If you are like most aspiring or published authors—or like most writers, you see your work from a biased perspective. If you are savvy, however, you hire a developmental or line editor to obtain a more objective viewpoint on your manuscript. However, the most important perspective from which to see a book idea—and even yourself—is through the eyes of an acquisitions editor.
If you would like to find a traditional publisher for your book, you want to impress the acquisitions editor at a publishing house. This person initially determines if your book idea deserves to be published.
Acquisitions editors acquire manuscripts for publishing houses, usually from literary agents. The acquisitions editor brings the project in house for evaluation, but a publishing or editorial board, made up of a variety of people within the publishing house, makes the final decision to purchase a work. The sales, design, marketing, and contract team might all be in this meeting and have a say about the acquisition of the book idea.
All of these professional are concerned primarily with one thing: The ability of the proposed book to sell once published.
If you want to self-published, you decide whether or not to publish your own work. Yet, the fact that indie authors don’t need approval from agents or acquisitions editors doesn’t make the job these publishing professionals perform any less valuable or necessary. In fact, the ability to evaluate a book idea for marketability remains an essential step for both traditionally published and indie published authors. And as an indie author, you serve as the acquisitions editor.
What Acquisitions Editors’ See
That’s why, no matter how you plan to publish, it behooves you to see your work, and even yourself, through the lens used by an acquisitions editor. If you see your book, and yourself, through an acquisitions editors’ eyes, you know if you can:
- Produce a book that is unique in its category. Acquisitions editors study the business plan for your book (the proposal) to determine if the idea is different from other previously published books in the same category, genre or subject area. This competitive analysis helps them determine if the book you want to write is different enough to stand out for the other books on the shelf.
- Create a book that is necessary in its category and target market. The same competitive analysis, along with a market analysis, helps an acquisitions editor determine if your book idea is one that will “fill a hole” on the bookstore shelf. They evaluate if it is a title that addresses a need in that category as well as in the marketplace. In other words, they determine if your target readers actually want a book like yours.
- Write a book that will sell an above average number of copies. Acquisitions editors study the market analysis to determine if the target market you have identified shows the potential for large numbers of books sales. That means the market has to be large enough or a profitable enough niche market to earn back the advance on sales (paid to you by the publisher). The publisher wants to make back the money invested in the project.
- Help your book succeed. Acquisitions editors also evaluate you, the author, by looking at the bio and platform description you provide in your business plan. They want to know if you are a good business partner. After all, when you seek out a traditional publisher, you ask the publisher to financially back your project, to become your venture-capital partner. In return, the publisher wants a business partner who can not only bring the completed project to the table but also help sell it when it goes to market. For this reason, the acquisitions editor looks at the promotion plan you include as part of your business plan as well. This document illustrates whether you have the ability to help sell the book. Your platform description tells them if you have done anything to date to create an audience for your book, which makes the promotion plan work; it also is a good indication of whether you will follow through on promoting the book.
- Produce a marketable book. Ultimately, acquisitions editors look at your book idea not only from a creative perspective but, more importantly, from a business perspective. The publishing industry, after all, is the business of producing, distributing and selling books. Traditional publishers bring more new products—1,500 books per day—to market than any other industry. They look at all the information included in a business plan to determine if a proposed book is a viable product—one that will sell.
How to See Through the Lens of a Publishing Pro
To see your book, and yourself, through a publishing pro’s lens and to evaluate your idea for viability (meaning marketability), you need the same information an acquisitions editor requires from aspiring authors: a business plan. These plans typically are called book proposals. A nonfiction proposal provides the most detail; therefore, it is the best choice for either a nonfiction or fiction business plan.
Don’t think of your business plan as a proposal unless you plan to traditionally publish; think of it as a business plan. Ultimately, that’s how agents, editors and publishers use a proposal. If you are an indie publisher, that’s how you, the publisher, use the business plan as well.
When you can see your book and yourself through the same lens as an acquisitions editor, you can perform the same type of evaluation of your idea and of yourself. If you then hone your book idea based on that evaluation, you write and produce a book with a higher likelihood of succeeding. If you evaluate yourself through this lens as well, you determine if and when you are ready to help your book succeed.