If you’re seeking a traditional publisher, you need to know what happens in a pub board meeting.
How do you get a publishing board to choose your book over the other proposals they’re considering in the meeting?
Getting through pub board is not easy, but you can increase your odds.
What is the pub board?
The pub board is the committee of decision-makers at a publisher that decides which books to publish. Typically, a dozen proposals are brought to the pub board, and only one or two will go on to be published.
The proposals under consideration are from authors represented by an agent and have been picked up by an editor. The editor is a fan of the proposal, so they bring it to the pub board to see if they will publish it.
Every publishing house is different, but, in general, they meet once a month around a table to consider these proposals. Sometimes, pub boards take a break in December, and some do not meet in the summers. They may meet only ten times each year.
Who attends the pub board meeting?
The editor who picked up your proposal is the champion for your book in the pub board meeting. When I was an agent, this was the person I interacted with. I would send my clients’ proposals to the editor for review.
The editor is an initial filter. The only books they bring to pub board are the ones they are excited about. As the editor reviews the proposal, they may decide it is not a good fit for their publishing house. In that scenario, they reject the proposal, and it does not go to pub board.
But you’ll always have one vote in favor of your book, and that will come from your editor.
Sometimes there is an editorial meeting before the proposals go to pub board. Editors from that publishing house meet to give and receive input on the various proposals they’ve acquired.
If the other editors don’t see the potential, aren’t excited, or don’t think your proposal will work for their publishing house, your proposal will stop there and will not move on for consideration by the pub board.
In indie publishing, sales and marketing are often combined. But in traditional publishing, they answer different questions.
The sales department represents other companies like bookstores. At the pub board meeting, the salesperson asks, “Will Barnes & Nobel want to buy this book?” They are thinking about their relationships with other bookstores and figuring how many copies each retailer would likely buy.
The sales team does not sell books to readers. They sell books to bookstores.
On the other hand, the marketing person is asking, “Is this a book I can sell directly to readers?”
The salesperson may believe that Barnes & Noble would love to stock the book, but the marketing person may be unable to formulate a marketing plan if the author’s platform is weak.
On the other hand, the marketing person may have a great opportunity to sell directly to readers, but the salesperson may object because they do not believe bookstores will stock it.
Sales and Marketing are the loudest voices at the table. If either department feels they cannot sell your book, your proposal will die in pub board. If they don’t think it can sell, it won’t.
That’s why your author platform and the marketing plan inside your proposal are so important.
Before James L. Rubart’s editor took Jim’s first novel to pub board, Jim’s editor knew that the pub board would not accept the book if the marketing director wasn’t on board before the meeting. The editor convinced the marketing director, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The accounting team evaluates whether they will be able to make money on your book. They take a logical look at the situation, crunch the numbers, and look at the comparative analysis.
Accounting calculates the cost of producing your book. If your book requires many graphic or visual elements, marketing and sales may get excited because they know bookstores and readers will love it. But the accountant sees the additional cost of those elements. They know they’ll have to hire their best typesetter, and it will take more time than a simpler book.
If you have a clever idea for your cover, the accountant will estimate the expense behind your clever idea and figure it into their analysis.
The more pages a book has, the more expensive it is to produce. Sometimes a publisher can make the book profitable simply by reducing the margins or adjusting the typesetting so the book can be printed on fewer pages.
Often there is conflict between these departments. Marketing may want the special cover, while accounting says the special cover will make the book unprofitable.
Authors must realize that the pub board’s conversation is not about the characters you’ve created or your interesting plot. A traditional publisher wants to know if they can sell your book and make money.
The Suit (i.e. Operations / Publisher / CEO)
Publishers have different titles for this person and position, but in layperson’s terms, this is The Big Kahuna. This person writes the checks, hires, and fires. The Suit cares deeply about the company’s reputation.
In the pub board meeting, The Suit considers the writing quality, the sales potential, and the company’s relationship with bookstores. If a publisher sends books to bookstores that don’t sell, it harms its reputation and the relationship with the bookstore. The Suit cares about marketing and the money, and this person has veto power on your proposal.
In some companies, the other members of the pub board are like counselors to The Suit. They provide input, but The Suit makes the call.
When you’re writing your proposal, you and your agent should know who The Suit is. Do your research to find out what this person champions and what they’ve published in the past. Then tailor your proposal to that person.
If you’re curious about The Suit’s perspective, listen to my other podcast, The Christian Publishing Show, Episode 15: Behind the Publishing Curtain: Director of Operations.
What part of my proposal matters in the meeting?
Each section of your book proposal is written to a different person at that meeting. Every part matters. When they receive your proposal, they will flip to the section they care about.
Accounting looks at Book Details. They’ll make their calculations based on
- Number of pages
- Special features
Marketing and Sales look at your Platform section and evaluate where and to whom they could sell your book.
The Editorial Team will look at your Sample Chapters, Annotated Outline, or if you’re proposing a novel, they’ll want to see your finished manuscript.
The Publisher will look at the whole picture based on the counsel received from the various departments.
Each section is designed to persuade a different person. The more you understand and adapt your proposal to inform each department, the better your proposal will be.
How does the meeting go?
Your book will be one of a dozen being considered that day. Your editor is probably the only one who read your proposal before the meeting. Now she must convince the other members that yours is a book worth publishing.
Your editor realizes she must sell your book to every person at that meeting and get them excited about your proposal. The editor puts her neck on the line for you, so it behooves you to do everything you can to make her job easier.
You want your proposal to stand out.
But what if your editor isn’t great at pitching? What if they’re not very persuasive or they can’t drive enthusiasm for your book?
Include these crucial elements in your proposal.
You must help your editor by providing everything the pub board will need to clearly understand your book, passion, and vision.
The Hook and Elevator Pitch
Members of the pub board will read your compelling hook during the meeting. Your stellar elevator pitch will help them understand the concept immediately. If both are clear, crisp, and compelling, the pub board members will flip to the section of your proposal that pertains to their department.
You can’t attend the meeting to pitch your book. Your agent can’t even attend the meeting. But you can impress everyone in the room by creating a short (1-2 minutes) video that communicates your vision and passion for your book and message.
Your editor can play the video for the pub board, and in a way, you will get to attend the meeting and pitch the book yourself. It’s an opportunity to showcase your personality, your ability to communicate, and your technical proficiency.
At the end of the day, when they have considered 11 other proposals, they’ll remember that yours was the proposal with a video. They’ll have your face and voice in their memory.
Pro Tip: Learn from the Sharks
If you want to be traditionally published, you need to binge-watch Shark Tank.
Picture yourself as the entrepreneur and your book as your product. Then consider how you would convince each of the Sharks to invest in your idea. Each of them would ask different questions about past sales, marketability, scalability, and they would want to know your story and the passion that drives you.
Pay special attention to the verb tense you use in your marketing section. The pub board (and the Sharks) want to know what you have done more than what you will do.
If you follow the suggestions Novel Marketing offers, you will have a robust proposal that answers the types of questions the pub board (and The Sharks) will ask.
If you’re traditionally published, what did you do that made your book stand out in pub board?
CLR Peterson, author of Lucia’s Renaissance (Affiliate Link)
Heresy is fatal in late Renaissance Italy, so only a suicidal zealot would so much as whisper the name of Martin Luther. But after Luther’s ideas ignite a young girl’s faith, she must choose–abandon her beliefs or risk her life in the turbulent world of late sixteenth-century Italy.
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