Think that’s a glamorous hat? Think again. As a “boutique” (small, custom, picky) publisher, I wear this hat often, and at first glance it may seem to give power and appeal. Over time, though, it brings me to my knees.
With my acquisitions editor hat on I must make decisions to enter into contractual agreements with writers based on perceptions and best guesses. First impressions of an author or manuscript are subjective. I may like the person, writing, or idea based on personal preferences and interests or their persuasiveness and ability to engage me with their written expression.
If an author/book idea passes that first, subjective threshold, it must hold up under business scrutiny. Tough questions should be asked, analysis and forecasting applied. Is there enough demand for a book like this? If so, can we and the author reach the market for this book? Is it well written, engaging, and unique enough to compete with similar books? If it floats, is the author ready and able to sail with it? Is this project financially feasible? Does it really fit in Cladach’s niche of literary waters?
If we answer too many questions “No” or “We don’t know,” and this process shoots too many holes in the potential project, it will sink before it starts with us. What we don’t want is to prepare a book, like a boat, to launch upon a sea of published books and then watch it sink. This has happened.
With some projects we know that we are testing the waters and risking storms at sea, but we believe in an author or project so much that we are willing take the risks. If we do that too often, though, we cannot stay in business/ministry.
Some book projects we take on with excitement, but the sales peter out. Others catch wind in their sails and continue to sell week after week, month after month, year after year. With the benefit of hindsight I can see that the following factors make a difference:
- What other titles has the author published? For instance, if her other titles are poorly-edited, self-published books, this author’s reputation is hurt and that hurts the sales of even the title that we have carefully edited.
- How actively connected is the author with the book’s prospective audience—even before he is published?
- Is there a waiting audience/demand for this book—even before it is published?
- Does the author have an ongoing means of reaching that audience? And can Cladach also effectively reach them?
- Is the author’s personal life—health, relationships, finances—in order?
In my mind this begs the question: “As a writer, when are you ready to have your book published?”
Writers who have something to say and long to be published authors, tend to become impatient. Your preparations to publish involve much more than finishing a manuscript and writing an effective book proposal. You need also to:
- Find/identify/make connections with/get to know the audience for you and your book. (Start this ongoing process, in fact, even before you write the manuscript.)
- Get your finances in order. It can cost $ to publish and market effectively, even when you publish with a traditional, (large, small, or micro) royalty publisher.
- Resolve, as far as you can, personal issues. Working as a published author takes time, energy, commitment, and the support of people around you.
As my mother used to say, “Work as if everything depends on you. Pray as if everything depends upon the Lord.” In the final analysis it does. And that brings me to my knees in the uncertain but enticing waters of acquiring book rights and taking publishing risks.