What leads the acquisition team to say no, even when the editor says yes?

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Yesterday on Twitter I did a session of #editreport. If you’re not familiar with #editreport, you can see the session in its entirety on my Storify here. In a nutshell, it’s a Twitter session where I go through the reports the freelance editors send me on the slush pile submissions they’ve read, and pull quotes from why a submission didn’t work, and share them on Twitter. It’s meant to be an insight into an editor’s head as they read the slush pile, and also a learning experience about things that are common mistakes–and some things you might not think of.

During the course of yesterday’s #editreport, we discussed what percentage of submissions are acquired (7%) but that I noted the acquisitions team actually says no to about 40% of what the editors recommend for acquisition. This led to a question about how the acquisition team decides to say no, versus yes, when the editor has already said yes. I’m going to give you some insight into how the Carina Press acquisition team works. To start, however, I suggest you read this post I wrote (almost exactly a year ago to the day!) on how acquisitions work at Carina in general. It will give you a good starting base.

Once an editor has read a submission and decided that they love the book enough to send it forward to us for acquisition, using a detailed editorial report form we developed, the team assigns at least two members to read it. Currently, there are 11 people on the acquisitions team, from all areas of digital marketing, production, publishing, promotion, social media and more.

The editor, via the editorial report form, and the team members who read the manuscript report on the following areas: author history, marketability, editorial needs of book and why they did (or in some cases did not) love it. For established authors, we look up sales figures, both from Carina Press, if they’re a returning author, and via Bookscan, if they’ve published elsewhere. We discuss what we know of the author’s writing and sales history, what they’re like to work with, how popular the genre is, merits of the manuscript, how much work it will need, and how it fits into our program.

It is not just immediate sales we’re interested in, but the opportunity we have to grow both the genre the book falls in, and the author. We’re not looking for authors to write one book for us–we’re looking for authors we can build a backlist with, because that’s where success will come for all of us.

For returning authors, yes we look at sales numbers, but we also look at reviews, growth in their writing, do subsequent manuscripts come in with the same reoccurring craft issues, what were they like during the editorial/art/cover copy process, is this a genre or a series we know will be a slow build, etc.

Discussion of all of these points, in addition to the team’s feelings about the manuscript overall lead us to say either yes, we’ll acquire, or no, we’re glad the editor brought it to the team, but we’re passing. Recently, we had an acquisition that both team members who read it thought was incredibly strong and well-written, but we passed with regret, because we didn’t think we were the right publisher to build this author and her work. So, as a publisher, we’re not just looking for a book that will sell, we’re looking for a book that we can do right by.

Any number of other things eventually lead us to a “no” including a series that has lackluster reviews and sales, a book we’re not passionate about in a genre we know will be a hard sell, an author who seems reluctant to work through the editorial process, or even a book that just doesn’t strike us as something we love.

So, as you can see, the acquisitions process isn’t a totally objective one, there’s a lot of subjective things that come into play, as well. That’s why we do say, in our rejection letters, that publishing is a subjective business and a book may find a home somewhere else–not because we’re trying to give lip service to some idea, but because we know it’s true! Every publisher has their own acquisition process, their own guidelines and their own alchemy they’re looking for.

6 thoughts on “What leads the acquisition team to say no, even when the editor says yes?”

  1. Thanks, Angela. Insight into how things work is ALWAYS helpful.

  2. Gloria Galasso says:

    It seems reasonable to me. Even a great book may just not be what you are looking for at this moment to fill your list. Everything is subjective in art anyway. I am also a weaver and I know that everything I weave will not suit everyone who comes looking for a piece. However, that piece will eventually sell because it will hit some buyer just right. All I have to do is make a good rug. I think it is probably the same with books.

  3. Suzanne says:

    Such an in-depth post, and interesting. Could you please tell me if the aquisitions team and editors read the synopsis first then the manuscript, or do they read the manuscript and then the synopsis? thank you.:) Just curious.

  4. Angela James says:

    Suzanne, every person actually does it differently, so there’s no one way it’s done.

  5. Eve Langlais says:

    Wow, I was fascinated to learn you actually look up numbers if an author is previously published. Makes good business sense although I have to ask how you check for authors who are only epublished? I would guess the number of reviews a piece gets on Goodreads and at online retailers might give an indication of populairty given the small percentage of readers who review afterward.
    Thanks for a peek into the acquisitions process
    Eve :)

  6. Lara Kairos says:

    Angela,

    Thank you for more helpful insights. It seems it’s important for an author not only to build up a strong brand but also match it with the right publisher.

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