Monday, May 3, 2010

It Takes a Village to Acquire a Book...

The mystery of the acquisitions meeting. What happens behind closed doors? How do publishers decide who gets published, and who they must let down? It all starts with a manuscript. We have acquisitions editors whose job it is to find books for us to publish, which happens in a lot of different ways. 
  • Editors have established relationships with authors they have previously worked with that they receive new manuscripts from.
  • Some go to conferences and speak or do workshops where they meet aspiring authors, who pass on manuscripts to them.
  • A few manuscripts can come from the unsolicited, or "slush" pile
  • Sometimes books are brought in from other publishers outside of the country that we consider buying U.S. right to.
  • Agents will often send manuscripts that they think will be a good fit for an editor or publishing house.
However, just because an editor loves a book, doesn't mean it is guaranteed to be published. When a book is to be brought to an acquisitions meeting, it is made available to everyone in our office for review, and in turn, we fill out readers reports. This is where we are able to state our opinions about books we are considering. Readers reports ask questions like:
  • What audience would this book be ideal for?
  • How would you compare this manuscript to competitive titles as well as our own?
  • What are key positive elements of the manuscript? Are there any negative elements?
  • Recommended format, price, art?
  • General comments.
These are all things that are important and that a publisher looks at. Whenever anyone asks me for advice on how to get published or about writing a manuscript, I always tell them to look at those key points, especially audience and competitive titles. Someone may be a wonderful writer, but if their book doesn't bring anything new to the table to make it stand out from competitive titles, that is a strike against it.

All of these mini-book reports (which is how I personally tend to think of them) are given to the editors who are working on that particular manuscript. After reading over everyones thoughts, the editors present each manuscript in the acquisitions meeting. This is really where an editor has an opportunity to fight for their story and address any negative comments from the readers reports. It also gives other staff members a chance to ask questions directly. This is why it is important to have an editor really champion your book. They are the ones that, in a way, have to convince everyone else that it is beneficial to publish your story even though it is a risk, especially when publishing a new author.

The reason all of the different departments are included in these meetings is to have different perspectives. Maybe a story is really great, but difficult to market or publicize. Perhaps there is a weak story, but great writing and illustrative promise. Sometimes an author we have worked with before only submits an outline to an editor and they have to fill in the blanks for the rest of the staff to show it is worth acquiring a book before it is even finished. These issues can be addressed and considered before a contract is draw up to publish a book. 

Depending on the book, there can be a lot of questions and disagreeing on a title, or overall agreement. Ultimately, our publisher has the final say in whether or not we publish a book, but all notes, feedback, questions, and comments are taken into consideration. 

Do you have questions about manuscript submission or acquiring books? Let us know!


  1. My first book, The Unfaithful Widow, is available at Amazon online. I chose print on demand as I am new to the publishing industry. I am interested in interning with a publisher to learn more about the trade. My previous experience is in PR with the Federal Government. Please check out my web I have written children's books but they sit in a box under my bed. Any suggestions?

  2. If you want some tips on submitting a children's manuscript, check out our previous post about it here:

    I tend to tell everyone though that writing a children's book is more difficult than it seems. You have to have a complete story and character development in only a few pages, as well as decide what you will tell the reader and what the illustrations will show to them. Start by going to your local library and reading picture books. Your librarian can suggest some good ones, and also, pick up a copy of Writer's Market to learn about publishers that do children's books.

    As far as internships, a lot of publishers offer them, although most are unpaid. Since publishing is a difficult industry to break into though, it is a good place to start to get involved. Most publishers will have information on their websites about how to apply for an internship. You can see ours here:

  3. Great background article! It's interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes and that there are so many more possibilities than just hoping your writing makes it passed the "slush pile". Thanks so much for sharing!

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  5. Thank you so much for this! It really is always interesting to hear the publisher's take on things. We so often see it from our own (writer's) perspective, but it really is all about how so many different pieces fit together in the puzzle.

  6. Thanks for the article. I am a published author, and I know that the acquisitions take quite a long time. Your article makes it clear to anyone saying, "Why does it take so long?"

  7. Fantastic post! Thanks for taking some of the mystery out of the acquisitions process!


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