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
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 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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