What Are Publishers Looking For?



Writers understand that publishing is a business, but novice writers seem to think that the business begins when their book goes to print. Not so. The business begins with an idea meeting.

Idea meetings are usually attended by a combination of a publisher’s editorial and marketing people, and the attendance may vary by who is available on any given day.

Although they may be scheduled for the same day and time each week, these meetings are basically informal and unstructured, more like group discussions. They usually don’t have a written schedule or agenda; everyone sits around a table and the atmosphere is collegial, relaxed, and frank.

Editors inform the group about book proposals to generate discussions in which everyone chimes in. The group asks questions, gives opinions, and volunteers information about similar or competitive books.

Idea meetings are essentially exploratory. Their purpose is to challenge proposals by closely examining them and chipping away to see if the proposed project would make a good book for the house to publish. They discuss whether they think the firm should commit further time and resources to each book discussed.

At idea meetings, proposals can be rejected, but they cannot be given final approval.

At these meetings, the group wants want to see if the book has a strong hook and how it is positioned. The proposal must clearly answer the following questions:

What is the book about?

Is there an audience for the book?

If so, who is that audience?

Where will it be shelved? Books that don’t have clearly identifiable places on bookstore shelves get lost. Booksellers don’t know where to place them, and potential buyers don’t know where to find them.

Can the book be produced so that it provides value for readers? For example, if all the books on a subject are priced in the $30 range, can the publisher deliver this book with a higher word count or information not in competing books and sell it for $12.95?

“A book has to be clearly identifiable as something new in the marketplace,” according to Gary Krebs, the Publishing Director at Globe Pequot Press. “New in the marketplace means that it can be on the same topic as something that already exists, but there has to be a new spin, a new direction, which sometimes can be just a format change. Or, you could spin an existing topic for a new demographic such as businesswomen when all the other books were primarily aimed at men.”

All decisions are market driven; the group must believe that the book proposed can make the company money. Editors as well as marketing representatives usually won’t support a proposal unless they believe that the book can be commercially viable.

If the proposal survives the idea meeting, the editor who championed it usually prepares a presentation report or packet for another committee; one that has the authority to acquire the property. The report or packet includes research on sales figures, competing books, comparable history of the publisher’s other books, recent publishing trends, and whether this proposal fits in with its overall vision of what they did in the past and want to do in the future.

At many houses, the champion prepares a profit-and-loss statement (P&L) for each proposed book. If the company decides to make an offer to buy the book, the P&L statement forms the basis for the price the company will be willing to pay for book.


Source by Rick Frishman