Good choices distinguish the press. Successful titles fuel strong direction and growth. Unsuccessful titles become lessons for making new choices. Before offering a book contract, a publisher asks several questions:
- Does the title or proposal fit the publisher's list and objectives?
- Is the content fresh and different from what is already in the market?
- Is the manuscript or sample chapters well written and/or illustrated?
- If presented as a proposal, is the concept carefully conceived? Are the authors known to be competent and reliable?
- What are the title's potential audience and market? Who will want it and why?
- What are the competing books? How well are they selling?
- What are best- and worst-case scenarios for projected sales?
- Can the title be produced within the press' budget and time constraints?
Publishing houses normally establish guidelines for submitting new manuscripts. Writers or agents should inquire about guidelines before submitting. The review process is as follows:
- The publisher or staff reads the manuscript. If there is interest, the work is carefully evaluated for its content, style, and potential market.
- Manuscripts are often shared with outside experts, who compare the work with other books in the same field and submit responses to the publisher's questions.
- A book contract is negotiated with the author and/or the author's agent.
New titles by unknown writers can increase the publisher's financial risk. However, a commitment to a new, untried writer usually means making a smaller cash advance.
Instead of full manuscripts, today it is more common for authors and agents to submit proposals for both non-fiction and fiction books.
The submitted materials include a project proposal, a chapter outline, and possibly a sample chapter.
The proposal argues for the concept's importance, the book's potential market, and opportunities for sales. The veteran author closes with a sales history and references to good reviews and awards.
A book proposal, rather than a completed manuscript, means more work and risk for the publisher. Consequently a proposal review is thorough:
- If the proposal fits the publisher's list, the marketing staff researches whether it's a concept with strong public interest and sales opportunities.
- If marketing's response is positive, the publisher's staff reviews the editorial quality of the proposal, sample chapter, and the author's previous work. Questions and suggested revisions to the concept and chapter outline go back to the publisher.
- The author and publisher negotiate and agree to any changes to the original proposal before contract negotiations.
A book proposal's development requires the working confidence of both author and publisher. Failure to honor time and editorial commitments can be disastrous to a new house.
Creating Projects from Scratch
Publishers often develop their own unique concepts for a book and/or a series. The process offers a way for the publisher to stretch the imagination, save on costs, and take market risks:
- The publisher, or an in-house editor, proposes the concept, complete with a plan.
- In-house editors review the project and propose revisions.
- Staff develops time and cost estimates for editing, design, production, delivery, and promotion.
- Marketing makes a thorough analysis of costs versus potential markets and sales.
- The publisher reviews the entire information to assess whether to go ahead, revise the project, or drop it.
A publishing house's perennial sales of "bread and butter" titles are one way to support the risk associated with developing projects from scratch.
New publishing houses create a pro-forma author/book contract. The format is often developed by the publisher's lawyer in accordance with publicly available publishing contract examples. In a typical contract, the publisher and author will agree on the following:
- The publisher's and author's various obligations in the creation, production, and promotion of the work
- The editorial, production, and promotion schedule
- The limits of the publisher's right to negotiate the sale of paperback reprints, foreign republication rights, and magazine (serial) reproduction rights, as well as electronic, audio, motion picture, merchandising, and all "future technology" rights
- The payment of an advance against royalties, and the terms and payment schedule of royalties
The contract is modified to meet the particulars of each new title.
Careful and fair contracts help insure the growth and success of both author and publisher. Exploitation by either party can poison the relationship and harm the book's quality and sales.