Today I’ll be attending the 2014 Maranatha Christian Writer’s Conference on behalf of Discovery House Publishers. In addition to giving a workshop, the conference organizers have asked me to sit in on a panel discussion. They sent us the questions we’ll be asked ahead of time.
I have written my answers and have posted them here as means for preparing for the discussion. I can’t be sure that I’ll get to say all of this today, as panel discussions ebb and flow in real time, but I thought there might still be some value in recording these answers. If you’re interested at all in my thoughts on the future of publishing, or if you are considering self-publishing or non-traditional publishing, then this post is for you. Enjoy! -AR
1. We’ve seen a lot of changes in the world of traditional publishing in recent years. What do you think the most important changes have been, and how have they affected authors? What additional changes do you think we might see in coming years?
The power of social media to sell products has changed publishing books, at least in part. Social media puts greater pressure on authors to help promote their work and to continually create new things to read. Social media, by its very nature, is personal and personality driven. Corporations (like publishing brands) are at something of a disadvantage. For instance, readers are more interested in following their favorite author on Twitter than they are in following the author’s publisher. This makes the author the promoter of their books in ways that authors were not before.
I wrote a post for the Breathe Writers Conference blog today. You can see the whole thing right here. The following paragraphs are a short excerpt. Enjoy! -AR
Every book that is traditionally published goes through some sort of Publication Board meeting, more commonly called “Pub Board.” This is the meeting in which the final yes or no is pronounced on a given project. After Pub Board meetings publishers either mail out a contract or a rejection letter.
While every pub board meeting will differ slightly from publisher to publisher, there are some generalities that will remain the same. I thought it might be helpful today to talk about who is typically at a Pub Board meeting, and what their role is in that meeting.
The Acquisitions Editor
This is the person in publishing that most authors are familiar with. She is typically the one presenting project ideas to the rest of the group (though not always). Usually the acquisitions editor will provide other members of the Pub Board with the book proposal in advance of the meeting. At the meeting she will start the discussion by re-capping the high points of the proposal and hopefully make a compelling case to publish the book.
Depending on the company, she might have 15 minutes or more to present the book. In this case she might make a Power Point presentation, show a video of the author posted on YouTube, or use some other relevant piece. Or, she may only have 2 minutes to make her case verbally. It all depends on the publisher, the size of the project, and the number of items on the meeting’s agenda. Either way, she is the author’s advocate before the group.
Read the whole article here.
Recently I’ve been reading “Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell E. Perkins,” ed. by John Hall Wheelock. Perkins edited books by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and others during his career. His correspondence with literary giants is famous for its insight and congeniality. Modern novelist, Alton Gansky, has written an interesting post about Maxwell Perkins and about innate talent. Following are the first two paragraphs.
Maxwell Perkins is perhaps the best known editor in the last 100 years. He discovered a couple of authors you may have heard of: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Those twoauthors are great because their work was shepherded by Perkins. He led them, pushed them, encouraged them until they reached their potential.
Perkins was not a writer (although he spent a fair amount of time as a reporter, something he never equated with literary work) but he could recognize superior writing when no one else could see it. He had to fight and scheme in Scribners to accept young F. Scott. He was so protective of This Side of Paradise he let very few people at the publishers read the work–including copy editors. The first edition of the book hit the shelves with over 100 misspellings.
Read the whole post here.
Here’s a truth: sometimes publishers have to pass on good writing.
To the writing idealist I’m afraid statements like this are at best unwelcome, and at worst, the catalyst that convinces some to adopt the lifestyle of an angry hermit. Be that as it may, this is a true statement. I saw it happen today. And publishers shouldn’t be criticized as quickly as some (read: angry hermits) would like to. Here’s a scenario I witnessed today:
A fine book was brought to our team to consider. The writing was strong. The ideas were sound. The construction of the content was thoughtful and easily marketable.
Despite all this, the book was rejected.
Here’s why: The ideas (while sound) have been written about before. The writing (while strong) wouldn’t sell the book (insert another hard truth: good writing doesn’t sell books). The construction of the content (while thoughtful and marketable) can’t make up for a story that’s been told before.
On top of all of this, our team has already published content similar to what was proposed today.
A friend sent me this link in an email this morning. As Ray Bradbury, and this book in particular, occupy a special place in my heart I couldn’t help but share it with you.
Check out this fantastic cover for Bradbury’s masterpiece, Fahrenheit 451.
I’ve sat through more meetings than I count which focus on book covers. It’s a core part of my responsibilities at work. Our team strives to create innovative, eye-catching, sometimes profound, and always meaningful book covers. We take it seriously, and we work hard at it. While the old adage “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” may be true. An equally true statement is, “Consumers determine whether or not they are interested in picking up a book in only seconds.” (Not as snappy a phrase, I know.)
But that’s it. That’s how long we’ve got to grab them with a book cover. Only a few seconds. So we’ve got to be creative.
In addition to that, publishing teams have to wrestle with the finances of book covers. Most books in the bookstore are hardcovers with jackets, printed hardcovers, or paperbacks. That’s simply because those are the most affordable, consumer friendly formats for books. When publishing teams move away from those norms they risk two things: creating a format that consumers won’t like; or the more likely scenario – creating a format that’s too expensive to print.
I’ve been working on my presentation for Jot: The GR Writers Mini-Conference and it got me wondering:
If you were to listen to a short talk from a publisher about book proposals, what would you want to know?
My talk that night will be 15 to 20 minutes in length. I’m planning on having a handout with an example book proposal that’s prepared well and another example of one that is prepared poorly. I’m also tentatively planning on framing it this way: “5 Things Every Book Proposal Should Include.”
However, is that too predictable? Sometimes articles or talks that start with “X Things about Y” really start to bore me. Yet, it’s a formula for communicating a message that makes sense to a lot of people, so I’m hesitant to do away with it.
And is this content even what people are interested in learning about? I can make my own guesses, but I thought I’d start by asking you.
So tell me, what do you want to know about book proposals?
This week I got into a conversation with one of my favorite co-workers, our corporate librarian. This woman is in charge of not only our employee library (which contains copies of our books, our competitors books, and other necessary reference items) but more importantly, she oversees our “vault.” Our vault is a treasure trove of every single physical product we’ve ever published. It is meticulously maintained and organized. Everything we’ve ever produced is archived twice in this location. It’s a room kept under lock and key.
She was telling me about the reactions new members of our company were having when they first saw it. They marveled (which she expected) but then they asked something unexpected: Why?
“Why?” My friend had a shocked look on her face as she recounted this story to me. After a pause she said, “I just told them: Our past is who we are and tells us where we’re going.”