1. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Talk by Heather Lazare

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Steerpike, Oct 17, 2015.

    Literary agent, former editor at Random House and senior editor at Simon & Schuster. She's speaking momentarily, and I'm going to post some notes here for anyone who is interested.
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Pretty interesting. Here are my notes:

    -------------------------------

    Heather Lazare - 17 OCT 2015

    Acquisition Process - What an Editor does in order to acquire a book.

    Hypothetical book scenario (fiction). Applies to big-five publishing houses.

    1. The book is submitted to editors by a literary agent. The agent calls her 8 to 10 favorite editors that she thinks are going to love the book. May also be email, but Lazare prefers when agents call her. The agent tells the editors about the book, and explains why she thinks the editor will want to acquire the book. She agent may compare the book to other successful books that are comparable to the book being pitched. Lazare says "comparison titles" are important for authors to think about at the writing stage, and that being able to answer those questions makes it easier to figure out what agent is best for you, as well as what editors and what publishing houses. Don't try to sell your book as something "no one has ever written before." An editor is going to be thinking about what books to compare it to. The editor uses this to sell to her publisher. The publisher uses it to enable their sales force to sell. The sales force uses this comparison information to sell the book to book sellers.

    2. The editor requests for the book and takes it home with them to read. Lazare had so much else to do during the day that she rarely read manuscripts at the office. It takes place on the subway, at home, etc. The editor could read the manuscript in 24 hours and be ready to buy it. It happens sometimes, but it is rare. The editor is aware that she's not the only editor reading the book. If they also like it and are ready to make an offer first, then the editor may lose out. Editors receive manuscripts all the time, and the barrier to entry is high. An editor may have 30 manuscripts printed out or on a Kindle at any time. The week before thanksgiving 2014 Lazare received 56 manuscripts in one week. They have an enormous work load. The book has to grab them, and grab them right aware or they're not likely to finish it.

    3. After reading the book, the editor talks to the editorial director - the person who oversees the list and decides what books make the most sense to publish. The editor also shares the work with one or two editors in the group to get their opinion. They all work together to build a successful list for the publisher. The also go to publicity and marketing directors to get their input on the book. Even if the book is good, all of these other factors count. They may even have someone from the sales force read it. These other people may only read the first 50 pages or so to decide whether it is something they can work with. Your book has to be amazing on each page. Books Lazare liked were disliked by others who only read a portion of the book, and that one naysayer can turn the tide against the book within the publishing house. The manuscript has to be as strong as possible. They also try to identify other books that their specific publishing house published, and that were successful and are comparable to the newly-submitted work. The editor will also raise the book in an editorial meeting, talk about how it can be pitched, how they can publish it and do well.

    4. If everyone agrees, the editor puts together a profits and losses statement. It's an excel spreadsheet that determines how much money the publisher thinks they can spend on a book. Lazare says the numbers are total nonsense. They use comparison titles, which are in-house books whose numbers they know for sure. If comparison title 1 netted 300,000 copies, for example, they hope the new book will net close to that. So they try to figure out how many copies they think a bookstore will take, how many returns they might receive (booksellers have books on consignment and return what they don't sell), and how many net sales they will get. They do it for hardcover, trade paperback, and ebooks. Publishers pay for books to be on front tables in bookstores, or other placement. They have to think of those costs. The publisher also pays for things like Buy 2 Get 1 Free promotions.

    5. Once the profits and losses statement is complete, the editor will know what they can pay for the book. Once the editor decides on a figure, the editorial director, publisher, associate publisher, etc. all have to agree that it is OK for the editor to spend that much on the book. The editor may then go to an "auction" where eight other editors loved the book and also want it. The agent sets up an auction and a closing. The editors may well have a phone call with the author prior to this to sell the author on their publishing house. If the editor has editorial concerns, they can be raised on that phone call as well. The editor may want to make sure the author is receptive before making an offer. The editor will then decide where she wants to start at the auction. If the most they can pay is $100K, they may start at $50K and see where the other publishers come in. The starting number may change based on the rules of the auction (e.g. if the agent is only taking the top two or three bidders the editor may start higher).

    6. The various editors will then bid, and editors may match or exceed other bids. An editor may match a bid, but throw in a bonus, like an earn-out bonus where if the book earns out the advance within a year (for example) the author can get a $10K bonus. Different types of bonuses or incentives can be used apart from just the bid price.

    7. If the editor gets the book, they work out the terms of the deal. It is often advantageous to the author if the agent retains foreign rights, but the publisher may want to acquire them. The author gets the check for the advance, and now has an editor and publishing house they are working with.

    Takeaway - how much goes into the decision besides the editor just liking the book, and how important it is that every single page of the manuscript be excellent. Editors are looking for reasons not to say yes because they get so many manuscripts. Editors may decline to bid on a book, or lose a bid on a book, and then see it become a bestseller, so the process isn't infallible. If editors keep missing books, they can end up out of a job. Conversely, if they keep buying books that don't do well, they can be out of a job.
     
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  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I just asked her about Twilight, since it is a source of argument in critique forums. What did editors see to make them pay $750K in advance?

    Answer:

    1. Target audience.
    2. Twilight is very readable, despite what you might think about the technical ability. The reading experience is a lot more important than the technical writing. Were you turning pages, did you care about characters? Editors recognized that this book succeeded in these other ways, no matter what you think of the technical writing.
    3. The editor who bought the book Twilight probably didn't think it was a badly written.

    Note: she says she has read books she didn't think were particularly well written but she was so engrossed in them she missed her subway stop. That's an attractive book.
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2015
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  4. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    Very interesting stuff; I'd never heard of the whole auction thing before.
     

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