Reflections In Hindsight

Grace in the Rearview Mirror…it's closer than it appears

  • Ephesians 4:29

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From the “I wish I’d known before I decided to be a writer” files

Posted by Lisa Lickel on June 6, 2012

Another Little-known Step in the Process of Traditional Publishing

From my “Honesty in Action file”: things I wish I knew before leaping into publication-land:

It occurred to me the other week when someone on one of the zillion writer-reader loops I belong to asked about another step of the path to traditional publication. It’s not exactly a secret, but certainly not discussed much or even aired on publisher’s web sites.

It’s the Publisher’s Board.

Also known by many different monikers: review panel, review forum, pub discussion group, even marketing tests.

Every publisher has a different way of handling the selection process—from the simplest: the owner contracts what he or she likes; to the most challenging: publication depends on a unanimous vote from a multi-layered panel in a one-day turnaround.

Eh? What are you rambling about, you ask? You mean, you weren’t aware of this?

Yes—often, even when that acquisitions editor is enthusiastic about the project you just pitched at that very expensive conference and asked you to send the full, and he or she LOVED it, your work must go through another rigorous step: a publisher’s review panel. In other words, the editor has to turn around and pitch your project to his boss and maybe his peers. Your acquisitions editor must prove to someone else that your project is worthy of publication with his publisher.

Ouch. Suddenly that acquisitions job gained a few sympathy points, didn’t it?

My personal experience with the review process comes from both sides of the aisle. For a short time I worked with an independent publisher and partook in the review process. In that case, the different acquisitions editors put forth their acquisitions for all of us to read, and soon after, thus commenced the review board…an online discussion which often became quite…lively, regarding the advantages and disadvantages of said project. How much invested time would get the project into a publishable state, depending on what the manuscript looked like? What was selling in the market now, and the future projections? What other costs might be involved? How large of a platform does this author represent? Is he or she a proven professional or a beginner? I honestly don’t know how other publishers work their publishing panels, but in my group, the vote had to be unanimous. We got discussion time, then we had to vote. Sometimes the vote was less than congenial; sometimes some of us grudgingly agreed because of the enthusiasm of others; sometimes we held our ground.

As an author, my experience with this aspect of publishing comes from a disgruntled acquisitions editor from one of the recognized CBA publisher who had to turn down one of my manuscripts because it didn’t pass the panel. That editor asked my agent for a read, liked it, but couldn’t convince the panel to go along. That editor since left the publisher for, I assume, many reasons. I also had the privilege of having a different manuscript read by another publisher, who used “readers” to determine whether or not to send a manuscript on to the next round of publishing panels. In fact, I’ve had this happen twice with different publishers. That’s kind of a scary concept to me, again from each side of the panel: what if a publisher passes on a great piece because the assigned reader just happened not to like it? Or what if a reader makes unqualified assumptions about the piece and passes the fantasy assumption to the publisher? And this has happened.

So, what can you do to help out the acquisitons editor?

Make sure your proposal is top-notch, and if you do get that initial acceptance, talk to the editor to find out if there’s any other informaiton that would help your mutual cause – such as platform arenas that may be outside the box, unique or high-profile endorsers, or even accompanying or supportive matter, such as products that help advertise your project, group materials such as discussion or study guides with a plan to approach target groups who would use these materials. Do your homework regarding the releases and types of marketing campaigns the publisher has previously done. Remember, keep it positive and mutual: this is a business and the business wants to make a profit. Gear your proposal as a mututally beneficial project. Figure out how to be flexible and how far you are wiling to bend if asked – just don’t offer first, or you may come off in a poor light.

“Those who don’t run screaming after the first deep slashes earn the right to advance to the next level.”

Publishing is not for the thin-skinned, the faint of heart, or the feint of the sword: those who persist the longest earn their rights.

Caution: It may not be what you expect.

From Lisa Lickel

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2 Responses to “From the “I wish I’d known before I decided to be a writer” files”

  1. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav) said

    I always appreciate your advice, and this advice is no exception, but it’s the TITLE that could use some, er. editing. :) If there’s one truth I know right down to the marrow, it’s that you don’t choose to be a writer; writing chooses you. :D And all you can do is learn how to ride that particular wave to shore before it sends you spinning into an epic wipe-out.

    • Thanks, John – I’m having ear troubles, so that was the last thing I did before I crashed last night.
      Well–yes, it’s very true that those who are truly called to write find it hard to do anything else, and I happen to have the perfect story to fit that scenario too, the one time I tried to quit. On the other hand, it was my decision and mine alone, to quit my other jobs and jump into the writing business full time. It’s been seven years and I’m starting to earn my keep again, but not through advances and royalites, though other sides of the business, which needed this long to learn.
      BUT – nothing says a writer HAS to write. So many quit when they hit that first wipe-out, and that’s my point – whoever hangs in the longest no matter what, those who are always learning, always growing, realizing the almighty truth that not everyone is going to like your work no matter who you are–those are the writers who get their name in print from a traditional reputable and well known publisher. Usually. :) Anybody can publish anything these days, and do it well; those aren’t the authors I’m referring to.

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