I could feel the intensity increasing among the other editors involved in acquisitions. I felt it as well because we were facing a deadline to turn in our material for the next publication board meeting. We typically set deadlines several weeks in advance of the actual meeting, then the various participants could read our background materials before the meeting and come prepared with their questions and comments. Besides the author’s proposal, we had internal documents to get ready for the meeting. An editorial assistant prepared an agenda which gave the order for the editors to present their books for that particular month.
Tensions in our editorial group always tended to run high the day of the publication board meeting as no one could predict what would happen in these sessions. There is an old saying about editors that it depends on what they had for breakfast. Reality isn’t that subjective but the mood of the room can swing to different extremes. For some meetings, the questions were minimal and the reaction was positive about the authors that I championed for the publishing house.
On other occasions it was different. I walked into the room filled with publishing staff, armed with my stack of folders and paperwork. As an editor, I prepared a series of short presentations on the key details of each book. Another editor on our editorial team had worked at multiple publishing houses and appeared before different groups of these publication boards. This colleague told me, “Our publication board is different and a bit crankier than some of the others.”
Waiting for your turn in the room can be a nerve-racking feeling for an editor. Finally my turn came and I walked into the large board room. Key leaders from the publishing house—including sales, marketing and editorial personnel—sat around a conference table. It was almost certain that several of these leaders had only skimmed your paperwork or not read it at all or they read it during your presentation. Some days it was like sitting on the hot seat trying to defend your titles to a room full of skeptics. Other times they were supportive of your selections. As a book is accepted for publication in this meeting, the various groups such as sales and marketing are held responsible for their support of a particular title. Key business decisions for the life and future of the publisher are made in these meetings. You, as the author, aren’t present but your view is represented from your work on the book proposal and the voiced words of support from your acquisitions editor.
Your words on your proposal become elevated in importance. How will your book be represented through your words? What is the hook? This should come in the first sentence or two of your overview—the first section for any book proposal. This section defines the topic of your book in a few words. I’ve already explained the difficulty involved in getting an editor to read your material. Now you have a few seconds to grab the editor’s attention. What hook will you use to entice him to keep turning your pages? Your first responsibility is to reach the editor who is thinking about his readers and book buyers when he reads your initial words. He can then use your overview material to hook his publication board.
The overview should be a maximum of one to three pages in length and should clearly explain what the book is about, why it is necessary and what makes this book different than others on the same topic. Normally this material is written in the third person.
If you are looking for a way to concisely tell the idea of your book, I’d suggest that you first write it on paper, but also work with it in an oral format. It’s one of the reasons to read your writing aloud after you’ve finished it—because the ear is less forgiving than the eye. Using this process, you will pick up on all sorts of ways to improve your manuscript.
W. Terry Whalin
W. Terry Whalin, a writer and publisher lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. A former acquisitions editor, former magazine editor and former literary agent, Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams. To help writers, he has created 12-lesson online course called Write A Book Proposal. His website is located at: http://www.terrywhalin.com/
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