Acquisitions Editor and Publisher

Self publishing as a business requires you to fill several job functions, some of which conflict with each other. The conflict that causes some self publishers to talk to themselves out loud is the one between the author and the acquisitions editor. The publisher job function can be thought of as the executive management position. It's the publisher who hires and fires acquisitions editors based on whether or not the manuscripts they acquire end up making money for the publishing company. Being the publisher can be fun and being the author can be fun but being the acquisitions editor is essentially a bean counting job. It's not about whether you like a given book (you better like it if you wrote it) or whether or not you judge the manuscript as being well written, it's strictly a judgment call about whether the title will earn the publisher money.

In the self publishing business, you are the acquisitions editor. I usually talk about marketing as being the primary job, but unless you are one of those evil geniuses who can sell salt to salt miners, you need to start with a title that is marketable. That might sound like the author's job, but the author's job is writing a good book. It's the acquisitions editor's job to tell the author not to bother if the book doesn't have a market. As a self publisher, you are in an excellent position with your multiple personalities to save the author some heartbreak by not letting the author spend months or years writing a book that you aren't willing to acquire. Unfortunately, most new authors start on the path to self publication by writing a complete book and only look into self publishing when they can't find a trade publisher. At that stage, there's just no chance that they are going to fill the acquisitions editor job function properly and turn themselves down if there's no market.

I've already written quite a bit about doing research to establish whether or not a market exists for a given title, which is initially the job of the author and ultimately the job of the acquisitions editor. You may have done a great job focusing your knowledge and skill into writing a book specifically for a proven market only to find that you don't have any marketing talent at all. That's not a minor stumbling block, it's the whole shooting match. It's the great tragedy of self publishing that you can do everything right and still fail when it comes to selling books, and not just because it's the hardest part. The problem is that selling books is the first point in the self publishing process that actually brings you into legitimate contact with the publishing world. It doesn't matter if you hired an editor and some proofreaders who all told you the book was great, that's not real contact. So, unless you've been successful with an Internet site or some other form of publishing before getting into the book game, you just don't know if the pieces are all going to add up. And that's what the job description of "publisher" is, determining whether all the pieces will add up.

I know some self publishers who really have done everything right, who are selling some books, and who have accumulated the experience see where things are heading. They often find that they can sell books through traditional promotional methods, like book readings and radio interviews, but the number of books sold per appearance just doesn't justify the ongoing effort for them. There are books that really require broad stocking in stores to gain traction, and books that benefit from having a trade publisher. I'm not shy about saying to these self publishers, "Look, the reason you didn't break into the trades earlier was that you didn't have the understanding of the publishing business you've acquired going through the self publishing process. Self publishing hasn't worked out the way you hoped and you say can't afford to put more time into it, so give being a trade author another shot." There's one way to impress an acquisitions editor at a big publisher, that's to follow their guidelines for submissions, write a great query letter, and keep trying.

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