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Book aquisition#1

by Louisa Klein

The acquisition process is central to trade publishing- it’s how publishers build their future publishing program. It involves a lot of people and, since a considerable amount of money depends on it, it can take an awful lot of time. That’s why it can be can be frustrating for writers, as it is not apparent why publishers take so long to make up their minds about a manuscript, and why the process has to be so complicated.
Of course, to succeed, a publishing company must have books to publish, which is quite obvious, in fact. The point of course is: how does it get them? Well, in many different ways indeed: some companies create books in-house, or commission them from freelancers (usually it happens. But trade publishers get their possible future books sent to them through the submissions process and must choose between them.
For those publishers, publishing begins with acquisition and depends upon it. The process is very long and complicated, since the prosperity of the publisher depends upon it. Books are the publisher’s products, after all, and if they don’t sell, the publisher will go bankrupt and dozens, if not hundreds of jobs will be axed.
No one wonders (or complains) when BMW or Toyota or Citroen takes such a long time to produce a new type of car and then launch it on the market: everyone knows the costs involved, the long time necessary to research a new engine which consumes less fuel and so on. Engineers and scientists who put together a new project for a new car, will present the said project in a certain way, following certain (professional) rules and won’t have a tantrum because BMW is taking a long time to consider it, since they know that there are a lot of factors to be weighted up and that many jobs depend on the final result.
So, I have asked myself so many times: why, oh why so many wannabe writers get angry/frustrated/
when agents respond to their query after two months or more and/or when it takes up to a year (and sometimes even more) after submission, to sign a book contract? My dear, sweet storytellers: there’s a lot at stake, that’s why the process of acquisition is so long and complicated, that’s why, to speed-up the process, literary agents and publishers have set up a few rules to be strictly followed when you submit your book.
“All right”, you’re probably thinking right now. “So, how does it work? Is it handled the same way at different publishers, or are there different practices? Please enlighten us, oh goddess of the Editorial Wisdom” (OK, probably I have exaggerated a bit and you are not exactly thinking that … Anyway, I’m back and miraculously alive from a frantic London Book Fair, I decided to dedicated the following two weeks to the subject, exploring first the acquisition process of literary agents, then the way publishers acquire books (from agents or directly from the author). The following articles will be based on my personal experiences in children’s publishing, and conversations with editors at other houses.
Stay tuned, since there’s a real chance you’ll learn something and will have a much better chance to be published if you aren’t already .
Louisa Klein

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