jeudi 14 décembre 2006

Why it’s vital to target the right kind of publisher

not just a book. Publishers’ reputations
are not built on the fact that they can simply
publish books. Their skills, expertise and
reputation are all based on the kinds of books in
which they specialise. Even the larger publishing
houses, whose lists cover many genres, are
usually divided into internal ‘imprints’. Each
imprint can be a specialist division with their own
editors who are experts in their subjects. These
imprints are sometimes created by the parent
company, but often they are the remnants of
smaller companies that were swallowed up
during a takeover or merger.
So you’re not going to send your book proposal
to every publisher you can find. It’s a waste of your
time and money, not to mention theirs. You’re
going to find the right publisher, a company that
from the outside appears to be a perfect match for
your book. And then you’re going to find lots of
other firms that would be equally good matches.
Do publishers sometimes commission books
from genres in which they haven’t published
Yes, they do. If no one occasionally tried
something new the industry would be very static
and dull. But the jump from one genre to another
has to be fairly close, otherwise the publisher will
lack the courage to attempt it.
You might be able to persuade a publisher of
local history books to take on a military history
title, but you’ll be wasting your time asking them
to sign up a historical novel. This is because local
and military history are both subsets of the same
genre and will be sold to the same bookshop
department manager. But a historical novel is
fiction and will be sold into the fiction buyer.
That can mean an extra appointment for the sales
rep, which isn’t cost effective for a single book.
Fiction is also an entirely different and
challenging market that the average non fiction
publisher wouldn’t enter without first imbibing
a stiff drink to steady their nerves.
Generally it’s not worth the effort of trying to
tempt publishers away from their comfort zones.
The decision to try something new is not always
in reaction to specific book proposals anyway
(often it’s a managerial choice). There are already
enough publishers specialising in whatever genre
you want to write and those are the ones you need
to target.
Compare your book to others
Read other books by each publisher on your
target list and think about what those books
contain that may have encouraged an editor to
sign them up. Would your book fit in well
amongst them? If you don’t think your book is
in the same calibre then go back to the re-drafting
stage. If your book matches the quality but not
the genre, look for different publishers.
Writing for an existing series
If your aim is to write a book that stands
completely alone from other books already on
sale then it will be statistically more difficult for
you to get it published than if you were to write
for an existing series, style or subject area.
Publishers of non fiction series are always looking
for new writers to help them expand their list, so
if you have the expertise and ability to assist them
in that process you just need to tell them. Writing
a novel that fits a precise and identifiable sub-
genre such as one of the Mills and Boon romantic
fiction imprints will make it easier to get
published than writing a novel that can’t be
compared to anything already out there.
Sending your proposal to more than one
publisher at a time
Authors are often nervous about this. It seems
discourteous, unfaithful even, to send out a
proposal to more than one publisher. The trouble
is that it can take three months to hear a reply,
even a negative one. Ironically the more they like
your submission the longer it will take for them
to reject it because it will get read by various
people, talked about in meetings, forgotten about
for a bit while the publisher gets ready for a book
fair, and then found again and finally decided
against. If you go through this process with one
publisher at a time it
could take ten years for
the book to fall into the
right hands.
Take care to inform a
publisher of any genuine
interest from rival
companies at the earliest
possible point. No one likes to spend hours
debating the merits of a manuscript only to be
told it has been sold to someone else.
Bidding wars
A bidding war is the main way in which a first
time author can achieve a six figure advance (the
other way is for them to be a high profile
celebrity). When an agent is really excited about
their newly signed author – usually we’re talking
about a novelist – and they successfully manage
to convey that excitement to more than one
publisher at a time, a situation arises in which
publishers try to outbid each other in order to
sign up the book. Their normal caution and
powers of reason melt away amid the heat of
excitement and suddenly a new author is fast-
tracked to superstardom.
Bidding wars where agents are not involved
tend to be at a more mundane level, but still result
in higher than average royalty advances for the
How to find the right publisher
Most authors identify one publisher that they
think might be appropriate for them and they
pin all of their hopes on that one submission. As
often as not, this publisher isn’t actually
interested in that kind of book anyway. The
author receives a rejection letter and gets
disillusioned by the whole business of being a
writer. They give up.
But that won’t happen to you. You’re going to
be systematic and professional in your approach.
First, you need to create a target list of publishers.
Aim to send your proposal to no more than ten
of them at a time in order to keep things
You can find suitable publishers for your book
using the following methods:
Browse among the shelves, noting the imprints and
addresses of books that are similar to yours.
Search the book’s subject to see if any publishing company
names crop up.
Search for comparable books to yours then look up other
books by those publishers to see if it is a one-off or
something in which they specialise. Note whether the
similar books were published recently or not.
Book fair
Walk around the booths looking for displays of books that
appear similar to yours, then stop and chat to the
publishers about whether they’re interested in seeing new
books in that genre.
Listings in writing guides
Publishers are sometimes listed by subject category, but
since these can be vague it’s worth double checking on
the Internet or in bookshops.
Personal contacts and networking
An editor develops a working relationship with
every writer they commission. We all want to
work with people we like, so it’s only natural for
editors to want to work with authors they already
know. And this doesn’t only mean authors they
have already published – it could be friends they
have made at a party or business event.
Networking is about finding ways to meet the
right people who can help you in your career.
Introductions made at social events where editors
are relaxed (and preferably intoxicated) are
perfect ways for authors
to quiz them about their
publishing programme,
what they’re looking for
and whether they would
like to see your efforts. It’s
a way of forming
friendships that will
develop into working
relationships in the
future. Getting a personal
introduction to a publisher at a party will more
than double your chances of selling your writing.
Even if they don’t buy it from you they may be
prepared to give you their expert opinion for free.
I’ve been known to give my opinion on books
submitted to me via friends of friends. If it’s not
suitable for my company I sometimes pass it on
to other publishers who might be interested. This
wouldn’t happen for a submission that arrives
from a stranger.
Use any legitimate tactics you can think of to
gain access to the inner circle of publishers. It
isn’t an impregnable fortress. They’re nice people
who live ordinary lives. If you’re not in the same
town as they are, travel. Find out where they hang
out. Go to their offices for a quick chat, even if
it’s just with the receptionist: you might learn
something valuable (remember not to waste
anyone’s time, though, because there’s a fine line
between a brief business-like conversation and
being a nuisance). If you can’t get to their location
use the phone. People often phone me out of the
blue for advice or to ask if I’d like to see their
book. It takes courage to do that, but what’s the
worst that will happen? A brush-off is all you’ll
get if they don’t want to speak to you. It won’t
end your career.
Go to the international book fairs to meet
publishers. Chat to the people on the booths.
Find out what kinds of books they want to
publish next year. Take their cards. Hang out at
the parties in the hotels – the networking
opportunities really begin when the wine starts
to flow. Flirting skills are a bonus here!
Working in publishing or bookselling
I’ve emphasised in this book the importance of
understanding the publishing and bookselling
industries in order to assist your attempts at
entering this literary world on a professional level.
Writing the book is just the first step: a basic
grounding in the terminology and procedures of
the business you’re trying to become a part of
will help you to get the deal in the first place. It will
also enable you to maximise sales and to increase
your chances of being asked to write a follow-up.
But will it help you to get published if you go
the extra mile and actually get a job in the book
industry? Absolutely it will, provided you choose
your employer carefully and are prepared to
exploit your position.
Working for a publishing company is your best
bet, but it stands to reason that the company you
try to work for should be one that already
publishes the kind of book you’re writing.
When I attend editorial meetings at which the
editors discuss the submissions recently received
and the kinds of books they would like to publish,
I know that if I were an undercover author I would
be able to go home and prepare a proposal that
would get them very excited the next day. In fact
I once did this as a joke – I listened to what my
editors were saying that they would like to sign
up, then went home and prepared a couple of
proposals in a different name and sent them to
the commissioning editor. He came to see me the
next day looking very excited and proceeded to
show me this proposal which was miraculously
what he had been looking for.
Access to the inner sanctum of a publishing
house is a great way to generate book ideas that
will have a guaranteed positive response. But it
doesn’t have to involve subterfuge because many
publishers come up with ideas for books in-
house and ask their editors to find a suitable
writer. Sometimes editors or other staff within
the company will offer to write the book
themselves, and even unpaid work experience
staff have been known to make contributions to
the odd book or to assemble collections of
quotations for anthologies during their
Getting a job as a bookseller has different
advantages. Your contact with publishers is
limited to their sales representatives, but you have
the opportunity to quiz them on whether they
think your idea for a book has legs. Their opinion
is part of the publisher’s decision-making process
so if you can quote a positive response from a
rep in your proposal then your book can at least
avoid instant rejection.
Working in a bookshop you also have the
chance to study sales patterns, noting which of
your potential rivals is selling the best and talking
to customers and colleagues about whether they
like the sound of your idea for a book. And of
course it wouldn’t hurt to tell the publisher to
whom you submit your manuscript that you
might be able to influence your employer to
order large quantities of the book when it comes
What to do when your proposal has been
despatched to suitable publishers
If the book is not written, start writing it. If you
sent just a book outline with no actual samples
then you should aim to have three chapters ready
within the next month or two in case a publisher
asks to see them. If you have already sent three
chapters then crack on with the rest of it in case
they want to read the whole thing.
If your entire book is already complete and has
been re-drafted sufficient times then use your
waiting period to give it a final proofread.
The next thing to do is to prepare your target
list for the second batch of publishers you want
to approach. Start collecting names, numbers and
addresses, call them all to find the name of the
appropriate editor and to ask if they are interested
in principle in viewing your proposal. Then as
soon as you receive a rejection letter send out a
proposal to someone else.
And when that is done? Keep up the writing
routine. Think up a new book idea, but don’t
write the book. Just the idea.
Then think of another idea.
And then ten more.
Make some of the ideas fit a series theme if
Don’t write any of those ideas into full books,
just type them up in no more than a hundred
words per proposal and send them to some
suitable publishers asking if they’d like to see
samples of any of them.
Rejection at this early stage is relatively
painless. It’s also less likely because you’re
offering a range of potential products to each
If they ask for samples then write them and
send them off. This route is far less likely to lead
to rejection because you’re virtually writing to
order. You know the editor is already interested
in the idea and the only thing that might trip you
up from then on is if your execution of that idea
differs from how the editor expected it to turn
On many occasions I have asked to see samples
from a list of excellent book ideas, only to be
disappointed when those samples arrived. But
I’ve also received samples from idea lists that have
led to published books.

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