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?

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