Monday, March 21, 2016

How Are Books Really Made?

After reading a review in The New York Times of The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built, I started to wonder about how books are made.

The Big 5 and other traditional publishers tend to do the following when it comes to green lighting book deals:

1.      They give a priority to what certain literary agents present to them.  The agent can serve as a time-saving filter but the publishers don’t want to overpay on a book.

2.      The smaller publishers need to find books that won’t force them to give huge advances so they are more open to slogging through the slush pile of submissions.  But too much effort has to go into researching an author’s background and to read sample chapters.

3.      Some literary agents and publishers don’t wait to see who solicits from them for representation or publication. They take a pro-active approach and recruit people they feel are marketable.

4.      Some publishers seek out work-for-hire writers – people who write well but can write on any number of topics hand-picked by a publisher.  These writers get a flat one-time fee for writing the book and rarely are involved in the book’s promotions.

Publishers determine the books they’ll publish based on some or all of these factors:

1.      If they believe the book is marketable.  They determine this based on the size of the market, level of competition, and past performance of the author or the track record of book sales on the subject matter by all publishers.

2.      If they believe you have the ability to promote your book. Do you have a large social media following or a large author platform? Will you commit to hiring a book promoter? What’s your current media profile?

3.      If they hear that you’ll commit to buying thousands of books, they’ll be eager to work with you.  If you know, because of your own connections, speaking engagements, or sales capabilities that you’ll sell lots of books, convey this to the publisher. They’ll want you to guarantee a certain number of sales.

4.      Oh, yes, and the book should be well-written and at least decent. The first three trump this, so your book doesn’t have to be great or even better than half of your competitors, but it can't be awful.

5.      The publisher wants books that fit into its brand - based on subject matter, content style and book design, and author credentials.

6.      Lastly, they want books that serve their preferences, values, and interests. Yes, this means the publisher's politics, religious beliefs, sexual proclivities, and other demographics will bias the publisher as to what it will publish or won’t.

So, once the publisher agrees to publish a book, what happens next?

The contract will dictate the terms to proceed. It likely includes a time period for publication – set 12-18 months in advance in most cases.  There will be official or unofficial mini-deadlines for submitting outlines, chapter drafts, approving of revisions, contributing ideas for catalog copy, book cover images, layout design, and submitting visuals - charts, photos, drawings – if needed.

The author gets introduced to an editor early on, and a publicist later on.

As the book is being put together, pre-sales, are being arranged.  This means the publisher is looking to convince its sales force and key accounts that they should buy into the book.  The author is also soliciting advance sales, perhaps from people he knows or groups that seem logical to contact.

Somewhere along the line, a publisher will seek to do an audit of the manuscript with several purposes in mind.  For instance, the publisher will do a legal scrub of the book and make sure from a lawsuit perspective, everything in there is legitimate and defensible.  Second, it looks to do a fact-check and make sure the book is accurate, factual, and not misleading.  Third, it may do a morality sweep.  Some publishers may be sensitive to language, controversial views or political anglings and will cleanse a book of anything it disagrees with.

Lastly, the publisher wants to make the book competitive in the marketplace.  It will create hype-filled copy to describe the book, secure major endorsements and position the book to garner favorable book reviews.  It will see what other books do well -- and copy them.  It will look to add something unique to the book, something extra to give it an edge.

While all this is going on, the publisher could change directions.  Based on things in the news or changes in the marketplace, the timetables of books can be altered.  Some books get rushed to press while others get delayed or in rare cases, permanently shelved.  Publishers may also look to sell off certain rights before the book is published, such as foreign, audio or paperback – or-film/TV -- to help offset costs and turn a profit faster.

Traditional publishers are producing a new book every minute of the five-day workweek. Yes, think about it. Tons of books are being acquired, written, edited, packaged, and sold as we speak. The process may seem long and hard, but to all of those who peresevered and prevailed, it was worth it.

2016 Book Marketing & Book Publicity Toolkit

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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