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The Risks of Taking On Debut Authors

In today's market, we often complain about the difficulty of getting noticed by traditional publishing houses. We lament that they're no longer open to unagented submissions, and we wonder why certain books get so much attention, when we're sure our writing is just as good if not better.

After my visit to my publishing house last week, I'm convinced every writer needs the opportunity to see exactly how much time, money, and effort a publishing house invests into each of their authors.

The biggest lesson I learned from my visit is this: When a publishing house takes on a debut author, they're making a BIG investment and taking a HUGE risk. And because of that, they have to be incredibly careful about what projects they choose.

I haven't made any money for my publishing house yet, and not only have they paid me an advance, they've also already invested in my book in numerous ways through edits, marketing, and the book cover.

The investment in editing: Approximately five editors read my book initially and had a meeting to compare notes on what I needed to change. Imagine how many combined hours this initial process involved.

My two editors have read through both of my rewrites, and now one of them must read through my entire book again, scrutinizing every paragraph and line. After she's done, then the book will go through a copy edit.

Remember, The Preachers' Bride is a full length novel, 100,000 words. It's not a quick read. And yet, they're giving my debut book the same effort they do for their established authors.

The investment in marketing: Bethany House has a month-by-month marketing count-down in their efforts to prepare for the release of a book. They provide a binder that outlines what the author is responsible for doing and what the marketing department will be working on.

Each member of the marketing team has a specialized role, including fiction manager, publicist, internet marketing, and copy writer. They've already begun to collect data from me, did a podcast interview during my visit, and will have additional meetings during the upcoming months to begin implementing all the various strategies for marketing my book.

Some of them have read my book in order to have a better idea how to help me. So, once again, think of all they're investing in me upfront.

The investment in the book cover: The Bethany House art department is on the cutting edge of historical romance, known throughout CBA for their stunning and trend-setting book covers. They're an incredibly talented team of artists who work hard to be innovative.

I was amazed at the amount of money, time, and effort that have already gone into the cover of The Preacher's Bride, everything from hiring a model, having a photo shoot, to researching English countryside settings. (More in a future post.)

As you can see, Bethany House Publishers is investing in my book in many, many ways, even though they haven't made any money from me. Of course, they'll work hard to recap their investment. But they have absolutely no guarantee they'll gain it all back.

With everything I saw and learned from this trip, I finally realized why a publishing house must be SO careful about taking on a no-name, debut author who doesn't have an established readership base. They're taking a chance on us and hope we do well. But who can afford to gamble often?

We may complain about how difficult it is for new authors to have a shot at traditional publication, but I hope the glimpse at my experience will give us all a new awareness of the risk publishing houses take with debut authors. May it spur us to write the best possible books so that we can give them something truly worthy of their investment.

Were you aware of how much time, effort, and money went into the pre-publication aspect of a book? Do you think publishing houses are justified in being so careful about debut authors? Or do you think they need to take more risks?

51 comments:

  1. Their risk is huge, especially with the current publishing upheaval. "Things they are a changin'". I'm uber jittery and I've no money invested. Small publishing houses are in a greater bind.

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  2. As an unagented writer who's just now starting the query process, I *hope* those in the publishing industry will take greater risks. On the flip-side, however, I can certainly understand how they would need to be careful.

    I appreciate this insightful post!

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  3. The process of producing a book is so fascinating. So many things happening a reader isn't aware of. All we want is the book in our hot little hands. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. I'm totally aware of it, and while I will (I'm thinking positively!) GREATLY appreciate it, I think I come into it with a healthy knowledge that it's business, too. ALL business is risky... bringing a new product to market is huge and must be carefully thought out... and for publishers they have to bring to market a LOT of new products every year, which is what makes them much different than other industries.

    It's SO great to hear that they are investing so much in you Jody, what an honor!! They have to know how AWESOME you are and have a good inkling that your book is going to rock... otherwise they wouldn't put so much effort into your book:-)

    SO SO SO excited for it to come out... in the fall right????

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  5. I never stopped to think how much work they actually had to do before they even started making any money. I knew that I sent out information on my book, I let them read my novel, but past that one doesn't think how much they do read the book, edit and have me revise. It is quite the task at hand, and I would consider it an honor to be chosen by a publishing company, knowing they were willing to risk it for my book. Means I must have done something right.

    Nothing that comes easy is worth it, or everyone would have a book by now!

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  6. Hence there is a strong case here as to why writers should invest in THEIR OWN publishing without Writers' Associations giving them a kick in the rear for doing so.

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  7. As a self published author, I really appreciate your post. It's the catch 22 of the industry. You have something great to say, but no one is brave enough to take you on.

    The same thing exists in the speaking business. Speakers bureaus won't even talk with you unless you have experience. They don't want you calling them... they want to call you when you have something profound to say.

    Maybe the secret is to create something or do something so profound that the publishing houses and speakers bureaus are pounding on your door to sign you up.

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  8. Jody, I had NO idea. I knew they had a sort committee to decide on whether or not they want to take the chance, but man! A lot of work, time, and expense goes into one little ol' book. More that I ever imagined.

    Oh Jody! I CAN'T WAIT TO BE WRITING THESE POSTS THAT YOU ARE NOW. When I read your posts I dream about that day when...

    Thank you for taking the time to show us. To teach us. We will be all the better, because you took the time to help us dream our dream. =)

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  9. Very informative.

    Careful is good.

    Have a great weekend,
    ~ Wendy

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  10. I had the benefit of working in broadcasting for 20 years so I was able to talk to many record label people (both secular and Christian) about the biz and the dangers of breaking new artists. I always just took that model and projected it onto publishers when I started looking into chasing this dream. Good to know I'm really not far off. :)

    Thank you for sharing. :)

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  11. Wonderful post. I'm sure if I saw the inner workings of a publishing house, I'd be amazed they ever take on new authors at all. As it is, I understand their hesitation completely.

    I'm going to have to save this post for my next rejection, so I can remind myself what all they have to take into account when reviewing a manuscript.

    Thank you so much!

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  12. That is crazy. I think publishing needs to be as careful as possible right now. I know many publishers are struggling and taking more risks is about the worst thing they could do right now. They need MORE sure things, not less. (Still, I hope my little book makes it through someday!)

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  13. This is a fascinating post. All I could think as I was reading, is that Jody's book must be really good for them to put so much into it. In other words, they wouldn't take the risk if they didn't expect the payoff...so good for you Jody. I can't wait to read it. I love historical fiction.

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  14. I'm so glad you got to make the trip to Bethany! You've given us yet another perspective from which to view the journey of the debut author. Thanks, Jody!

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  15. I agree. And I also think we as authors need to put as much effort into our own promotion efforts once our debut book has launched. If they're willing to put the time and energy in, we should be too.

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  16. Thank so much for this Jody. You are absolutely right on. I too am a first time author(Hachette and Harvest House in 2010) and I'm humbled and amazed at all the behind the scenes action that takes place just to put one book on a shelf. Wow. Certainly God has put a story in all of our hearts...and He chooses to allow them to shine in ways beyond our understanding. To Him be the Glory. I'm not a big fiction reader but I'd like to read your first - thanks Jody.
    With Hope,
    Jill Kelly (www.jillkelly.me)

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  17. Jody, as always, so informative. And Natalie, I'm with you on both counts!

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  19. I'm with Liza, and have had the same thought. I also felt even more blessed in my publication journey when I realized the commitment my publishers were making in me. Once I got there, it was a true boost of confidence. I think patience mixed with gracious persistence is the key for those who are still tapping on the door. And even though I'm published, I am among them, still. Even published authors still get rejections because the risk always remains. We are never guaranteed anything. So, just keep writing and reading through all the highs and lows. That's the best advice I can offer. As for you, Jody, cherish the fact that so many have rallied behind you and your book. Now you've got me super intrigued about the cover too. !!!

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  20. Hiring a model! Squee!

    I'm sold on the idea that traditional publishing methods is the way for me. I just don't have the finances or resources to put my work out there in such a grand way.

    Congratulations again Jody! Wow.

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  21. P.S. That was me, deleting my earlier post. I caught three typos! Sorry for the interruption in comment flow. Have an awesome weekend Jody!

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  22. I was aware, still this has been a very helpful series of blog posts. Thanks for taking the time to give these intriguing behind-the-scenes peeks into the process, Jody. How excited are you? That one little word can't cover it, I'm sure.

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  23. That must have been so FUN to go to your publishing house and look behind the scenes! It's nice to dream about the day when my book might actually be under contract and on its way to publication, instead of in the endless, unpredictable waiting of committee decisions. :-)

    I understand why it's hard for them to take risks. On the other hand, I hear it's even harder for the second-time authors whose first books did not sell well. So first-timers take heart! You're better off than you may think if you have a superb novel.

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  24. Having worked for a small textbook publishing company for five years, one as an assistant editor, I got to see the inner workings. The amount of time and money that go into one just one book is HUGE. So is the risk taken by the publisher. We writers compete for the few spots available for new authors, yes, but then the publisher must compete with other houses for readers/customers.

    To have a shot at getting published, we need to keep writing great stories. We can help in another way. Keep on reading!

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  25. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing the inside scoop on the process. As a numbers person, I completely understand their need to justify the investment. I just hope they consider my book worth the investment some day. :-)

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  26. Thank you for this post (and the others of this tone that you've done in the past.) I agree that we writers need to try on the publisher's shoes from time to time--we're not the only ones sticking our necks out. Posts like these give me even more respect for the folks on the other side of the desk!

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  27. I think I've been aware of the investment publishing houses make, but only on a sort of back-of-my-mind basis. Thank you so much for painting the picture more clearly. It really does make me feel like I need to really push myself to make sure my writing is the best it can possibly be. How else can I convince publishers to take my novel over someone else's?

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  28. Wow! I never realized how much time, effort and money goes into publishing a book! Thanks for the insights!

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  29. Great article and yes, as an unpubbed, agented author, I'm aware. Still, it doesn't lessen the fact that I want a publisher to take a risk on ME!

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  30. I didn't realize your book was such a high word count! WOW!:)) And yes I know of the money they put in after attending so many CBA's over the years--so much money went out there to promote the new authors and the old.
    SO happy for you!

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  31. It's nice to see a post from publishing's perspective! Very informative.

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  32. I really appreciate that it's such a huge risk. It'll mean a lot when someone decides to take a chance on me!

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  33. Thank you for the behind the scenes look. Glad that they are willing to take the risk with new authors.

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  34. A book I read not long ago actually gave me a bigger glimpse into some of the efforts that a publisher goes through with any author, but mainly debut authors. As with many careers and jobs, it's easier to get a position if people know you and how you work. When you are unknown people don't generally gravitate towards you as quickly. If they believe in you enough, they take a chance. I think it's fair to say that if they don't believe in someone or their work, after seeing what that person has to offer, I can't blame them for not taking the risk.

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  35. I think I've always understood this. It doesn't make it easier for the new writers out there that are trying to find agents and publishers, but it does help by getting the perspective of the publisher. Thanks, Jody.
    Karen

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  36. That really puts things in perspective. Yes, I think they have a right to be so careful about debut authors. They are taking a big risk.

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  37. Of course they have to be careful. However, some of them are mainly out to make money and treat every 'risk' as a monetary investment NOT a literary one. Publishing should not be all about the money. Sadly, most of it is at the moment.
    I was told that while my content is great, my profile wasn't high enough to be taken on. My books are now about who I am and not what I've written. This is completely wrong.
    All of us had to be début authors at one point. Where does this leave us?
    I wish you all the best with this and may you sell hundreds of thousands of copies!

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  38. I had your sense of shock when I realized everything that goes into the cover art, the marketing concept. Yes, it's overwhelming...and can be intimidating!!!

    Loved the tightrope image and am so glad you continue to glean great info for writers.

    Patti

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  39. Thanks for such an informative post, Jody! I think in today's market publishing houses have to use a lot of business savvy to stay alive. As writers we hope agents and editors will see potential in our work, but no, I don't think I'd wish for them to take a big risk if they didn't feel it would be worth it. I want good publishing houses to be around for a long time! Hopefully while I wait my writing will keep improving until it meets their standards.

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  40. I've heard both writers and non-writers bash publishing houses because, "they're only concerned about the money." Yet, if they didn't make sound decisions concerning what they publish, they wouldn't be around very long.

    Now, when someone makes a remark, I give them a short reality check.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  41. I love that your sharing this journey with us - it feels a little like I'm taking a class. You're broadening my understanding of the publishing world while I get to feel your excitement along the way. Thank you.

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  42. I think they are justified in being picky. That’s money and time and I can’t blame them for wanting what they think will succeed.

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  43. Trying to retweet, but it says "servers not available."

    This is one of the best posts I've read on publishing.

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  44. I understand the need for houses to be cautious and only take those they are absolutely in love with, but it is hard for masses of writers hoping to break in. It's a business and the houses have to do what is best for the business. We can't let it get us down though, because if God's hand is in our writing, then His plan will prevails in His time. :)

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  45. Great post, Jody. I think it's so easy to forget what it's like making decisions on the other side of the table. Publishers have to be so very careful with who they take on at the best of times. Thanks for the reminder.

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  46. Jody,
    Thanks for your candid thoughts on the publishing process -- this has really given me a fresh perspective. As an unpublished writer, I often feel myself getting bitter and frustrated -- it's all about me, me, me you know! But this post has helped me take off the "me" blinders -- at least for a while -- to appreciate the guys on the other side of the fence, and the challenges they face.

    Thanks!

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  47. I'm in rewrites and gearing up to go on submission. Your post is timely and will remind me to "mellow out" and trust that the houses know what they're doing and what they're looking for. As always, thanks for the great info!

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  48. I wish I could meet the models on the cover of my book, Is That All He Thinks About?

    I'm pretty sure the publisher just bought the photo from somewhere though. That would've been an interesting photo shoot. :)

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  49. What can i say - I LOVE BETHANY HOUSE!!!!!!!!! They are amazing people with wonderful staff and warmth that encourages aspiring authors. I'm still so excited for you it just gives me goosebumps. But, for the record, can you tell them to hurry-it up? I want to get your book on preorder so I can read it the moment it comes out! :)

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  50. I think subconsciously I had at least a glimmer of an idea how much work and support publishers put forth for authors, but this post really makes it clear just how MUCH they do. Thanks for a glimpse into the reality.

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