Who Decides to Publish Your Book?

The following blog post is shared by permission from
the Steve Laube Agency blog    

The editor you met with at a writers’ conference
liked your proposal and asked you to send it to her after the conference. She
was already talking about format and promotion ideas. Or you submitted a
proposal and received an enthusiastic response from the acquisitions editor.
Four (or maybe six to eight) months later, a rejection letter showed up in your
inbox or mailbox.
What happened?
No matter how much editors like potential books,
they don’t have final say in sending contracts A lot of other people are
involved in the decision of whether to issue a contract or a rejection letter.
Before becoming an agent I worked 11 years as an
acquisitions editor and later as an editorial director for Bethany House
Publishers. Most publishers have two physical board meetings to help make the
decision whether or not to publish a book. This process varies from publisher
to publisher and each company has its own name for its board meetings. Thus
many authors get confused when hearing different labels.
Some rejections state that “the book did not get
past the committee.” This statement can mean a lot of things. It could even
mean it didn’t get past stage one below. So take a comment like that with a
grain of salt, or at least get clarification if you wish to know how far your
book actually went in the process.
Let’s look at the stages your proposal goes
through in this process (all of this presupposes that you already have a
literary agent who has helped your craft your proposal so that it will get
reviewed by the right person at the right publisher):
Stage One: Editor

The first stage is with the editor, one-on-one.
This person must decide which book projects he or she wants to sponsor to
colleagues. Most rejections happen at this desk. For some reason it didn’t
click. Rarely does anyone else in the company see the rejected proposal at this
stage. Some junior editors may show it to a senior editor, but not in a formal
presentation meeting.
Stage Two: Editorial Board

The second stage is the editorial board. Editors
gather together and pitch their discoveries to other editors. The editors
create consensus for the project and occasionally brainstorm a different
direction for it. If you get approval at this stage, many editors will call the
agent or you and tell you the good news. But this is only a mid-level step.
Stage Three: Publishing Board

The third stage is the publishing board meeting
(aka pub board). This is the biggie. Again, each company operates differently,
so consider this description as a generalization. In this meeting are the
company executives, presidents, vice-presidents, sales and marketing folks, and
editorial representatives. I’ve heard of these meetings having as many as 20
people in attendance. Likely it is closer to 10 at the most.
Most editors have worked hard prior to this
meeting. They have put together pro-formas that show the projected sales and
profitability of the project. Likely they have already gone to the sales
department and received a sales projection. Some go as far as gathering
printing bids for the book prior to the meeting. Each member of the committee
receives the pro-forma and a copy of the book proposal. (I can’t emphasize
enough the power of a top notch proposal.). The executives receive this
information before the meeting but not all are able to read it in advance.
It is this meeting where every objection possible
is thrown at the book. Participants come up with reasons why this idea is a
failure and why it should never be published. The discussion can be brutal. The
editor is the advocate who defends the book against objections. If it survives
this gauntlet, it will likely survive the general marketplace. In my time at
Bethany House each project took a minimum of 15 minutes to present and receive
rejection or approval. But some discussions lasted an hour.

There were times I went into the meeting
expecting a slam dunk and got rejected. Other times I thought I’d get shot down
but ended up with approval. An editor considers it a good day when 80 percent
of what he or she presents in the pub board meeting gets approved.
Reasons for approval can be everything from pure
economics to personal agendas by an executive. If that executive loves the
topic, he can push the rest of the meeting toward approval. If everyone is
tired and cranky, then the proposal may be doomed for publishing success. This
is a subjective business, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the pub
board meeting.
At this stage, the editor has company approval of
the book. Some publishers authorize the contractual parameters in this meeting.
Others have to have a separate meeting with the finance department.
But now is usually when the editor calls you or
your agent with the good news. Negotiations begin on the contract, and you are
on your way to your next published book.

Steve
Laube
, a literary agent and president of The Steve Laube Agency, has
been in the book industry for over 31 years, first as a bookstore manager where
he was awarded the National Store of the Year by CBA. He then spent over a
decade with Bethany House Publishers and was named the Editor of the Year in
2002. He later became an agent and has represented over 700 new books and was
named Agent of the Year by ACFW. His office is in Phoenix, Arizona.
Originally published Published in The Advanced Christian Writer, September/October 2005. Revised 2009 and 2015.