don’t have personal experience with that publisher, most likely another member of the Books & Such team does. We also look at whether any of the publisher’s previous, similar books have been bestsellers.

4. The publisher’s contract terms.

The publishing contract is a big deal and each publisher handles it differently. If we have a choice of publishers, and we know for certain that one publisher is more likely to have more favorable contract terms than another, it’s definitely going to factor in to our decision.

5. The advance and other financial terms offered.

Lest you think I’m saying the money’s irrelevant… it’s not. Often the amount of advance offered is a direct reflection of the publisher’s enthusiasm and commitment. And let’s face it, a strong financial arrangement can make a big difference in an author’s life. So we definitely consider the money!

6. The author’s opinion.

Sometimes an author has had a “dream publisher” in mind for a long time. Sometimes they just have a gut feeling or a real connection with an editor on our conference call. If this is the case, it certainly goes into the hopper as one of the things to be considered when making this decision. The publishing relationship is going to be a long one that has a major impact on the author’s life, so they definitely need to speak into the decision and share their own thoughts.

Is this different that what you expected? What would be the most important to you on this list? Have I left anything out?


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. dennis on November 18, 2014 at 9:19 AM

    I have writtian a book about a serious road accident that turned into a political minefield the book is backed up by legal documents and letters and is of a factual basis .I have a offer of publication from a road transport magazine ,in fact they are the biggest in GB and i can say with confidence they sound enthusiastic ould i need an agent for negotiating deal

  2. […] Before approaching a publisher do your research […]

  3. Lucia Adams on July 13, 2012 at 6:43 PM

    Thanks for the great post! I found myself in a multiple-offers position and was really confused. The editor I’d always dreamed of working with was in with one of the offers, but they wanted to take my book in a different direction than I did. Ultimately, I had to do what felt best for my book. So many people advised me to go with a big publisher or to snag the offer with the biggest advance. Everyone’s idea of success seems be measured differently, but I never felt misguided when I’ve followed my heart.

  4. Rosie Pova on July 2, 2012 at 10:55 PM

    Thank you for this post! That question has been on my mind for a while and I wished to learn the inside scoop. Very helpful information, I’m sharing on FB!


  5. Beryl on June 30, 2012 at 5:32 PM

    Finally. I’ve been trying for several days, without success, to add a comment to your “fire in Colorado” blogs. Is there a limited space for comments? Or would it be a fluke on my side? Just wanted you to know how much you are in my thoughts and prayers. The last huge forest fire we had here in North Eastern Minnesota, the smoke was choking and the fire actually birthed an immense electrical storm midst the blackness of an early afternoon smoke laden sky.

  6. Friday Features #11 | Yesenia Vargas on June 29, 2012 at 2:23 PM

    […] How We Choose the Best Publisher by Rachelle Gardner at Rachelle Gardner […]

  7. Sterling Editing » Written on the internet on June 29, 2012 at 7:01 AM

    […] Rachelle Gardner describes how she chooses the best publishers for clients’ […]

  8. Ted Fauster on June 26, 2012 at 11:20 PM

    I went through a family crisis back in 2010 and had to sideline my writing. Back then I remember being told no one was buying any new books for the next two years. Well, it’s two years later and I am back in the game. How does the market look now?

  9. Patt Hollinger Pickett, Ph.D. on June 26, 2012 at 5:30 PM


    I am a self-help/inspirational writer on marriage and other relationships. I have a passion for sharing what I have learned in over 10,000 therapy conversations.Your approach to selecting a publisher is particularly important for this type of non-fiction because collaboration (and not control) is key to delivering the message of hope and change effectively.Thank you for you insight.

  10. Lucy McCarraher on June 26, 2012 at 6:06 AM

    Interesting summary, link posted on our FB page!/pages/Rethink-Press-Limited/170755143007307

    For those who haven’t yet got an agent or publisher for their novel, you might want to enter our New Novels 2012 Competition and win a publishing contract with Rethink Press.

  11. Laurie Buchanan on June 25, 2012 at 5:54 PM

    This is a very timely post as my literary agent took shared my manuscript at BookExpo America in New York a few weeks ago. Since that time, three publishers have asked for “more.” Among them my “dream” publisher.

    I’m in great hopes the opportunity presents itself for me to have to make a choice.

    I learned a lot from this post – thank you!

    • Sue Harrison on June 25, 2012 at 7:52 PM

      Oh good luck, Laurie!!!!

  12. Ted on June 25, 2012 at 5:52 PM

    4. The publisher’s contract terms.

    I’m sort of suprised this made the list. My research seems to indicate nearly every publisher offers the same terms to writers in terms of rights revision, basket accounting, royalty rates, etc.

  13. Julie Sunne on June 25, 2012 at 5:50 PM

    Thanks for the information, Rachelle. The more I read your posts, the more evident it becomes that authors benefit greatly by having an agent in their court.

  14. […] want to have the chance to publish our book. Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) describes How We Choose the Best Publisher at her agency. I’d like to think other agencies follow a similar path, but who knows? […]

  15. Lisa Jordan on June 25, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    When I submitted my first novel to my Fairy Godmother Agent, I had one particular publisher in mind. It had to be that publisher. Not only was the story written for that particular publishing house, but that publishing house tied into my spiritual journey as a Christian.

    My debut novel and second novel have been published by the publisher of my dreams, but I never expected to have the connection with my editor that I did. She’s simply darling and I adore working with her.

    As my Fairy Godmother Agent and I consider future books, I will have a very positive experience to use as a benchmark should we consider other publishers.

  16. Jana Dean on June 25, 2012 at 2:00 PM

    Helpful information, thank you!

    Enthusiasm for the project, strong track record, and respect all the way around stand out as essential elements for a long-term, successful relationship.

    Hmmm … maybe I need to go update my eHarmony profile while I’m at it. : )

  17. Lillian Archer on June 25, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    As someone whose agent has her work out on submission to publishers, I think when reading this list MY biggest concern is the editor, the house (financial stability, marketing, etc), and the contract. Money is an important item, but the other factors (like the contract, do you ever get your rights back, world rights, etc) has the potential to make or break the money portion of the agreement. I also think the author’s goals influence the order of priority- I am in this for the long haul, so my considerations are very different from an author who publishes a single work and moves on in life.

  18. Michelle Lim on June 25, 2012 at 1:40 PM

    Rachelle, thank you so much for sharing this insight. I don’t think I have read a blog on this topic before and it is extremely helpful information.

    *The interest in multiple books in a collection versus a purchase of one book at a time is important.

    *Who will set my writing career up for the greatest success both short and long term. Getting a large advance up front doesn’t always mean that you get the best financial arrangement for the long term.

    *An editor who values the spiritual thread of the novel attempting to maintain its impact or improve it through the editing process.

    *COVER.COVER.COVER. The quality of cover for my genre that they have produced in the past.

    Thank you so much for sharing this blog!

  19. Donna Pyle on June 25, 2012 at 12:44 PM

    I would much rather partner with a publishing house who has long-term goals in mind – not a one-shot book wonder. Money comes and goes. A solid publisher who helps shape careers is worth so much more.

  20. Josh C. on June 25, 2012 at 12:38 PM

    This list didn’t surprise me much. I think the first three are the most crucial, in no particular order.

  21. Colin Smith on June 25, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    I would like to think foremost in my mind would be the author-agent-editor relationship, and that I would value most an editor who gets on well with my agent and me, and who is invested in my career. I hope the money side of it doesn’t distract too much. Your advice from a while ago about advances still rings in my ears, Rachelle (i.e., it’s better to have a smaller advance that easily earns out than a huge one that doesn’t and ends up costing the publisher), so hopefully that will help me keep perspective.

    Thank you for sharing yet another interesting insight into the publishing world. 🙂

  22. Lindsay Harrel on June 25, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    The editor relationship would be super important to me. I’m an editor by day (I edit university curriculum), so I would want to have immense respect for the editor I’d be working with.

    I also would love a publisher who had an awesome marketing team. I know that new authors don’t necessarily get a lot in the way of marketing, but there are still some things a publisher can do to support them. I like that when I see it.

  23. Andrea Strong on June 25, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    Like many others, I sit at my computer and think, “Someday this might happen to me…if I ever finish my book.” It’s an encouraging and informative post. Thanks, Rachelle

    My question is possibly off topic, but only a little.

    Given your familiarity with various publishers and their editors, I’m wondering if you ever take on a client/project with a specific publisher or editor already in mind.

  24. Joe Pote on June 25, 2012 at 10:54 AM

    Oh, the many things a budding writer doesn’t know…

    Glad we have some good agents around to help navigate these sorts of issues and considerations!

  25. Heather Sunseri on June 25, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    I’m definitely thinking that #s 1 and 2 would be highest on my list. I want to know that the writer-editor relationship has the potential to be strong, and if given the choice, I’d want to make sure the entire team was on board with launching the best novel possible.

  26. Roxanne on June 25, 2012 at 10:34 AM

    Great list!

    The one thing I didn’t see is the level of commitment the publisher gives in terms of marketing the book and providing the author with publicity opportunities. I know that in any scenario an author must market her own book. But the level of commitment to supplement those efforts seems to be very different from one publisher to another.

    • Helen w Mallon on June 25, 2012 at 1:33 PM

      That is my question as well. I know writers have to do a lot of publicity themselves, but do some houses do more to market their writers than others?

  27. Jennifer Major on June 25, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    *Once* I get my agent, I’ll be itching to meet my editor. To me, the editor is the invisible dance partner who can come along and help me do the perfect pas de deux.
    My voice, like all of our voices, is unique. I don’t want someone to tell me to change my voice to suit them. I want them to get excited to hear mine.

  28. Jeanne on June 25, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    So many things to consider!Thanks for sharing all of this information, Rachelle.

  29. Brian Henwood on June 25, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    I hope to one day have this problem. For now, I will continue to search for the first of many (wink wink) publisers to show interest.

  30. Sandra Stiles on June 25, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    Thanks for the information. I had no idea how it all worked. So glad to have a heads up for future publication. Thanks.

  31. Cherry Odelberg on June 25, 2012 at 9:51 AM

    I think this is the most encouraging post I have read! It means that, “no doubt, the world is unfolding as it should.” It indicates that when I am exactly in the center of where I should be, the right doors will open. There is a plan and I am part of it.

    Patience and hard work is needed. Also, trust instead of desperation. Kind of like, well, a lot like relationships and not settling for something less because you cease to believe there is something more.

    • Jennifer Major on June 25, 2012 at 10:26 AM

      Honestly Cherry! Did you take notes from God on what to tell me today???

      Whoa, dude. You have no idea.

  32. Kristen Carmitchel on June 25, 2012 at 9:41 AM

    Thanks for the insight. I love that you take the time to clearly explain how this works. It’s good to take time to think beyond the financial offers — I’d personally think the editor would be a major factor.

  33. Summer on June 25, 2012 at 9:40 AM

    Now I just need to write my book! I’m sure it will be so good that I will get to pick from a dozen publishers.

    Well, I can dream, can’t I? 🙂

  34. Sue Harrison on June 25, 2012 at 8:15 AM

    Wow, Rachelle, what a great list! I think the behind-the-scenes deals are much more important than the money up front. I was fortunate to have one of my novels sold at auction, when the bidding narrowed to a final 3, we made our decision (with my agent’s advice) based on the stability of the company, the advertising budget and the editor I’d be working with. In doing that, we chose the lower advance money.

  35. Mercey Valley on June 25, 2012 at 5:50 AM

    Wow. This is really insightful. For me, having more than one person be interested in an idea I’d produced is a mind-boggling concept, and clearly not out of reach if it’s a regular occurence. Most important to me would be points 1 and 3, and then 6. Phwwaarrr… That’s a hard one, knowing who to go with when there’s a “name dream” at stake. Crumbs, I’d be relying heavily on gut, agent, and God. It seems like such a crucial career moment! Is it really a defining moment? I guess it could well be!

    Q: Is this something published authors ever have to face, or do they become loyal to the house they’ve had the most success with? Why would a published author seek to change houses? Hmmm… Is it like the movie Cars, where Lightning McQueen has his eye on a much-coveted position with Dinoco but chooses to remain with Rust-eze because they’ve been so good to him?

    • Sue Harrison on June 25, 2012 at 8:12 AM

      That’s a great question, Mercey. I switched publishing houses after my second book because the first house had been purchased by a larger European firm. All the people who had worked on my novels lost their jobs, and the new group just wasn’t as enthused about my books. Another publisher offered a lot of enthusiasm and a better deal for me so I chose to go with the second publisher – but only after my agent gave her blessing!

  36. Neil Ansell on June 25, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    One thing that is perhaps worth mentioning is that publishers may be offering slightly different things – a two book deal agaainst a one-book deal, world english language rights or welr plus american rights, and so on. Personally I didnt go for the highest bidder in purely monetary terms, I chose a publisher who had a fantastic list of authors I admired, partly because I thought in this company my writing might be taken more seriously and it would give me more credibility.

  37. Daphne Shadows on June 25, 2012 at 4:11 AM

    I will DEFINITELY keep all of this in mind. Thank you for bringing it up! They don’t exactly write a “What to Expect When Given Multiple Offers” manual.

  38. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on June 25, 2012 at 3:49 AM

    How about the level of innovation the candidates offer in publicity and platform building/expansion?

    I would guess that some publishers are cutting edge in this respect, while some are hanging back, being a bit more traditional?

  39. Aimee L. Salter on June 25, 2012 at 1:00 AM

    Sounds like a pretty comprehensive list.

    With all these variables, have you ever hit a situation where you strongly felt an author should go with one publisher, and the author felt strongly for another?

    How do you handle that, and what came of it (if it’s happened for real)?

    • Shannon Young on June 25, 2012 at 3:52 AM

      Ooh, that’s a really good question. I’m curious about this too.

  40. Walt Mussell on June 25, 2012 at 1:00 AM

    With regards to the comment about editors and “someone who seems to appreciate the author’s unique style and wants to work with it,” when you’re thinking about a potential editor, are you also concerning yourself with whether or not you think the editor and the author will get along or if their personalities might clash?