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 crosses that first threshold, it must then 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 will catch the wind and begin to float, 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 only to 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 this 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 his other titles are poorly-edited self-published books, this author’s reputation may suffer and hinder potential sales of the title we have carefully edited.
- How actively connected is the author with the book’s prospective audience—even before she is published?
- Is there a waiting audience/demand for this book?
- Does the author have an ongoing means of reaching that audience? And is it an audience Cladach reasonably can reach out to?
- Is the author’s personal life—including health, relationships, and finances—in order?
In my mind this begs the question: “As a writer, when are you ready to have your book published?”
Writers who feel they 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 costs 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 on God.” And that again brings me to my knees in the uncertain but enticing waters of acquiring book rights and taking publishing risks.