The Process of Publishing a Book

Publishers regularly convene acquisition meetings to discuss new manuscripts for potential publication. During these meetings, individuals from various departments offer their input on whether a book should be acquired. Here, the team from our publishing house, Cornerstone, elucidates some of the factors that influence their decision-making process.

The Managing Director: Susan Sandon

As the chair of our weekly acquisitions meeting, my primary objective is to ensure that editors have adequate time to pitch their projects and that everyone in the meeting has the opportunity to express their views. I am particularly interested in gauging the passion of the acquiring editor. After all, it is challenging to make a book successful if you don't wholeheartedly believe in it. Inspiring and rallying the team are crucial aspects of a publisher's role. Many aspects of what I seek align with the perspectives of other meeting attendees. We consider factors such as the market potential, size of the market, target audience, whether we should acquire world rights, the most suitable format, the pricing strategy, and the ideal publication timing.

Given that Cornerstone is composed of individual imprints, each with its own editors acquiring for their respective imprints, another one of my responsibilities is to connect the dots and ensure that the book aligns with our overall Cornerstone list. This helps us avoid situations where we have an abundance of debut novels all publishing simultaneously.

Additionally, I must consider workloads. Do we have enough capacity to take on the book, or would publishing it strain our sales, marketing, and publicity teams? Is the editor being realistic about the author-editor workload, and do they have enough bandwidth to take on the project alongside their other commitments?

Before we acquire a book, I collaborate with our Head of Commercial Affairs to conduct a financial evaluation. This assessment helps us determine if the project meets our financial criteria and what level of advance we can offer.

The Editor: Tom Avery, Editorial Director at William Heinemann

For editors, the acquisitions meeting is an opportunity to present the new titles we wish to publish to our colleagues. It represents a significant milestone in a potentially lengthy process that begins with conversations with agents, writers, or receiving submissions and culminates with the acquisition of a project. Throughout this journey, we engage in stages such as imprint editorial meetings, extensive research, and discussions with colleagues across the company. The acquisitions meeting is the critical moment when, collectively, we decide whether to pursue a project.

At the acquisitions meeting, I aim to convey three interconnected messages to my colleagues.

Firstly, I express my passion. There is no greater satisfaction than reading a submission, falling in love with it, and envisioning a successful publication. I dedicate part of each presentation to describing why I care deeply about the project and why I believe others will too.

Next, I explain why I believe the project should be a priority for us. This entails considering its subject, approach, the author's profile, publishing history, and its position in the market and potential to fill a gap (including mentioning comparable titles, if applicable).

Lastly, I clearly outline my vision for publishing the project, encompassing the publication date, format, pricing, and, more broadly, the strategies we will employ to reach as many readers as possible.

The Sales Representative: Claire Simmonds, Sales Manager

During the acquisition meeting, my role revolves around identifying the sales potential of a proposal. I assess the book's potential for sales across various formats and determine which retailers are likely to sell it and at what level. My team's responsibility is to identify the opportunities and challenges associated with the book's potential market presence. To achieve this, I examine the current market landscape, trends, and how the proposal fits within them.

The acquisitions meeting serves as an excellent platform for discussing the editorial, publicity, and marketing vision for the proposal. These discussions aid us in determining the overall sales potential. We delve into considerations such as the ideal publication date, format, and recommended retail price that give the book the best chance of reaching a wide audience. Once we decide to pursue a book, our sales team provides a sales forecast that strikes a balance between realism and ambition.

Every book is unique, leading to lively discussions and vibrant energy during meetings.

The publicist: Charlotte Bush, Director of Publicity and Media Relations

My responsibility involves identifying the potential for publicity in a book and providing input on potential media opportunities.

For non-fiction books, I search for media hooks - is there a specific date to launch the book or does it have a timely concept? Does the author possess exclusive access or exhibit exceptional expertise and originality?

When it comes to fiction, the approach differs slightly: perhaps the author has a captivating backstory that they are willing to share, or there may be a connection between the novel or its characters and a real-life story. Additionally, if the author is already in the public eye, I research their previous interviews and social media presence.

I also collaborate with other members of my team, as they may have specialized knowledge in certain areas or be more in tune with current trends. At this stage, it is crucial to put oneself in the shoes of a journalist and sometimes play devil's advocate!

The marketer: Rebecca Ikin, Marketing Director

The marketing team carefully reads and evaluates each title before the weekly acquisitions meeting. Marketing is involved at an early stage to determine the book's target audience and strategize how to reach them. We also assess the efficiency of our promotional efforts and the required marketing budget for the project.

Our goal is to help the meeting understand the audience (who the book is intended for), positioning (what makes the book unique and captivating), and platform (market trends, demand, or the author's profile).

At Penguin Random House, we utilize audience segmentation and conduct desk research, utilizing tools such as social media listening software or YouGov consumer data, particularly for non-fiction books that introduce groundbreaking ideas or feature personalities with public exposure.

We aim to combine this data and research with our collective and diverse experience and instincts developed over many years. However, we also value an immediate response to the book and its writing, as being blown away by the content is truly incredible and invigorates the entire meeting. It remains the most thrilling aspect for all of us, a genuine privilege, in fact.

When numerous publishing houses share the same enthusiastic reaction, an auction can become heated. In such situations, marketing collaborates closely with the editorial team and acts swiftly, often within just 24 hours, to pitch the book to the author and agent. During these instances, we outline our complete vision for publishing and promotional strategies, pouring our ambition and passion into our efforts to secure the book. It is intense, but the rewards can be tremendous when our concentrated endeavors pay off!

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