“So, what do you do?” It’s an inevitable question in any social get-to-know-you gathering. And the questions generally go deeper when people realize that I work in the publishing world. Not that I’m so fantastic, per se. It just seems to be that everyone either wants to be an author or knows someone that does.
I’ve been a reader since forever so it’s really fun for me to be behind-the-scenes in an industry I benefited from for so long. Since some of you don’t know what I do or might want to know more, I’ll use this blog post to correct perceptions and answer some of the questions I get most often. It’s okay if you don’t really care and want to skip this one altogether. 🙂
1. “I/my sister/niece/next door neighbor/tae bo instructor has written a book. How can I/they get it published?” The answer to this one is a little messy. Why? Because every publishing house has different requirements and a LOT of people trying to get noticed in their endless stacks of submitted manuscripts. The company I work for, for instance, only accepts manuscripts through literary agents or submissions they collect at writing conferences. There could be a rare exceptions, but that’s our policy.
2. “What the heck is a literary agent?” Good question! A literary agent functions much the same as a talent agent would. They find quality authors with book proposals to represent. They have a great knowledge of what each publishing house’s requirements and how to match each book/author up with the houses that would most resonate with the book. They serve as a middle-man between the author and publishing house…and oftentimes as a guide to the process. Which leads me to…
3. “Let’s say an editor likes my book. What’s next?” Generally, your book proposal is put before what is called the “pub board”. The pub board is usually made up of high level representatives from all the departments in the company…editorial, sales, marketing, VPs, etc. The editor that picked your proposal will present it to this group of people after doing market research to back up why they want to acquire your book and running a P&L (Profit & Loss) statement based on how they think the book would perform.If the pub board gives the stamp of approval, the editor goes back to the agent and they hash out the details of the contract OR the agent weighs the contract that we’re offering compared to other publishing houses’ offer for the same book.
If an agreement is struck and the contract is signed, the first step is getting a manuscript in. Then the editor and author work on fine-tuning the book itself. While it can be straightforward, it’s not that unusual to purchase a book based on a certain topic/concept and have it change significantly through the editorial process. The editorial process includes not only content edits but also line edits which are more about the technical aspects of writing: grammar, spelling, identifying any potential inaccuracies, and the like. During this section of the journey, the art team begins designing a cover to represent the book. Once the manuscript is in it goes through production where they typeset the pages, finalize the cover, and get the book ready to go to the printer. There are LOTS of detailed steps that go into this that I don’t even fully understand.
Along the way, the marketing and publicity team starts putting together tentative plans to connect your book with the right audience. I’m in the marketing department, so this is where I come into this whole thing. For every book I market, I get a certain budget that comes from a line item on the P&L statement. I have to decide what the best way to spread the word about the book is based on the dollars I have. Is it running a full-page ad in a magazine? Is it creating a brochure for the author that promotes the books since they have lots of speaking engagements? Is it a social media campaign?
I have a love/hate relationship with marketing. I love how the landscape is always changing and I’m challenged to keep up with it. First it was MySpace. Then it was Facebook. Then it was Pinterest. Then it was Instagram. Next is it Vine? It could be anything and that makes things exciting and creative. How can I harness the assets out there in the world to make you learn about a book you will love and want to purchase? It’s a fun challenge that is renewed with every single book. Every author has a different message to share and every book has the potential to change the way people think. That’s just super cool and it never gets boring.
What I hate is that there are never enough hours in the day to fully master every medium that’s out there. As a marketer, I’m only as valuable as my last good idea and having to constantly assess how I can do each book justice can be draining and daunting.
The last step in this long staircase is sales. Sales reps visit with store reps to pitch our books for promotional placement in the store (such as the front table in B&N) and take orders. They also follow up with special markets like church bookstores or ministries that might have an interest in the product.
That’s basically it in a nutshell.
4. “Wow, that seems intense. Should I just self-publish my book?” It really depends on what your end goal is. Many people are using self-publishing and doing well for themselves. I think it can work, for sure. However, think through the process that I just wrote out. With the exception of the production, which would presumably come in your self-packaging deal, all elements of the process are now on your shoulders. Chances are that you don’t have all the connections you need with physical stores to purchase your book to widen your opportunity for sales. It’s likely, also, that your network of people is relatively small so building a marketing campaign from nothing can be really challenging. Having an editor that has an invested interest in making your book as great as it can possibly be and comes with a wealth of market knowledge that you don’t have is a huge benefit that you would be foregoing. Can it work? Absolutely. But this avenue of publishing is getting more and more crowded so it’s all about coming up with ways to make your book stand out.
5. “You’re an editor, right?” Wrong-o. I’m in marketing and that’s where I’ll likely stay. 🙂
So, there you go. Not comprehensive at all, but something to think on if this is a direction you’re headed. More questions? Sound off in the comments. None? That’s fine, too.
See you tomorrow, everyone!