jeudi 14 décembre 2006

The publisher

the publishing company make
the decisions that will determine whether your
book is to be printed or not, and these people
consider not only the book, the author and the
market but also internal factors such as the size
and direction of the company, its state of financial
health and issues of internal politics.
1. Size of a publishing company
The size of a publishing company will affect how
many people are in each department and whether
it even has any departments. One person can run
a small publishing company, either doing
everything themselves or using freelance workers
as needed. Large publishing houses employ
hundreds of staff.
The larger the company, the greater the
number of people who need to be convinced of
the viability of your book in order for it to be
accepted. The Assistant Editor has to convince
one or two more senior editors, who in turn have
to convince an Editorial Director that your book
will be right for their list, will increase the
company’s reputation and will earn it money.
Offer it to a one-man band and there’s only
one obstacle in the way of publication: the owner
of the company. The trouble is that the amount
of money on offer from a large company will
usually be much
higher, as will the
chances of the book
being a success.
So how does the
size of a publishing
house fit into the
process? On one
level, the size
affects the number
of titles they are
able to release in a year. Budget and human
resource restrictions will mean that some small
publishers would be spreading themselves too
thinly if they signed up more than ten books a
year. Of those ten books, typically two of them
might be by authors who have already been
published by that firm and one will be a new
edition of an older book. Two more might come
from publishers in another country (rights
purchases). That leaves just five books to be
selected from the slush pile each year.
Small firms receive fewer submissions than the
big boys, perhaps ten per week instead of a
hundred, but that still means they have to reject
about 98% of everything they receive, regardless
of its quality or suitability. Do the odds get any
more favourable for the author when looking at
the statistics of large publishers? Actually, no they
don’t. Very roughly, 98% of submissions will, in
fact, be rejected from all publishers.
2. Direction of a publishing company
Managers at the helm of a publishing company
normally want to take the firm in a particular
direction. That’s because publishing isn’t just
about the money; it’s also about the branding.
Publishers won’t take on any old book that they
think will make money, regardless of genre. They
are constantly thinking about the ‘direction’ in
which their company is going. That is to say they
are conscious of the kind of book they publish,
the kind of readership they attract, and the profile
of their brand in the trade. OK, so branding is
also about money, but in the wider sense than
the profitability of individual titles. Strong
branding helps to increase the value of the
company, which keeps the shareholders happy.
The idea of a publisher worrying about their
brand perception seems a little odd to the average
book reader who would be hard pressed to name
any publisher other than Penguin Books. But to
overseas publishers who regularly buy translation
rights, to freelance sales reps who have learned
how to sell that company’s products into the
shops, and to the bookshop workers who know
which companies have made a reputation for a
certain kind of book, the branding is essential.
Gaining a reputation in a particular subject area
enables a publisher to attract better-known
authors. It makes it easier for them to sell their
books into the shops and it makes direct
marketing more cost-effective. This book, for
instance, is part of a series of books on various
aspects of writing. This is more cost-effective
than having just a single title of interest to authors
because it costs the same to promote ten books
as it does to advertise one.
The direction in which a company is led means
that certain kinds of books will be off-limits to
its editors. The directors may decree that a genre
of books is to be dropped. Perhaps fiction is to
be their speciality and all non-fiction titles are to
be phased out. Equally they may actively
encourage their editors to sign up authors in a
particular genre. On a whim or for carefully
researched commercial reasons a publishing
director may decide to add a science list, a range
of gift books or a children’s list. Editors will know
in what direction their company is headed and
will consider this factor when commissioning
new books.
3. The publisher’s financial health
It’s possible for a company to shrink as well as to
grow. Publishers can suffer cashflow problems,
especially in their early years, and the financial
state of the firm can influence publishing
decisions. When times are hard there has to be a
reduction in the number of new books signed
up. Lower royalty advances will be offered. It’s
even possible for books already contracted to be
postponed or cancelled.
A publishing house riding on the back of recent
bestsellers will have enough cash in the bank to
be able to take risks with new books. Risky books
can bring greater than average rewards if
successful, but can also flop disastrously.
Publishers can afford a few failures every year so
long as they have enough hits to cover the losses.
But when a publisher is suffering from too many
misses and not enough hits, they analyse potential
risk very carefully before signing up a new title.
The following list contains the most important
factors they take into account when deciding on
the relative risk of a title.
How a publisher perceives risk
High risk
• New author
• Author has no agent
• Author has no reputation in the subject
• Author is paid an advance on royalties
• Book is expensive to print
• Book comes with only single country rights
• Book has no chance of sub-rights sales
• Book requires higher than average editorial input
• Book needs marketing campaign
• Book subject is outside of the publisher’s experience
• Potential readership is disparate
Low risk
• Established author
• Author has an agent
• Author is an acknowledged expert in the subject
• Author works for flat fee (or for free!)
• Book is cheap to print
• Book comes with world rights
• Book has potential for many rights sales
• Book requires little editing
• Book sells on the back of pre-existing publicity or demand
• Book is similar to previous titles successfully published
• Potential readership is easy to target
4. Internal politics
Editors are trying to build a reputation and a
career in publishing. They want to get noticed
by their boss for being the first to spot a potential
bestseller. The last thing they want is to make
the mistake of overlooking your proposal if you
subsequently send it to a rival publisher who
turns you into a celebrity author. Internal
publishing company politics is on your side from
this perspective. At the same time, editors want
to protect their positions by not signing up too
many books that don’t sell. To safeguard their
jobs they try not to take too many risks with new
kinds of writing. Sticking to a writing formula
that works or to subject areas or authors that they
know will work for them is a safe option that
many editors will take.
Also, individuals have agendas. They know the
prejudices and foibles of their boss and may try
to sign up books that they know will earn that
boss’s respect and appreciation. Or an editor may
disagree with an author’s world viewpoint
sufficiently to reject a book before anyone in the
company has a chance to see it.

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