Blogger: Mary Keeley
Location: Books & Such Midwest Office, IL
This week I’m going to take you on a virtual word tour inside the hallowed walls of Your Publishing House, Inc. What exactly happens between the time the manuscript enters the front door and when it comes out the back warehouse door headed for the bookstore shelf (face out, please)? This will be a general tour since each publishing house has its own unique corners and alcoves. Along the way I’ll give tips on what you can do to help the production procedure run smoothly and endear yourself to the staff.
Your contract is agreed upon and signed by all, you know your manuscript due date, your editor has been assigned, and you two have probably already communicated. Back when your publishing proposal was being prepared for presentation to the Publication Committee, other departments were brought in to set a marketing budget, calculate editorial and design expenses, and estimate an almost-to-the-penny cost of goods (COG). Consequently, there are many in the house who already know you’re coming, and they know what they need to do.
Now that Your Publishing House, Inc. has made the initial investment, be assured they want your book to be a success as much as you do. Around the time the corporate budget was being set for the next year, the long-range publishing plan was reviewed and adjusted to align with rapidly changing consumer trends. Each genre is limited to a certain number of slots to be filled, and your book is one of the chosen! These people are your BFFs. Treat them warmly and considerately while respecting healthy boundaries, as in any good relationship.
If you’ve ever been on a tour of the White House—or any other important place—you’ve seen your tour guide give an orientation talk before the actual tour begins. That’s what this was. The big tip for today is to build and maintain a team atmosphere with the editors, designers, and marketers of your book. If you have serious concerns or disagreements about something along the way, bring in your agent to take over that conversation. He or she is experienced at negotiating a win-win solution, and your good working relationship with your team is preserved.
The rest of this week I’ll show you the editorial, design, marketing, and production rooms, and the all-important hallway that connects them. In the meantime, what questions would you like answered about the publishing process? Or do you have a personal experience at Publisher X that would benefit us all? We’d love to hear it.
James Andrew Wilson
Great topic. I’m looking forward to more.
A question I would like to see answered is: What is the average first print run for a debut fiction author in the CBA? And how often do those debut authors sell through?
Thank you, Mary, for a insider’s POV on the publishing process! I’m excited to read all of your posts this week. I’d love to know how an editor proposes/presents a manuscript to the Publication Committee.
Melissa K Norris
Can’t wait to read all your insights this week. Yea!
I do have one question. How often do the Publication Committee’s meet? Does it very house to house?
Looking forward to this week of posts! I’d love to know how communication works with the publishing house. For instance, what types of things would an author work directly with the publishing house versus communicating through their agent?
Thanks for this behind-the-scenes look at publishing. Can’t wait to do the full tour!
To me, this tour is the White House! I am excited to visit each department and meet the staff. Thank you for inviting us along!
I like the way you laid out all the steps, Mary.
My questions are about cover design and title changes. Do most publishers involve the author in this at all? If so, when? How much clout do authors have?
What an excellent topic of discussion. I look forward to reading your insights. My first children’s picture book was published by Guardian Angel Publishing – http://www.guardianangelpublishing.com/. I love working with them, and they were the only ones I had in mind when I wrote Little Shepherd, which is a retelling of the Christmas story.
I would like to see the answer to James’s question.
Lucky us, we get the special tour! I don’t have any questions yet, but will probably think up several as the tour continues. Can’t wait!
James, I’d like to jump in to answer your questions. The answer is: There is no one answer. The average print run will depend on how large the publisher is and how many copies they think they can sell. Smaller publishers will print a few thousand copies for the first print run; larger publishers are more likely to start out with probably a minimum of 5,000 copies.
All publishers will do small print runs after the first one sold out, unless your book sold out very fast; then they’ll up the second print run–and hopefully have significant print runs after that as the book builds momentum.
But that’s not the typical scenario. A conservative first print run will be followed by several smaller print runs.
How often do debut authors sell through? I’m assuming you mean by that, how often do debut authors get to the second print run. That depends on how effective a publisher’s sales team is at placing the book in retail outlets and whether marketing’s efforts help to stimulate word of mouth. A first-time author generally is considered a success by the publishing house if the advance is earned back in one year. Usually a publisher will print enough books in the first print run that, if all those books sell, the advance will be earned back. Obviously there are lots of variables in the process, but that’s an overview.
A small percentage of first-time authors earn back their advances. I’d hate to give a number because I’d just be pulling it out of the air, but I’d say most authors–not just debut authors–don’t earn back their advances. We’re talking about 80% of authors have unearned advances.
James, the first print run for a debut fiction author could be just a few thousand copies. If by “selling through” you mean how many earn back their advance, that’s hard to average because of varying advance amounts and length of time in print. If by “selling through” you mean the book stores sell all your books they buy and none are returned to the publisher, I don’t have that information. Sorry.
Thanks for all your comments and questions. I will try to answer all of them to the best of my knowledge in comments through the week.
Generally speaking, the acquisitions editor consults with the acquisitions team, sales and marketing departments, and possibly the print buyer to gather sales potential and cost estimates, then crunches numbers to come up with a reasonable advance and royalty percentage to include in the Publication Committee proposal, along with the authors proposal and sample chapters.
Every publisher is different, but publication committees meet every two to four weeks.
Lenore, I’ll try to remember to answer your question on Wednesday when we tour Editorial and Design. If I forget, ask again!
Sarah, I’ll also answer your question in Wednesday’s blog.
James Andrew Wilson
Thanks Janet and Mary for answering my question. I was wondering how many earn back their advance, as you both assumed.
It may be disheartening to some to hear that around 80% have unearned advances, and indeed it is a somber number. But I wonder, how many of those authors were heavily involved in personal marketing? I mean, even if their publisher didn’t have a large marketing budget for the book, but the author did her best to self-market, would the publisher be more likely to republish with that author, even though she didn’t earn back her advance? Are authors who don’t earn back their first advances doomed to have this black mark on their record forever? How black of a mark is that?
I know that there are some authors out there right now with five or six published books who have yet to earn back any of their advances. I have to think that any publisher would be wary of working with these writers. What can writers like these do to help themselves?
James, these questions are off the path of our tour of the production process this week. But they prompt a great future discussion topic where they can be addressed at length.
I really like the emphasis you’ve placed on forming positive relationships with people in the publishing house. After all, we are all just that – imperfect, but motivated people who share a commonality – love for good writing!
I’m interested in all the questions and topics mentioned, but I would also like to know more about the relationship between the author and the assigned editor and what all goes into that partnership. I imagine you’ll discuss that in your editorial post. I’m looking forward to reading these posts!
Larry B Gray
Thanks Mary, I do enjoy your blog and look forward to this week’s discussions. I am learning so much from the blogs of Books and Such and the comment interaction. Again, thanks.
Thank you, Mary. I look forward to reading more about this process.
I understand why it can take so long to get an answer of yes or no if all these departments are brought in before bringing the book to Committee.
I guess it’s something positive to hang on to while waiting for an acceptance or rejection.
James Andrew Wilson
Sorry to run off path. I’m looking forward to the rest of your posts this week, and to possibly discussing this other topic at a later time.
Thanks for allowing us an “inside” view of the mysterious world of publishing. What a treat to enter another realm, and begin to understand the general operations aspect of this part of the business. Looking forward to the “rest of the story”.
Mary, this is a great topic! In fact, I’m going to let my writer’s group know about it. How often do we get the inside scoop? Thanks so much for the tour. Cathy
Recently I was referred to your blog by a writer friend. I enjoyed the beginning of your publishing house virtual tour, as well as the comments and answers to questions.
My first children’s picture book, Benny’s Angel, has reached the illustration phase and my excitement is building as it moves closer to a print run. I have been journaling the production process of the book on my blog and have been blessed with meaningful interaction and a positive relationship with the various department editors at Tate Publishing. Since I am involved in what is called co-publishing, my input and approval have been a significant part of the process and that has been gratifying.
I look forward to more behind the scenes insights from Books and Such.