Bringing Your Baby to Editorial Board

Have you ever heard the phrase “they’re taking your project to editorial board” before? Have you ever wondered what that meant? Well wonder no more, my friends, as I’m going to take you through the dreaded and frightening Acquisitions Process.

It seems that everyone at every level in the industry has a “gatekeeper” they feel they must need to pass: writers think of agents, agents think of editors, and editors think of their publishers. I might be misrepresenting things a little, but we all face occasional rejection in publishing, even those of us on the “other side of the desk”. Just like querying writers and submitting agents, editors have put their best foot forward when trying to convince the “grown-ups” (as it were) to give them some pocket money to spend on a project.

Just who are the “grown-ups”, you might ask? In the majority of publishing houses, the editorial board consists of the publisher(s), the other editors, the sales department, publicity, and marketing. Ideally, everyone will have read the project before the acquisitions meeting, so during the meeting itself everyone can chime in with their thoughts and opinions. It’s important to get as many points-of-view on a project as possible. Editors can give you their thoughts on the content, the sales department can give you hard numbers on how similar titles in-house have sold, and publicity and marketing can give you an idea of how they might be able to promote the project.

But first, let us go through the basic timeline of acquisitions (illustrated with GIFs because I spend way too much time on Tumblr):

1. Editor receives project.

2. Editor reads project.

3. Editor likes project.

4. Editor wants project.

5. Editor sends project to members of the editorial board for second reads and opinions.

Ideally, you want to get in-house readers who 1) understand the potential market of the project and 2) would give you a favourable opinion to share with the editorial board. These second readers can be other editors, the publicity department, the marketing department, and the sales department. These second readers can be a good barometer of how well the project might be received by the rest of the house.

6. Editor starts to pull together comparable titles, sales figures of said titles, and other bits of information that might convince the editorial board to acquire the project.

This is the most stressful part of acquisitions–and we haven’t even gotten to the meeting yet. At this point, there is a lot of pow-wowing with your colleagues at work, trying to figure out which editors to send the project to for second reads, and researching comparable titles and their sales figures. Comparable titles (or “comp titles”) are books published in the same genre with similar subject matter and content. For example, say your project is a time-traveling YA with a light, whimsical tone of voice. I would ask around and go on Google to look for other time-traveling YA novels with a light whimsical tone of voice. This is where the X meets Y formula can help a writer: it makes it easy for editors to research comps!

Then the editor does a little digging into sales figures. Most often she will check on Bookscan to get a rough ballpark number of how well these types of books sell. Given these ballpark figures, the editor then starts to form an idea of the size of the offer she might be able to make, providing that everyone else is on board.

7. Editor presents at editorial board.

Armed with your sales figures and in-house reads, you go before the board and present your argument. Light, whimsical time-traveling YA has sold some decent figures! This project is similar, but different in ways that will make it stand out in the marketplace! It’s got some KILLER writing and I couldn’t put it down!

At this point, things can fall out in a number of different ways.

Everyone likes it! Let’s put together an offer!

Yay! Everyone seems to love the project and wants to make an offer! The ecstatic editor will return to her desk and put together a P&L (a profit & loss statement), a magical Excel spreadsheet with all sorts of fancy formulas that will spit out a number when you plug in the right bits of information. There are a lot of variables that go into a P&L: the number of units you think the project will sell, the format, the page count, and the potential list price, all of which factor into a guesstimate of how much money this project has the potential to earn. There might be some quibbling and adjusting to get to a number you hope will buy you the project while still making money for the house, but once everyone has signed off, the editor can go ahead and make the offer.

Reads are mixed: some love it, others do not. Go do some more homework, speak with the author about possible edits, and come back when your case is stronger.

If this happens, there are a few things the editor can do to strengthen the project. She can speak with the agent and author and discuss possible editorial changes that might make it more appealing to the rest of the house. She can also cast a wider net of second readers who might give her a favourable review.

They’re not buying it. Literally.

Alas, this happens. No matter how much you love a project, the house might not agree with you for a number of reasons. They might be worried that there are too many books on the list similar to the one you’re trying to acquire. They might like the writing, but worry that light, whimsical time-traveling YA is too niche, or else too different from what’s currently on the market. They might like the project but fear that the market is getting too saturated (as can happen with popular trends). Whatever the reasons, you have to turn the project down and try again next time with something new.

That’s a very basic breakdown of the timeline of bringing a project to editorial board. The specifics, however, can vary from project to project, editor to editor, house to house. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll try and answer them to the best of my ability!


31 Responses to Bringing Your Baby to Editorial Board

  1. Leigh Bardugo May 15 2012 at 4:32 am #

    Amazing post and I love any journey that begins with David Tennant.
    I’d be curious to know how frequently you bring new projects to the board and roughly how many you pitch every year.

    • JJ May 15 2012 at 7:35 am #

      In all honesty that depends on…well…everything. Publishing, like the people who write for it and the people who work in it, is temperamental. Months upon months can go by without me finding a project I like. I remember all of 2011 being particularly painful in that regard. Because everything is so subjective, hard numbers like that are hard to find. But generally, I feel that “it never rains but pours”. Months can go by without a single project I want to acquire, but then all of a sudden, I can get like…5 in a week I desperately want.

  2. Julie May 15 2012 at 6:06 am #

    Great post, JJ! You really made the process interesting and lively! πŸ™‚
    My question would be about percentages. Can you guestimate the percent of projects that start this journey that actually end up being acquired?

    • JJ May 15 2012 at 7:37 am #

      Yikes! There’s absolutely no metric I can come up with that will give you percentage of projects acquired. There are so many external factors that don’t have anything to do with the editorial board itself: other houses bidding on the project, the agent turning down your offer, the agent withdrawing your offer, the author deciding to pursue self-publishing, etc. (All of these things have happened before and will probably happen again. Not that I’m riffing off Battlestar Galactica or anything…)

  3. Amie Kaufman May 15 2012 at 6:30 am #

    I loved you at David Tennant, I wanted your babies once Mr. Collins showed up. I will never be quite as nervous of an editorial meeting again! I will be imagining this cast of characters around the table now!

    Awesome stuff, JJ, thank you!

    • JJ May 15 2012 at 7:38 am #

      I love David Bamber’s Mr. Collins. So perfectly awkward and pompous and puffed up with self-importance. <3

      • April Tucholke May 15 2012 at 1:51 pm #

        Bamber’s Mr. Collins was superb, but I also dug Tom Hollander’s kind of sad/hopeless take on the role as well. And will I get my ass kicked if I bring up how much I loved Matt Smith as the doctor?

        • JJ May 15 2012 at 1:56 pm #

          I can’t get over Tom Hollander being Evil. He’s always the baddie in films! (I love him though.) I’m not a huge fan of the movie version of P&P–everyone takes themselves too seriously for my personal taste, as though they suddenly found themselves in a drama instead of a romantic comedy. Still, your mileage may vary, of course.

          You will not get your ass kicked if you like Matt Smith! I like him too! (I just don’t like Steven Moffat, but I will not derail this conversation…)

  4. Peggy Eddleman May 15 2012 at 8:40 am #

    Fabulous post! I had absolutely no idea what happened behind the scenes. It makes me extremely grateful for my editor– I had no idea all she had to go through before I ever even knew it was happening!

  5. Eva Rieder May 15 2012 at 11:44 am #

    Great, informative post, J.J. It definitely answered some questions for me! Thank for putting this together. (The images were also entertaining.) Editors are clearly hard-working folks!

  6. Erica O'Rourke May 15 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    Oooh…thank you, of course, for the clarification of something that has always sounded mysterious and dramatic. But EVEN BIGGER THANKS for so many lovely pics of Ten and Donna! Made my morning!

  7. Kat Zhang May 15 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    Looove the post, JJ!! It’s always great to hear about how things go on the other side of the desk πŸ˜‰

    And <3 the gifs!! πŸ˜€

  8. Biljana May 15 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    Educational and hilarious :D. Love the post, JJ!

  9. Vanessa Di Gregorio May 15 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    JJ! This was such an awesome post! Most informative & entertaining post ever!

  10. RikaAshton May 15 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    Great post! I love getting insider information, while LOLing at funny GIFs. ❀ Plus, hooray for a fellow Avatar fan!

  11. Sooz May 15 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    This post is AWESOME. I honestly didn’t know about *most* of this behind the scenes stuff, so THANK YOU. I feel much wiser now. πŸ˜‰

  12. Bruce May 16 2012 at 8:42 am #

    Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing the acquisition story with all its characters and intrigue. I’m curious if there is an approximate amount of time this process usually takes?

    • JJ May 16 2012 at 11:53 am #

      Again, timelines can vary. If a project has a lot of buzz, it can go quickly, so we often prioritize those. Other times it can take a few months. It depends on the project, its subject matter, content, publicity, etc.

  13. Erin Bowman May 16 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Such a great post, JJ! I only knew pieces of this process and seeing it all, even now, makes me better understand why the process of acquisitions is often so crazy!

  14. Hope May 16 2012 at 11:32 am #

    Do promotion costs (like, this author could go to X, Y and Z event, and it would cost us Q to send her) get figured into the P&L?

    • JJ May 16 2012 at 12:06 pm #

      P&L mostly deals with production costs, but we do factor in a general, ballpark marketing budget. However, marketing and publicity budgets for titles are set after the project is acquired.

  15. Vicki May 16 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    Can you explain how page count and format factor in? Do you mean shorter novels are cheaper to print? Is that a ridiculous question? #newbie

    • JJ May 16 2012 at 5:14 pm #

      It’s not a ridiculous question! Yes, shorter novels are cheaper to print.

  16. Vicki May 16 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    Also, sorry, thank you for a great post! Great article from a great perspective.

  17. Leigh Fallon May 17 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Such a brilliant post! Mr Collins…pure awesome. Thank you.

  18. Emily May 17 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    What an awesome post! I love being able to understand the behind the scenes aspects of publishing a book.

    And brilliant use of Doctor Who gifs. πŸ˜€

  19. Lori Ann May 18 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    Thank you for this informative (and entertaining) post. And now I’m freaking out a little.

  20. Elsie Chapman May 19 2012 at 3:28 am #

    Thank you for such a great post! I always love seeing the whole process broken down into steps. It humanizes it.

  21. Jess May 30 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    This was absolutely the most wonderfully visual, well put layout of the acquisitions phase of writing and publishing a book I have ever read. It’s refreshing to see the whole process, well put in one place. Thanks! ~ Jess

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