Friday 24 June 2011

Acquisitions Meetings

This is the crucial meeting in a publishing company, at which the Big Decision will be made about your book: to publish or not to publish. To get to this stage, the book has already seduced an editor. The editor believes that it is The Right Book For This Company. Now, she has to convince the scary sales and marketing people in the acquisitions meeting. This is when the editor's passion for your book has to translate into budgets and costings and projected sales figures. I have heard editors say they quake in their shoes before these meetings as they work out how to turn their feeling of "I love this" into "I know we can shift units and generate sufficient revenue." Gone are the days when the commissioning editors held sway at these meetings; now, it's down to people who haven't read your book and often don't particularly want to. Or need to.

For you, the aspiring writer, or me, the one who wants to continue to be published (please), it is very helpful (though uncomfortable) to know how the decision is made.

Let's look at all the things a sensible publishing company must decide:
1. Does it fit our list? (It's unlikely to have reached the acquisitions meeting if it doesn't, as the editor will know this anyway.) This translates into questions such as:
  • Which of our titles is it similar to?
  • But is it also sufficiently different?
  • Is this the sort of book we know how to sell?
  • Is there a suitable time-slot available for publication? Publishers have schedules and must not over-stretch themselves. Their schedule could be full for the next 18 months, and they are unlikely to want to commit further ahead than that. They also need to choose a month for publication and that month must not be too full, or have competing titles, or have bad astrological portents. (I jest. Slightly.)
2.  Do we have the budget for it? This translates into questions such as:
  • How expensive will this be to produce? Does it need illustrations? Will it be hardback, or paperback only? How long will it be and therefore how many pages? This, and such factors as thickness of paper, will affect other costs such as warehousing and delivery.
  • What sort of marketing spend will be necessary?
  • What sort of author advance will be necessary?
  • How soon are we likely to to recoup our costs? For this, an estimate of sales figures will be discussed.
  • What other books demand our resources, bearing in mind that no revenue will be generated till after publication, which may be well over a year away?
3. What is the likely market for this book? This includes:
  • Do we know how to get this book to its market?  
  • What is the history of books like this?
  • What is the competition for this book?
4. Is this book likely to gain critical acclaim (good reviews in good places, and perhaps award shortlistings) or commercial success? (Either is good enough!)

5. Are we likely to be able to sell foreign rights, if the author grants us those rights? (The advance and value of the acquisition will partly depend on which rights the publisher is allowed to control.) What about other rights, such as serialisation?

6. What about the author - how helpful and proactive will and can she be in promoting the book? This is where your online activity and "platform" come in handy. But if you are an aspiring novelist, don't fret excessively if you haven't done much about this yet, as the publisher really only needs to see your willingness and potential to engage in all the right promotional activities. For a non-fiction writer, your platform is essential as it will hugely affect how easily your book can sell.

Phew! What tough and nasty questions these are! Our gorgeous, passionate book gets picked over by the pointy-lapelled number-crunchers and ends up as a mass of figures and predictions. But we are best knowing this now, because if we try to put ourselves in the shoes of the people who make the decisions about our book, we are most likely to produce a book which will make them say YES.

How well-written your book is is for the editor to see - it's what will make her fall in love with it and allow her to make a judgement about its reception by readers. It's what will allow her to fight for it at the acquisitions meeting and beyond. But it's what the book sounds like when described pithily that is what will get it past the meeting. And that's why my previous post about hooks and pitches is so important.

There was also a previous post which explains hooks and pitches - please read it if you're at all unclear.

And talking about hooks and pitches, remember, you can pitch your story to your fellow blog-readers, if you wish. The details of how to do this were at the end of the more recent post on pitches. A great way to perfect it before you submit it to agents or publishers. Courage, mes braves!


Whirlochre said...

It's the marketing men I fear most — the guys who, as you say, might never ever read my stuff and almost certainly won't care.

In the gulf between their nod and my sigh of relief sits the editor — a gulf-away figure right now in his own right.

Then, of course, come the actual readers.

Maybe I should have taken up something easier — like catapulting horses to Venus without using my limbs.

Matthew MacNish said...

This is equal parts terrifying and exciting, which, I suppose, makes it rather profound.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Yep, you hit the nail on the head. I have to justify the existence of every book I pitch to the Submissions Team. Also why I drink heavily.

Go away google said...

Before now I've heard editors use the phrase 'acquisitions week' - meaning the meeting casts a pall over the entire week it's held in.

It really can be that stressful. Makes me really glad I don't do much acquiring.

widdershins said...

I am curious to know what of this list would be pertinent for a small 'e' only (or mostly) publisher. Any thoughts Oh wise and magnificent Crabbit?

TheClevies said...

I can't wait till I get to this point! Love your blog. Thanks!

Rebecca Bradley said...

A great post that gives incite past our own little corners of the book writing desk. Thank you!

Penwright said...

I once had an editor take my MSS to an acquisitions meeting (for which I wish bountiful blessings on him and his descendants until the end of time) only to come back and tell me "I loved it, but I couldn't convince Them to love it too" (for which I wish boils and nasty itchings on Them and Their descendants, etc.). I wanted to go to that meeting with him SO BADLY - as a natural control freak, it is very hard to let someone else represent me. I don't blame him for a second - and this blog post has shown me quite what he was up against.

Michele Shaw said...

Thanks for this important information. We have to be realistic when our work goes to publishers, knowing that number crunching plays a huge factor. It's not necessessarily the quality of the book which causes rejection.

Kathryn White said...

I understand all that you say about the BIG questions asked at an acquisitions meeting. However, there was a time when publishers paid an author a development fee. This kept the author viable, able to eat and able to dedicate the time needed to develop the book up to the standard required by the publisher. As Margaret Atwood commented, publishers should not starve writers. This is what they are doing. It is very short-sighted and to no-ones benefit to expect a writer to work on a text over a period of months without payment. Remember, editors, publicists and sales teams all get a monthly wage. Writers live on air.