Book Submissions and Acquisitions

Here is how it is going to happen.

  1. The new publisher establishes an imprint with one or more books that will sell.
  2. A website is built for the imprint. This includes a book submissions page with information on how to submit book proposals.
  3. The initial books are successful and penetrate the market, the publisher gains new contacts in the industry, and the imprint becomes known.
  4. Authors and others learn of the imprint and the submissions roll in.
  5. An undisciplined, new publisher sees these submissions and gets excited. This enthusiasm leads to taking on projects that the publisher doesn’t know how to market.
  6. Alternatively, the disciplined publisher browses the submissions, finds no leads and thus rejects all submissions, and then continues with the original business plan.

Discipline and hard choices

What does it take to be disciplined?

I do a lot of high risk sports, like mountain climbing and rock climbing without ropes. I’ve also worked in high risk industries, like logging and tree trimming. Participating in these activities demands discipline. If I climb into an area beyond my abilities, the probability of injury or death increases, substantially. More often than not my ego and passion want to push deeper into the danger zone, past where my abilities end. Strong discipline reins in my ego and passion, keeping me in the realm of possibility. Discipline reminds me to stick to the plan.

Don’t mistake discipline for being risk averse. Discipline is a methodical way of dealing with risk. Discipline says, I can’t do this today, but with strategic training and experience I can do this in the near future.

Following the plan that I laid out in the chapter on pricing will help you to stay disciplined while making the hard choices that all publishers must eventually make—rejecting good books because the publisher doesn’t know how to sell them.

Here are some basic rules to follow:

  • Stick with what you know.
  • Stick with what you can sell.
  • If you don’t know it and you don’t know how to sell it, don’t publish it.

Reviewing submissions—separating the wheat from the chaff

When reviewing submissions, there are a few basic questions that must be answered.

Many publishers ask that inquiring authors answer these questions in their submissions—this is a good, time-saving technique. It forces the author to think about who is going to buy the book. And it helps the publisher to see how savvy the author is and how well the author understands the audience.

Here are some questions to ask when reviewing submissions:

  1. Who is going to buy this book?
  2. Why are they going to buy it?
  3. Do they already want to buy it, but it is not available?
  4. What does the competition look like?
  5. Is there a good reason no one else is publishing this or similar content?

Let’s assume that every question about the audience is answered. The publisher then needs to ask a second round of questions to decide if the book is right for the publisher.

  1. Is this a quality book or a bargain book?
  2. Does this book have to be printed using a specific method?
  3. How much editing is this going to take?
  4. How long will it take to design the cover and interior?
  5. How much marketing must be done to reach the audience?
  6. What is the overall labor investment?
  7. Finally, and once again, does the book make financial sense based on the publisher’s pricing and volume strategy?

Notice that most of the second round questions have to do with the publishing process. Each publisher will have a unique publishing process, or workflow, and books will need to fit into this to be published. Just as each artisan has a process for sculpting, painting, sewing, or carving, the publisher must have a process for publishing books. The office is the publisher’s workshop. The computer, pen, and paper are the tools. The publisher needs to develop a successful, profitable process and stick with it. The publisher can modify the process, but slowly and incrementally.

Be wary of publishing books that deviate too far from the proven formula.

Learn from my mistake

The first unsolicited submission that I received truly piqued my interest. The gears started turning in the creative part of my brain as I read the proposal. I saw how the book could expand my business into a parallel niche market—newer and larger than the market where I operated. I saw huge potential for the book—bigger than any book I had published.

However, I knew nothing about the new niche market. I had no contacts (aside from the author) within it. And I didn’t know how to sell the book to the audience. I didn’t even know who the exact audience was. Sure, I had a broad idea for who the audience could be. But that was it. I did not know how to reach them. And that is not enough to market a book.

In my enthusiasm for both my first unsolicited submission and the theoretical potential of the book, I went forward and published it. Yet throughout the publishing process, when any of the above questions arose or I looked at pricing and volume options, logic told me to abandon the project. But I never listened.

The book was a complete flop. Dead on arrival. I lost lots of time and money on the project.

My problem: I did not have the discipline to say no even though all the evidence pointed to that conclusion.

It is always nice to get submissions. Submissions validate the publisher’s existence almost as much as sales. But the publisher must avoid hubris when facing reality.