How to talk to book publishers
Acquisitions editors are usually your first contact.
You have an interested publisher! That’s great. Now what do you do? What do you say?
A lot of authors are unsure how to approach an acquisitions editor or contact at a publisher, and sometimes end up losing out on a book deal because of it.
This is not “What can you do for my book?” or “What do you have to offer that another publisher cannot?”
This is not a paid service.
This is the beginning of a partnership. And you need to show anyone interested in acquiring or supporting your book the time and respect they deserve.
Because that’s what you deserve as well.
And so, the first thing you should talk about is not your book. It’s each other. Do you like one another? Could you work together? Do you believe you’re both good likable people?
If not, then the book doesn’t really matter now does it.
If yes, then on to the book talk. Most of this stuff is laid out in a contract. You’ll either agree to the terms or you won’t, negotiate, and accept or deny the book deal.
There is no script to follow. This is not a pitch. They already have that in the form of your book proposal. Answer their questions about the book and what you’d like to see for it.
Be prepared to talk “numbers.” Know your blog stats and number of email subscribers, Facebook fans, and Twitter and Instagram followers. Let them know the work you’ve put into yourself and your book project tells them you’re willing to undertake the work ahead.
Then ask them some of your own.
Please don’t ask them which other books they’ve published. You should be able to find those on their website before a phone call.
Maybe ask what specifically they like about your book.
What’s most important in this step is whether the editor or publisher sounds passionate about you and your book. If they genuinely like the topic, the direction of the plot or manuscript, and can see your book on retail shelves then you’re likely in good hands.
The goal here is get an offer; a contract to review.
You get that by asking for it. If you’re feeling each other and you want to move forward, ask the editor to send you their terms.
Because you are ‘Excited and grateful they expressed interest and look forward to the opportunity.”
No matter which publisher or how many express interest in your book, that should be your response. Even if you don’t get to the contract step (either because you are not interested or they’re not), those words should be passed along in some form.
On the contract, you’re going to have some questions. So here are some tips and suggestions:
- Upfront cost. If there are any that means the publisher is either a service or a hybrid, and likely have limited authority and experience on the rest of the bullet points below. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It just means they’ll print and publish your book for a cost, like Amazon or CreateSpace does. If the contract has an upfront cost and a royalty rate, they are a hybrid publisher and it’s okay to negotiate for lower upfront cost and higher royalties depending on their proposed level of service or distribution.
- Royalties. You’re looking for at least 15–20% author royalties from a traditional, 15–45% from an independent publisher, and 50% or above from a hybrid. The discrepancy is due to authority levels with the remaining bullet points below.
- Paid advances. Usually only offered by traditional and big 5 publishers either to 1) complete the book, or 2) show goodwill and confidence in future book sales. Both are very rare to get, given that only 4% of authors receive a traditional book deal. You should never expect this going into a conversation with a publisher. Ego is not good for book deals, or for anything else really.
- Distribution. All publishers can get you into online bookstores. You can do that yourself actually. So that’s not a compelling factor in a contract. You’re goal is print retail, i.e. physical book shelves. Traditional, big 5 and independent publishers have authority there. If there is not mention of print retail in the contract ask them about it. This could be a point to negotiate higher royalties or lower upfront cost.
- Editing. Even if you’ve already had your manuscript edited it’s always a good sign when the publisher is more involved here. You want the publisher to treat your book like their own; not like just another stack of paper they can run through their mill. The terms should clearly specify this. The less you see about editing in the contract, the more reason to negotiate higher royalties or lower upfront cost.
- Marketing. We’d all love it if someone would just take over selling your book for you. But that’s not how it works. It’s about level of support here. Traditional and big 5 have credibility with major publications and influencers to review your book and drive sales. Book tours and signing happen, but for a very small amount of authors. Independents have these as well, just a tad less. Don’t go into a contract expecting these. Hybrids and service publishers, ahem Amazon, invest nothing to get your book in front of more readers.
Those are the main things to consider in a publisher offer, or contract.
As for the rest of it, just be yourself and think logically about which options are going to 1) give yourself the best chances of becoming a credible author, and 2) give your book the best chances of being produced at a high quality.
Btw, if you haven’t started a proposal on Publishizer yet, give it a try. It’s free. And we can help you with everything I mentioned above.
PS. If you haven’t gotten publisher interest yet, here’s a read on How to sell your book.
PSS. Apply to our next author batch here.
PSS. Want to write your proposal in 5 days? This helps immensely.