Libby normally posts on Wednesdays, but as I am going to Taiwan on Friday night for 11 days, I may be missing two of my Mondays, so you get to hear from me twice this week! Lucky you.
This conversations started during my Things I Hate post, and I thought I'd expand on it here, since it seems some questions have been raised.
We have many committees and meetings in my company to decide what and how our books get published. Editorial Meeting, Acquisitions Committee, Jacket Committee, Print & Bind Meeting (where the print run and price is set for each book, including reprints), Sales & Marketing Meeting, Portfolio Review (where the pub date and season of each book is confirmed/decided), Production Meeting, and prom committee.
Everyone laments about how big publishers are now publishing by committee, how everything is changed, how they long for the old days when editors had the power to decide what got published, and sure--part of me would love that. But part of me would also find that extremely stressful, because then the resulting sales or nonsales would be on my back. And sure, I'm still held somewhat accountable for the books I acquire, but I also know that it wouldn't have been signed up if the committee and/or the publisher did not support the project.
The truth is, publishing is a business, it doesn't happen in a vacuum, and it doesn't make business sense to allow one person to decide what does or does not get published. I rely on our acquisition committee, and even though sometimes I am distraught at the results, I know that it's better for the book to get published elsewhere if our team is not on board. Sure, I think this can possibly result in publishers taking less chances, but on the other hand, it also ensures that the chances that ARE taken (like Sound of Colors, for example) are executed well. And as I said below, it's not like these committees are comprised with cold unfeeling people who hate books. This is a publishing company. No matter what department you work in, it's likely that you came to publishing because you love books. Sales people could make more money working in another industry selling another product, but they didn't want to because they love books. So even if sometimes I blame the committee for things, for not allowing me to work on every project that I want to work on, I also respect the committee and all of the members on it.
And although my company has had an acquisitions committee meeting for as long as I've been there, our former publisher would sometimes just sign up books even if they had been turned down--that was his right as publisher. And he would also joke that each year, the lowest selling books were always his, and oftentimes often those books. Sure, at least those books were given a chance to see the light, but is that really fair to those books and those authors?
In the comments of that Things I Hate post below, I said, "I've seen the whole company get excited about a book, and it makes a huge difference in how it does." And Katherine asked:
"How can we, as authors and illustrators, help you, the editors, to create the excitement needed to push a book forward? Early character studies? Book dummies? Do you ever wish for something special to show around?"
If the manuscript is a picture book, and you are a first-time or relatively unknown author/illustrator, then I'll always ask for a complete book dummy, and may even ask for one finished piece. This is what I had for Hippo! No, Rhino, and I think it helped immensely in the acquisitions meeting to get people excited about it, help them see exactly what the final product would look like. It's my job to know what is best to show at this committee. So, if the editor is asking you to provide something, do it. She wants one finished piece? She wants you to finish the book or at least write 5 more chapters? Do it. She's asking for a reason, and it will only help the book down the line, even if you feel like you shouldn't need to do so much work before getting a contract.
After acquisition, it's in part up to the editor to build advanced interest and excitement for the book, but Sales and Marketing all read the manuscript for novels or see certain stages of the picture book along the way, sees the book at jacket committee. Excitement gathers on its own depending on the project. Also, sometimes we have an "art gallery" showing in-house, where we'll show a few pieces of the original art of picture books to the staff. But much of this happens naturally based on the nature of book itself, and it's not really in the editor's or the author or illustrator's control. I can't control how someone is going to react to a manuscript, if they're going to like it or not.
The best that an author, illustrator, or I can do after acquisition is to make sure that the book is the best that it can be, and hope that everyone, both in-house and out, loves and respects it.
Oh, and yeah, I was kidding about the prom committee. Although, hmmmm...
Also, I'd like to point out the heated (okay, not really heated, but interesting!) discussion going on in the comments section of Meghan's Art Critiques post below. Check it out and let us know your thoughts!