Posted On January 10, 2011 by Print This Post

Sourcebook’s Deb Werksman on the Book Acquisition Process

Happy 2011, RU crew! Today, Sourcebooks editor Deb Werksman kicks off RU’s year long “Behind the Book Scenes” series by talking about the acquisition process. Please help us welcome Deb.

THE ACQUISITIONS PROCESS

Every publishing house has its own process for acquisitions, so please don’t apply this universally, but this will give you a sense of how the process works at one house.

At Sourcebooks, we meet weekly to discuss potential projects and decide which ones to pursue. All the acquiring editors, our editorial director and our publisher attend. At some houses, salespeople, publicists and marketing staff are also included in the meeting. Our job as editors is to know what the audience is for every book we acquire, and to give our sales, marketing and PR staff all the ammunition to sell the book. We only acquire projects we believe we can make successful—we don’t do any “throw it against the wall and see if it sticks” publishing.

Prior to the meeting, I have a process for reviewing submissions that involves partial or full reads by me, my editorial administrative assistant, and sometimes outside readers. I review every submission, and I read every query, cover letter, synopsis and enough of the manuscript to evaluate the writing. I read until I’m clear that it’s something I believe we should publish, or until I’m clear that I don’t think it will work.

If a project is something I think we should acquire, I submit it for the meeting ahead of time to get it onto the agenda. At a minimum, I send in synopsis and 20 to 50 pages of the manuscript, along with author’s sales history, awards, and any other information that may be relevant to the subgenre, the category, competing or comparable titles, or previous titles by the author.

All projects must be entered into a database that includes the author’s name, who the agent is (if applicable), the author’s publishing and sales history, the category the book will be published in, the subgenre, who the editor is, and a brief pitch from the editor. The more lively and exciting I can make this short pitch, the better. Very useful for this field is the pitch the author sends me in their cover letter or other submission materials, especially if the author’s voice comes through in their pitch. This is also where I’ll comment on my vision for publication—how many books I want to offer on, which season I want to publish in, what the format and price point should be, and if it’s multiple books, at what interval subsequent books could or should be published. Sometimes I’ll note if I believe the title should change, and sometimes I’ll propose title alternatives or a series title.

Each editor assembles all our material prior to the editorial meeting. Since my office is in Connecticut and the meeting takes place in Naperville, IL, I submit my materials electronically and they are printed out and placed with all the other submissions hours and sometimes days before the meeting. Editors review each other’s submissions so we’re all prepared for discussion. Editors are very supportive of each other, but we never want a colleague to acquire something that isn’t going to be successful for us, so we’re very tough on each other too. We figure that we better ask the tough questions that the buyers are going to ask. There’s nothing worse for our sales reps than to be caught by surprise. So while we extoll a project’s virtues, we also probe its weaknesses and begin to strategize how we might overcome them.

During the discussion, we may look at sales history of comparable books on our own list, or we may pull Bookscan numbers, take a look at an author’s website, or look at competing books on online retailers. In addition to talking about the specific project/s in front of us, we also talk about the author’s career, the category, the marketplace, any updates on what’s happening in the industry, and general sharing of information amongst the editors.

A project can go in one of three directions:

*Decline. We always discuss why we are declining a project, so the editor will be able to tell the author (and/or agent) why we’re turning something down. The next step is a rejection letter/email or phone call (usually phone call only when there’s an agent involved).

*Hold for Further Info or Research. Sometimes we don’t want to make an immediate decision. We may be awaiting release of another book by the author, or we may need a rewrite of the sample chapters, or to come up with a better title, or to research the category more thoroughly or want to position the book more powerfully, or the editor simply needs to go back and marshal a better case for why we should publish. I have had many projects successfully move through this step to acquisition, and it always impresses me mightily when an author works hard to move their book forward from this place.

*Yes. Great excitement on the part of the editor! Now we discuss what the offer should be—advance, royalties, our vision for publication and any impediments to success that we anticipate at this stage. The next step is “the call” and believe me when I tell you that this is my favorite part of my job!

From there we move into the negotiation process, which is a topic for another day!

I look forward to answering all your questions about our acquisitions process!

***

This is your chance to grill Deb about how manuscript purchase decisions are made. What have you always wanted to know about book acquisitions?

Be sure to stop by Wednesday when radio personality Bruce Allen will illustrate differences in gender communication through dialogue. Sure to be enlightening!

Deb’s Bio:

Deb Werksman has been an acquiring editor and editorial manager for Sourcebooks for the past twelve years, before which she had her own publishing company. She is the country’s foremost editor of Jane Austen sequels, and acquires single title romance in all subgenres, as well as historical and women’s fiction. Sourcebooks is the country’s largest woman-owned independent publishing house, and we’re known for our sales and marketing, as well as our focus on building authors’ careers.

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Discussion

24 Responses to “Sourcebook’s Deb Werksman on the Book Acquisition Process”

  1. Hi Deb,

    Thank you for joining us today and helping us kick off our Behind the Book series!

    Can you tell us how important the book’s “hook” is during the acquisition process? Should the author highlight their 1-2 sentence hook first thing in the query letter? And lastly, can you give our readers a few recent examples that caught your eye?

    Thanks again!
    Tracey

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | January 10, 2011, 5:20 am
  2. Very informative! Thanks, Deb.
    But I’m curious. I sent a manuscript to Bookstrand on 8/31/10, queried status on 12/9/10 and still haven’t heard back. Is there a scenario where you wouldn’t reply? What do you suggest as my next step?

    Posted by Lorraine Nelson | January 10, 2011, 7:01 am
    • Hi Lorraine, the only circumstances under which I wouldn’t reply is if I never received the submission. I have no idea what Bookstrand’s policy is, but in my office, EVERYTHING gets a reply eventually (I’m on about 6-8 week turnaround right now, but it can be as long as 10-12 weeks). I promise a 21 day confirmation of receipt of email submissions–if you haven’t heard back from me by then, you should re-send the submission. If you still don’t hear back, you should call me.

      Posted by Deb Werksman | January 10, 2011, 2:50 pm
  3. Hi, Deb. Welcome to RU! I’m curious what you do if you are “on the fence” with a project? Will you ask another editor to give it a read?

    Thanks for helping us kick off our new series!

    Posted by AdrienneGiordano | January 10, 2011, 7:26 am
    • Hi Adrienne, if I’m on the fence, I may send something to an outside reader, another editor, or I put it aside and come back to it later. My practice is to keep reading until I’m clear, and although that sometimes makes it necessary to read an entire submission and then turn it down, usually by the time I get to the end of the manuscript I’m clear it’s a “yes” or a “no”.

      Posted by Deb Werksman | January 10, 2011, 2:53 pm
  4. Hi Deb! Thanks for this fascinating blog!

    I have a question regarding in-person pitches at conferences. If you request a partial after listening to a pitch, when would you expect to receive it – do you have a preferred time frame?

    It’s always tempting to send the partial off right away, but is it better for a writer to hold off and submit after their critique partners have given the story another run-through?

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | January 10, 2011, 8:07 am
    • Hi Becke, I expect that when someone pitches to me at a big conference like RT or RWA, their material is ready to submit. If the author is a debut author, I expect them to have a full manuscript ready to submit to me. Partials are ok if the author already has a track record.

      At a smaller conference or a local chapter meeting, where part of the pitching is coaching, then I have no problem if an author needs to polish up their material more before sending it to me. I don’t want authors to let me know though–just send it when it’s ready. I’m acquiring 24/7 so whenever it comes in I’ll consider it.

      Posted by Deb Werksman | January 10, 2011, 2:56 pm
      • Sorry, let me clarify. In person, at the pitch session, yes, you should let me know the submission won’t be coming for a month or two, or a few weeks, or whatever. Just don’t follow up later to let me know it’s now on its way, or it’s been delayed, or whatever. Just send it when it’s ready. :-)

        Posted by Deb Werksman | January 10, 2011, 2:57 pm
  5. Deb –

    Welcome to Romance University. Do you tend to acquire more books from already established authors or currently unpublished writers?

    Thanks so much,
    Kelsey

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | January 10, 2011, 10:28 am
  6. Morning Deb!

    Great to have you here. =) do you fly to Naperville every week for meetings? Or is it all handled electronically?

    Thanks for posting with us!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | January 10, 2011, 12:07 pm
  7. Deb–

    Thanks for the great discussion on the acquisition process! We really enjoyed spending the day with you.

    Tracey

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | January 10, 2011, 8:22 pm
  8. Deb –

    Thanks so much for being at RU today and kicking off our Behind the Book Scenes series.

    Kelsey

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | January 10, 2011, 10:13 pm
  9. So thrilled to get this glimpse behind-the-scenes! I have to confess, even though I’m a Sourcebooks author whose debut hits shelves in August, I’ve always wondered about the nitty-gritty details that took place to get me to this point. Thanks so much for sharing, Deb!

    Tawna

    Posted by Tawna Fenske | January 13, 2011, 11:30 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kendra James and Tracey Devlyn. Tracey Devlyn said: RT @RomanceUniv Check out editor @DebWerksman on the Book Acquisition Process | http://tinyurl.com/2ezkhl3 Great behind the scenes look! […]

  2. […] editor Deb Werksman talks about the book acquisition process. This is the first of Romance University’s year long “Behind the Book Scenes” […]

  3. […] Deb Werksman on the Book Acquisition Process http://romanceuniversity.org/2011/01/10/sourcebooks-deb-werksman-on-the-acquisition-process/ […]

  4. […] Deb Werksman, when discussing her criteria for a successful manuscript, mentions that the hero of a romance book must be someone […]

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