Making an offer

Last month I talked about how editors approach the submission pile hoping that the next submission they read will make them fall in love. This month I’m going to discuss what happens next.

An editor falling in love with a submission is the first of many steps to making an offer on the project. Every publishing house handles acquisitions differently, but I’m going to describe the typical steps I go through to make an offer.

Get Others Reading

Once I’ve fallen in love with a book, I pass it along to other members of the editorial team to get their thoughts on the book. In most cases, we discuss the book at an editorial meeting and talk about what’s working, what’s not working, and where it fits on our list. Depending on how the discussion goes, I’ll get in touch with the agent to say that we’re passing or that I’m moving along to the acquisitions stage. One other option after this meeting is to have a call with the author to talk our editorial thoughts. The call with the author can come at multiple stages in the process.

Call with the author

One of my favorite parts of my job is having editorial discussions with my authors. I’m a huge fan of the phone. My pre-offer phone calls with authors allow me to get to know the author beyond their bio and twitter feed (yes, we twitter stalk you) and get a sense of their process. I’ll go over specific things I love about the submission and discuss parts that need work and how I see the two of us working together to make the book even stronger. Much like getting “the call” from an agent, an author should use these editorial phone calls to ask the editor any questions about the editor’s process and approach and get a sense of how the imprint works.


A good chunk of my time after I’ve decided to move forward with a project is spent looking for comp titles. Comp titles are books that are similar in tone/content to the submission. Sometimes an agent will list comps in their pitch and that makes this part a little easier. Other times, I’ll spend hours looking up books with similar themes and running sales numbers to see how my submission will stand up in the marketplace.


Acquisitions meetings vary from house to house. Sometimes the acquisitions meeting is truly a large meeting of various sales, marketing, publicity team members discussing the project while other times this step is simply a conversation between the editor and their publisher. This is the point where the book is discussed in the big picture of the list and the editor gets a good idea of the level of sales everyone thinks the book can reach.

The Nitty Gritty of the P&L

There are so many little things that go into creating the profit and loss statement that the editor creates to show how much money they can offer.

The physical cost of the book: In addition to including how many copies of the book we think we can sell, we have to know how much each copy will cost to produce. This involves coming up with a page count and getting pricing on various effects to the cover/jacket. If I’m working on a submission based on a proposal, I won’t have a word count to go off of, so this is a question I ask in those author calls. “What is your anticipated word count for the final book?” Depending on if the book is YA or middle grade, I’ll have to take font into account when coming up with page count.

Return rate: Every book gets returns. It’s a fact of life. Most imprints have a standard return rate for their books that they use in the P&Ls.

Marketing budget: Some P&Ls have a standard percentage set aside for the marketing budget, others account for specific marketing plans.

Advance and royalties: This is the fun part where editors see how much they can offer on the project and still make a profit.

Making the offer

Once I have a fully approved P&L, it is time to make the offer! I usually call the agent with the good news and then follow up with an email breaking out all of the specifics (advance, royalty rates, subrights, etc). Then it’s my turn to wait and find out if the author wants to go with me or not! If there are multiple offers, the agent will go into an auction, but that is a whole different post for another day!

Making an offer is an exciting and time consuming process. From the initial submission to the time I make the offer, I probably have exchanged at least 20 emails with members of the team in-house and had multiple conversations in person about a single book. This is why we have to love a submission. Before we even get to edit it, we have to support it and discuss it at length before the offer is ever made. It all goes back to the love of the project.


4 Responses to Making an offer

  1. Maya Prasad May 21 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    Thank you for this insight into how it all goes down!

  2. scott treimel May 22 2014 at 10:51 am #

    thx for this. writers might be surprised— always a worthy result. i will link from our STNY blog.

  3. Anna E. Jordan May 23 2014 at 11:30 am #

    Hey! I thought I asked about this the other day but probably never pressed send. I’d love for you all to discuss revisions without an offer. How often do the editors on this site ask for them? How often do the authors on this site agree to them? How often do the agents on this site suggest their clients agree to them? It seems to be “industry standard,” and I think that anything that improves the manuscript is beneficial to all parties. Plus the editorial time on a letter or call is a gift. Still, in an industry that is based on content provided by authors on spec, it’s another time that authors work for free.

  4. Peter Taylor Jun 15 2014 at 5:22 am #

    Thank you so much for this. Un-agented, I accepted everything on the initial contract offer for my first book (1987), which I think most writers do out of gratitude, especially realising that the publisher is taking a big risk that the unknown person may not deliver on time or to the standard expected. I now have teamed with an agent and I find the whole negotiation process around an offer is incredibly nerve-wracking. My mind wanders and hopes that questions and concessions asked for don’t lead to the offer being withdrawn – but I’m assured that it’s ‘just business’ and the publisher has the final say and can say ‘No more’ at any point. Not that we have ever asked for a larger advance, but things like …if mega sales result, when a higher royalty percentage will kick in, what triggers a reversion of rights, and in my last contract, who owns the rights for the words if they are used as song lyrics. I have not yet written a text that has gone to auction, but I look forward to your future contributions and descriptions of this and the publishing process.

    Best wishes to all from Brisbane, Australia

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