Inside Publishing


With all the slew of terrific submissions I’ve been getting lately, I’ve been bringing quite a few projects into our weekly acquisitions meeting.  At that meeting, all the editors present the titles they want to make an offer for, weighing  pros and cons.  Most of the final decision rests with our publisher and editorial director, but everyone’s allowed to chime in with an opinion.  And it’s important to stress that the group is all editors–not sales or marketing, though we obviously have to keep marketing and sales points in mind whenever we acquire.

But before we even get to the meeting, there’s a whole process of filling out title information so everyone coming to the meeting get a sense of the project.  For each title brought to the meeting, we have to include:

  • A brief, engaging description (about 1o0-150 words)
  • A short author bio with hometown and any award wins/special recognitions
  • main selling points and marketing hooks
  • author sales history (if any)
  • comparison titles and sales figures

Some genius agents are used to dealing with the acquisitions board process and put all this info right in their cover letter.  God, I love them.  They make it so easy to cut and paste.

But we accept agented and unagented material, so now even if you’re submitting on your own, you know exactly how to present your project in a way to make the editor love you forever.

And if you’ve already submitted but haven’t included the above info, no worries, you’re grandfathered in–I’ve got you covered!

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A few years back Jennifer Ashley and I did a workshop on Title & Premise and how writers could get the interest of editors, agents or readers before they even started the book.  Today, I want to concentrate on the title part. 

A lot of writers skip skip working on a title or figure that it’s not that important because it’s only likely to change anyway.  And while it’s true that the writing is what will sell your book, the title can lay a lot of groundwork for you. 

I’ll never forget the day colleague Chris Keeslar swung by my office all excited: “I just got this proposal called THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER. I haven’t even started it yet, but don’t you just love that title?”  Fortunately, Leanna Renee Hieber‘s writing lived up to it. 

A good title will:

  • Indicate the genre
  • Give a sense of the tone
  • Provide continuity for similar/series titles
  • Intrigue the reader

Julie Kenner (The Givenchy Code, Carpe Demon) and Katie MacAlister (Love in the Time of Dragons; Sex, Lies and Vampires) are some of my ultimate heroes when it comes to clever titles.  But a title doesn’t have to be particularly clever or humorous.  Because, remember, it has to fit the tone of the book.

How to come up with a good title:

  • Figure out what best conveys your style. Is it sexy? Funny? Dark? (all three?) Are you trying to convey a certain time period? 

Let’s use Jennifer Ashley’s paranormal-historical Nvengarian series as an example.  Our theme: Fairy Tales

  • Brainstorm lists of words that convey the style you’ve chosen.

–         Prince Charming, Once Upon a Time, Happily Ever After

  • Start playing around with those words and combining them with other aspects that make your work unique. Look for rhymes, alliteration, wordplay. Keep in mind that it needs to be able to fit on a mass-market cover and still have room for the art.

–         Penelope & Prince Charming has great alliteration and works in the fairy-tale theme.

–         The second book in the series was tougher. Nothing in the list above sounded original enough.  So Jennifer concentrated on the time period with a rhyme and came up with The Mad, Bad Duke.  It’s clearly Regency set–a play on Lady Caro Lamb’s words about Byron “He was mad, bad, and dangerous to know”—which Regency readers recognize.  It also sounds playful and sexy.

–         With the third book featuring a fun-loving Scot, we came up with Highlander Ever After, again pulling in that fairy-tale theme.

     

Where to find inspiration for your titles:

  • imdb.com – The Internet Movie Database
  • your CD collection
  • rhyming dictionaries
  • regular dictionary
  • advertising slogans

Most of all, brainstorming should be a fun process, not a hair-pulling one–even if it feels like it sometimes.  Just stick with it,  don’t be afraid to ask everyone you know for suggestions, and go with what feels good.

And a totally shameless plug that has more to do with art than titles: Check out Jennifer’s PRIDE MATES on Clash of the Covers this week.

Executive Editor Don D’Auria acquires horror, thrillers and Westerns, but his take here on the rejection/acquisition process holds  true for many editors, no matter what the genre.   This column originally appeared in issue #61 of Cemetery Dance magazine.

Welcome to the first installment in what I hope will be an interesting column for anyone who’s curious about publishing seen from an editor’s perspective.  I wouldn’t presume to say that I can speak for all editors.  I’ll write about things as I see them.  I edit a mass market paperback line of horror novels.  Magazine editors or editors who work in the small presses will possibly have very different opinions.  But I think we all see the same sorts of things.

One thing I hope to do in this column from time to time is answer questions that writers or readers have about the whole editorial process.  So often what editors do is unseen or misunderstood.  People tend to see the results of what editors do, but not the way it’s done or the reasoning involved.  So if I can, I’d like to open the door a little, to let folks see what’s going on inside the office, and also inside my head.

For a lot of people, an editor’s job consists mostly of deciding whether a book is bought or not, so I thought I’d start with that perennial question, “How does a good book not get chosen?”  Or to put it another way, as many writers no doubt ask when another book is bought instead of theirs, “What was the editor thinking?”

Is it just a question of whether a book is good?  If it’s good, I buy it; if it’s not, I don’t?  I wish.  That would make things so much easier for me and for the author.  No, there are a lot of other considerations that go into the decision.  When I reject a manuscript, I’ll sometimes say in my letter that the manuscript was well-written but I still couldn’t buy it.  And I wonder if the author believes me.  But it’s true.  I’ve had to pass on a lot of really well-written novels over the years.  I wish I could have bought them all, but I couldn’t, for a variety of painful reasons.

The simplest reason is often that, even if a particular manuscript is great, there might be another one that’s still better.  My job is to find not only good manuscripts, but the best ones.  Leisure Books publishes two horror titles every month.  Twenty-four per year.  That’s what I have to work with, no more and no less.  Every year I have to find what I consider to be the twenty-four best books to put into those slots.  The really tricky part is that I did publish twenty-four titles last year, and pretty much all of those authors have a new book now that they’d really like to see me publish this year.

Editing a line of books is kind of like being a manager of a baseball team, with the writers as the players.  The success of the line depends on the success of the individual writers, who are, after all, the ones who do the work that their fans pay to see.  But I have to choose the best players and make sure they play at their highest level and make for a well-rounded team.  No baseball team, even the Yankees, can afford to buy every great player out there.  And they can’t buy too many of the same kind of player.  Just like no team wants only good pitchers or good outfielders, I can’t buy only good ghost stories or good extreme horror or good…whatever.  I need a nice mix.  So if I find myself overstocked with, say, subtle psychological horror at some point, and a writer or agent sends me another one, unless it’s absolutely fantastic I’ll pass. 

Also, just like a manager in baseball doesn’t ideally want a player who’ll be with them for just one game (or one season), I prefer writers who will continue to write and whose career I can build over the course of many books.  This means that many of those twenty-four slots this year will be filled by authors who wrote books last year.  The downside of this is I won’t have many open slots for newcomers.  Given the hundreds of submissions I see every year, that’s a lot of competition for just a few positions on the team.  So a lot of great potential players are sent home to try out for another team.

When I explain that I can only publish so many books each year, I’ve had authors say, “That’s OK, buy my book now and I can wait as long as it takes for you to publish it.”  That would be nice, but from a business standpoint it simply won’t work.  When I buy a manuscript, Leisure pays an advance.  If we don’t publish the book for two or three years, we don’t see any sales from it, and thus no money coming in for years after we’ve laid out the advance.  Not a good move financially.  Plus, if I get too many books sitting in my inventory, waiting to be published down the road, it prevents me from buying anything I may see for a while until I can work off that inventory.  And no publisher likes to close themselves off to submissions.

So let’s say for argument’s sake that a manuscript is really, really good, better than most of the manuscripts I’ve seen.  In fact it’s one of the top contenders for the few available slots in my list.  And it isn’t in a subgenre that I’ve published a lot of recently.  Clear sailing, right?  Close but no cigar.  There are still some things that can trip up a manuscript just before the finish line.  One of the most painful for me is simply bad timing, where I really love a book but I just bought a book with a very similar plot.  It happens and it kills me.  And I know it isn’t easy for the author either, because it isn’t his or her fault.  If I had seen the same manuscript two months earlier, I would have bought it and the other guy’s manuscript would have been rejected instead.  But I can’t publish two books with very similar plots, so the second one has to go.

I know.  Ouch.  It wasn’t the author’s fault, right?  But none of these things is the author’s fault.  (Assuming the manuscript is good.)  Is it the author’s fault that I have too many books in my inventory or that I simply don’t have an open slot in the immediate future?  Or that she’s written a vampire novel and I already published four vampire novels this year?  Or that his timing is just off?  No, the author did what he or she was supposed to do; write a really good manuscript.  I wish I could publish them all.  But I can’t.  I can only look through them all and pick what I think are not only the best ones but also the right ones.  Am I always right?  Not a chance.  And I know I’ve turned down a lot of great manuscripts that another house might snap up in a second, and it’s not because of anything the author did wrong.  That’s why it’s so painful to write those rejection letters.  (OK, maybe not as painful as it is to get them.)  And that’s why it’s so important for an author not to get discouraged, to keep trying, and keep submitting their work.  All of these factors outside of the author’s control can change.  If your timing was bad this time, maybe it’ll be better next time.  If my inventory is high today, maybe it’ll be lower in six months.  If your manuscript isn’t right for one house, it can easily be perfect for another.  But if you believe your work is good and you stop submitting it after a few rejections, you’ll never know how some of those factors might have changed.  And if you don’t give your work the best shot you can, that’s really painful.

I’ve never done a webinar before, but I’m really looking forward to this special panel to discuss the state of romance in the industry,with a special focus on the library market. 

Speakers include marketing executives from HarperCollins and Random House, librarians/Booklist reviewers John Charles and Shelley Mosley, Booklist editor and RWA award-winner Donna Seaman, and bestselling author Madeline Hunter.

The hour-long panel will be held online on Thurs., Nov. 12.  All are welcome to sign up here.

When a sales rep meets with a book buyer to determine how many copies to take of a particular title, she looks at a number of criteria.  The first is sales history, if it exists. The second is the design of the cover art itself – is it pleasing? does it convey the genre?  But she’s also looking to see how much the publisher has spent on the book to get an indication of how hard they’re going to be pushing this title to attract readers and recoup their costs.

The first indication of a book’s “importance” is the format in which it’s published.  Traditionally, of course, hardcovers are perceived as the most worthy of attention, then going down the price scale from there to trade paperbacks, mass-market paperbacks and finally ebooks.  Typically, advances for hardcovers are higher, the price point is higher, and *perception* is that these are “better” books.  I’m sure everyone has an opinion on that…

But let’s jump to mass-market paperbacks, ’cause that’s what Dorchester does and that’s the predominant format for the romance genre.  Special cover treatments are often used there to indicate factors a book’s “importance” or expectation of sales.  In increasing cost order, there’s:

  • emboss and/or foil of the type (author name and title); ideally they’re both foiled and embossed
  • spot emboss, where one element of the cover is raised up (like the ornament on A CHRISTMAS BALL)
  • spot gloss – using a section of gloss on a matte cover
  • full foil, where the entire cover is shiny in some way (like the Black Dagger Brotherhood series)
  • stepback – a glossy page of color art behind the actual cover

We also talk about creating a “big-book look,” which generally features a large author name and just an element of art rather than an entire scene.  Often in romance, you’d see a fairly sedate front cover and then the clinch in the stepback.  The idea is to make it look larger than a genre book.  It tends to work best when the author has some name recognition.  Otherwise, readers might not know what genre it belongs to.

The design of the book itself can also be an indication to readers. The more money spent on making it look pretty, the more that book has to earn back and the harder the publisher needs to push sales.  Typically mass-markets don’t have a lot of design in their production, though every now and then you run into beautiful drop caps or a pretty feature to open chapters.  The whole point of mass-markets is that they’re inexpensive to produce and generally not expected to have the shelf life of hardcovers.  Jennifer Ashley recently loaned me a copy of THE LUXE, a trade-sized historical YA, which was beautiful – gorgeous script on the chapter openings, all kinds of different fonts.  It really made the book fit its title.

But I find it highly interesting that all of this goes away when you start talking about ebooks.  Ebooks are truly the great equalizer.  The format of the print edition isn’t a factor. There is no tactile cover.  Often the type design is different depending on the format and the capabilities of the reader you’re using.  And the reader can change the font into whatever they want. 

There have been all kinds of ebook price wars among readers and publishers and retailers.  Because, truly, it’s the price that’s the last great publisher-determined separator of what’s supposed to be “good.”  It will be interesting to see how the model changes as the ebook market gains more precedence.

I’ve been working on the back cover copy for the first book in a new paranormal series by Elisabeth Naughton.  It’s called MARKED, and it’s coming out in May 2010.  

I’m not one of those editors who’s always wanted to be a writer.  A blank page is no fun for me (unless it’s a brand-new notebook; love those!).  I find it much easier to work with something that already exists.  But at the same time, cover copy is immensely important.  If the cover image has done its job and gotten the reader to pick up the book, it’s up now up to me to make sure the story sounds interesting enough to make them want to buy it–or at least investigate further.  Sometimes cover copy comes to me in a rush, but more often it’s a process.   

So here’s a glimpse into that process, along with commentary in the brackets.  These are the same kinds of things authors should consider when writing their query letters.

*

For nearly two hundred years he’d served his race because it was his duty as a descendent of Heracles, the greatest hero in Ancient Greece.  [Pulled from the ms.]

*

From the moment she saw him he walked into the club, Casey knew he was different. Men like that just didn’t exist in real life—silky shoulder-length hair, chest as wide as two of her side-by-side, and a predatory manner that just screamed dark and dangerous. And yet he’d cradled the blond woman he’d been after so tenderly. Casey ached to be held like that. Instead she was attacked by hellhounds.  [A little rough but generally decent – gets the reader a little in love with the hero (I hope), but they’ll wonder: who’s the blonde?  And I like the abrupt transition, but unfortunately it’s not actually true since he’s the one attacked and technically it’s by demons, not hellhounds.  Dang.]

*

[Playing with headlines]

THE GUARDIANS
THE GIRL [Demeaning?  But alliterative.]
THE PROPHECY [Got nothing with a G.]

*

There was unrest in the Underworld. Theron could feel it, the evil insidiously creeping sliding through the cracks into the mortal realm. As a Guardian, one of the last descendents of Hercules, it was his job to stop it.  [It’s a start, but now where do I go? Her POV?]

*

Theron knows what he has to do: kill the daemons, save the princess, rule the kingdom. His life is mapped out like some warped fairy tale. Or, way more appropriately, an ancient myth. After all, he’s a 200-year-old descendent of Hercules.

The human woman is also his duty. He has to find her and bring in her in for sacrifice. It’s all part of the save-the-princess thing. Problem is, he doesn’t really want the princess. He wants the human. Casey saved his life. Casey is his life. And he’ll die himself if that’s what it takes to protect her. [I kind of like the more casual tone, but what if it doesn’t sound dark enough? We’ve lost the part that makes the reader fall in love with the hero. What if I do a paragraph that intros each character for each book in the series?  Hmmm…]

*

THERON – Dark haired, duty bound and deceptively dangerous, he’s the leader of an elite group of guardians that protects the immortal realm. their realm and mortals from the threats of the Underworld. He can feel the unrest in the Underworld, the evil insidiously slipping out. And it’s his job to stop it.

Theron knows what he has to do: kill the daemons, save the princess, rule the kingdom. His life is mapped out like some warped fairy tale—or, more appropriately, an ancient myth. After all, he’s a 200-year-old descendent of Hercules.

Finding the human woman is also his duty. He has to bring in her in for sacrifice. It’s all part of the save-the-princess thing. Problem is, he doesn’t really want the princess. He wants the human. Casey saved his life. Casey is his life. And he’ll die himself if that’s what it takes to protect her. [A colleague was confused in thinking that the human and the princess were the same.  That’s no good.] 

*

[Sometimes you just end up going back to the beginning.]

FINAL:

THERON – Dark haired, duty bound and deceptively deadly. He’s the leader of the Argonauts, an elite group of guardians that defends the immortal realm from threats of the Underworld.

From the moment he walked into the club, Casey knew this guy was different. Men like that just didn’t exist in real life—silky shoulder-length hair, chest impossibly broad, and a predatory manner that just screamed dark and dangerous. He was looking for something.  Her.

She was the one. She had the mark. Casey had to die so his kind could live, and it was Theron’s duty to bring her in. But even as a 200-year-old descendent of Hercules, he wasn’t strong enough to resist the pull in her fathomless eyes, to tear himself away from the heat of her body.

As war with the Underworld nears, someone will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

With publishers still feeling the pinch of the economy, brand names (read: guaranteed sales) are more important than ever.  Everyone is mining their backlist to repackage sure hits. 

Coming up, we have:

September

princess_and_the_pea

Originally published by Dorchester in 1996.

October

    

Originally published by St. Martin’s in 1996.  Parts have been rewritten and updated.

A trade-size edition from Harlequin containing Outrageous and Riley.

There are a bunch of others as well–Grand Central is redoing  some Jayne Ann Krentz futuristics in early 2010, Harlequin is packaging some Nora Roberts’ books into double trade-size editions, and Bantam is re-releasing the movie tie-in of The Bourne Identity.  And these are just ones I noted from recent kits.  We don’t receive sales info from Kensington or Penguin (Berkley/Jove/NAL), but I”m sure they’re doing it as well.

It’s a big advantage to be able to get out a lot of copies for not much money.  The advance is already paid, and depending on how old the book is, the publisher may not have to pay to re-typset it.  So usually it’s just new art and the printing costs. 

For readers, the best way to tell whether a book is new or a reissue is to check the copyright page.

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