Ask BHP: What Do Publishers Discuss When Considering a New Book?

Hello, friends! It’s Rachael, copywriter and Instagram coordinator, and I’m diving into this month’s Ask BHP blog post. We had two similar questions that I’m excited to answer: “How many people actually read a manuscript before the decision is made to publish it?” and “What do publishers discuss when they’re considering a new book?”

As someone on the marketing team, I don’t see book proposals until one of the last stages: publication board, or pub board. The manuscript starts with our acquisitions editor who obtains it through an agent or from an author they have met directly. After that, they will send it to some test readers who will review the manuscript and give the acquisitions editors feedback on what they liked and didn’t like about it. After that, the book will go through an editorial board where it has to get a thumbs up from the editorial team before reaching me at the pub board. In this meeting, the acquisitions editor has to convince my marketing team, the sales team, and other executives that this is a project worth investing in. Once it reaches pub board, it has gone through approximately fifteen people. Isn’t it astounding how many individuals have to offer input on one book?

At pub board, we make the final decision on whether or not we want to publish a book or series, and then decide to make our offer to the author. But before we come to that conclusion, we discuss a number of things including, but not limited to:

1. Literary Merit

The first thing that we all pay special attention to is the writing (of course!). We take note of the author’s voice, their character development, the uniqueness and familiarity of the story, and what types of readers it will appeal to—Amy wrote more about this here! We also look for red flags. For instance, if multiple people notice something problematic about the plot or characters that is central to the story and can’t be fixed, we might pass on a manuscript. If there are easy fixes, the editor will take note of the things we didn’t like for when they do their content edit. If we feel like it needs more improvement before we can agree to publish it, the author will be asked to make rewrites and it comes back to us again—though, that doesn’t happen too often.

2. Audience

Another thing we discuss is you! We always take into consideration our audience and who this book will appeal to. For instance, if it’s a regency thriller about a young woman named Emma with a hit list instead of a matchmaking list who invents time-travel, well . . . that would seem to be a rather specific audience that our book stores wouldn’t be compelled to buy and our readers may not pick up. But in all seriousness, whether it’s a contemporary romance or a heart-pounding thriller, we know what our readers will be drawn to based on similar books we’ve previously published and book reviews we’ve read. Yes, we read your reviews and they help us enormously so keep them coming!

3. Sales History

If we’re discussing an author who has self-published or has previously published with us or another publishing house, we review their sales history. We want to make sure they are selling steadily so we know we are making a sound investment. If they, or someone else, has written something similar to the book they are proposing that has sold well (or terribly) we take special note of that so we can determine how well this book will do.

4. Platform and Marketing Efforts

As an individual on the marketing team, I always check out the author’s platform. I take a look at their social media stats, what initiatives they are taking to reach new readers, their author connections, and more. We also look to see what efforts they are willing to make in regards to local media or book events, and their plans for a launch team. This discussion isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker—many of our new fiction authors don’t have thousands of followers yet—but it is helpful for standing out.

5. Awards or Notable Mentions

If an author has won awards or have received notable mentions from authors or magazines, we take note of that. When others are excited about those things, we are too! It shows that they have proven to grab others attention and will most likely continue to do so.

There’s also conversation on how many copies we think it will sell, when the best time to launch it will be, and other financial conversations which may confuse you as much as it does me.

Other more specific factors may come up from time to time depending on the project, but these are areas we discuss for all new fiction authors.

What is it about a new book or author that stands out to you?

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