Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
The ultimate decision-maker at a publishing house in whether to offer a contract has changed over the past several years. Having done my share of presentations at publishing committees, I soon learned that anyone can scuttle a project. All he or she needs to do is vociferously offer negative opinions about it. By questioning the feasibility of making money on the book (which is the bottomline), that person knows what the outcome of the discussion will be. The tide will turn against the project. But one individual on the committee has the power to sway others to his or her opinion more effectively than anyone else.
But before we dip into that pool of water, let me say that publishing committees are as unpredictable as the stock market. Sometimes the committee just isn’t in the mood to say yes. That can happen because:
- the committee has been meeting for three hours, and everyone is tired;
- the committee just said yes to several projects in a row and realizes the book lineup is filling fast, leaving no space for unforeseen exciting opportunities;
- a general dyspeptic mood has settled on the crowd and nothing looks good, exciting, or new;
- truly nothing presented is especially good, exciting, or new.
Pretty crazy, huh? But it’s true.
Who is on the publishing committee?
Now, back to that one person (or group of individuals, depending on how large the committee is) who has the biggest say over which projects will receive a contract offer. To put who that person is in context, let me tell you who serves on the committee. (Slight variations occur from house to house.)
Usually the committee consists of
- the publisher
- the vice president of editorial
- the editorial director
- editors who step into the meeting only long enough to present their projects (sometimes all the nonfiction editors will come in together or all the fiction editors)
- the vice president of marketing
- the vice president of sales.
Some publishers include on the committee additional executives; the number-crunchers who will run the profit and loss statements on the potential projects; and assorted managers in marketing and sales.
The person with the biggest voice in the room
The power to nix a project used to rest in marketing. If marketing didn’t see the uniqueness of the project or didn’t think they could launch a successful marketing/publicity campaign, the project would not receive a thumbs up.
While marketing still has a major say, the real decision-makers represent the sales team at the meeting. This shift occurred for a variety of reasons.
The committee reasoned that the sales reps receive feedback from bookstore buyers and the buyers at the box stores. Who knows better how significant a buy-in the book will receive than the sales reps?
Plus, if the sales team can’t figure out how to present a project in the few minutes (or seconds) they have to catch a buyer’s interest, then the book isn’t going to garner good numbers.
Often the sales team makes key decisions about the price fluctuations on digital books after playing with stats. If the team isn’t seeing online book buyers responding well to the enticement of lowering prices for this category of book, then the team won’t be enthusiastic.
Ultimately, if the sales department isn’t confident it can sell the book into significant venues, then the book wouldn’t be published.
The discussion around the table can be positive and moving toward a yes, but once sales votes thumbs down, no argument can be mustered to change the course of events.
Does this setup for the publishing committee encourage or discourage you? Why?
Who makes the decision to publish a book? Click to tweet.
How a book publishing committee works. Click to tweet.