Mark Terry

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Who Decides?

November 17, 2009
The full question is: Who decides what gets published?

I'm sure there's a lot of frustrated wannabe writers who think it's agents.

And there are plenty of us who think it's the editors and/or publishers.

Now, I got this e-mail from my agent today, it's a rejection for a children's novel I wrote a while back and in fact, I didn't know we still had the manuscript out in the marketplace. My guess is this publisher had this manuscript for months and months.

Sorry to be so late in responding. I’m afraid we’ve decided against PETER NAMAKA. Our sales department maintains there are a lot of mermaid-type books available just now and fears we couldn’t be successful enough with this book.

This is not the first time, recently, that the sales department claims to have rejected a manuscript of mine. I don't know if this is the case, actually; I don't know if the editor likes it, they take the manuscript to a committee meeting and all the heads swivel to the sales department, who then give a thumb's-up or thumb's-down and that's that. I wonder, if editors are going to turn all decision-making over to the sales department, if agents should start bypassing editors entirely and just submit to the sales department. I'm not being snarky, either. I mean, doesn't that make sense? If you're an editor and presumably your job is to acquire manuscripts, but all you're really doing is making recommendations that are then decided on by someone in sales, should agents be going out to lunch with sales staff instead of editors? It makes sense to me. Don't you want to make contact with the actual decision makers?

Alternately, I don't know if this is just a slightly creative way of editors making rejections, but not taking responsibility for them by blaming the sales staff, thus staying on good terms with the agents. It's possible. Over the years I've had editors say they've liked the manuscript, but they showed it to a colleague, who talked them out of publishing it; I've had agents say the same thing. Now they're saying the sales staff is turning the manuscript down. Maybe it's a trend in publishing or maybe it's just the way things have always been done, but the editors are passing the buck.

But it does make one wonder, right? Who actually makes the final decision?

Mark Terry


Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

Aw, bummer. I wonder if it's partly the fact that they can see you're a good writer, and if you write a brilliant novel next year, they don't want to have offended you? LOL!

9:07 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

Lot of mermaid type books...right. That's not a reason, just an excuse. Oh, sorry, too many vampire type books...(You thin anyone ever hears that?) As if too many type books ever meant anything.

One good thing about a small publisher, like Poisoned Pen Press and I suspect many others that aren't primarily money motivated, couldn't make millions if they tried, is that editors, rather than sales staff, actually make the decisions on whether to buy or not. What an editor likes is, of course, based on personal taste, but that's a better basis than some sales/marketing person's theories about possible sales, which have nothing to do with the book at all.At least, as an author, you're trying to sell to a reader. Really, we write for readers not spreadsheets. Most of us.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Flattering and who knows? the last time this happened in this way, dramatically, it was very clear that the editor loved the novel and the character (Hot Money) and he disagreed with the sales department, but got overruled. This time, not so clear. Not enough information to know.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Probably. I'm pretty sure the decision-makers for Oceanview is the editor and the publisher, who are also the owners.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Committees are nothing new. I think if a book isn't an "auto-buy" (i.e., the author is a household name), then it all comes down to support for it, to what they think B&N will buy, to competition, to what's hot, to . . . . (assuming you get past the agent and editor because they like the book). I think it's more likely to happen (committee decisions) when an editor likes a book but isn't over the moon defending it to the powers that be. It's finding that match to an editor who feels that passionately about the work. Easier said than done.

4:53 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

I wonder, if editors are going to turn all decision-making over to the sales department, if agents should start bypassing editors entirely and just submit to the sales department.

I doubt the sales guys ever read manuscripts under consideration. They probably hear the editor's pitch at the meeting and then say yea or nay based on how well they think it might sell. An editor enthusiastic enough about a project could probably push it through despite a thumbs-down from sales, but that probably doesn't happen very often. If the book's a flop, and most are, then the editor's reputation goes down a notch. And it probably doesn't take many bad gambles before the publisher gives the editor his or her walking papers.

5:22 AM  

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