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Will Profit always decide who gets published?

I've been reading a lot of articles on the advice people give when submitting your manuscript, what editors/publishers/agents want and don't want, yet when I look at quite a few books that sell well there seem to be some glaring contradictions.

In the end does the potential revenue from the book as a consumer product trump all else?


Myth Weaver
There will always be the exception-to-the-rule.
The way I see it [and in 25 words or less].
To maximise the chance of being published, do what they expected.
To maximise the potential return on your effort, do exactly what they don't expected.


For the big publishing companies and their imprints this is pretty much true. Editors don't actually have the final say for what they acquire. It's the sales/marketing people who do. If the sales people don't think it will sell or if the marketing people don't know how to market it, then the editor won't be allowed to acquire it. The major exception is if it's a potential award winner. If the publisher thinks the book may earn some prestigious award that will make the publisher look good then they may publish it even if they don't expect to make much off it.

Smaller publishers may be more willing to take risks, larger publishers generally speaking avoid them.


toujours gai, archie
Mythopoet is right. But I have to ask: why the question? I mean, there are so many publishing venues, it should come as no surprise to learn that the answer will vary not only by publisher but also by book and even by circumstance. But even knowing all that, what does that knowledge get you?

In a word - normally. Publishers are a business. There will be exceptions of course, but they will be few.

The take home for that is that if you're looking to hawk your book around agents / publishers, make sure it seems to be commercial. They are not the sort of people who want to try and sell your avant guard ode to putty. If on the other hand that's the book you want to write and publish, indies probably your better bet - though you're unlikely to sell many copies.

Cheers, Greg.


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
To kind of echo others, traditional publishers have a number of authors already in their ranks. If they're going to "take a risk," or "try something different," they're going to do it with an established author they've already built up and invested in. If you're a first time author, looking to get published at one of the big companies, you probably want to do something that's mostly by the book but with a dash of your own creative potential. I think they're less interested in taking risks and more interested in answering the question of whether you can pass the basic test of connecting with readers.

Smaller publishers may have their own ideas about how their novels and their authors fit into the industry. But they also bring less to the table themselves. Many of them are just smoke and mirrors and reduced royalties.

To me, I think the process is:

Do I want to be traditionally published? Yes or No.

If Yes, write a book accordingly and submit it.

If No, write whatever crazy book I think is cool. Then look at smaller publishers. Do any of them fit the book and have anything to offer?

If Yes, submit. If No, self-publish.


I would vary slightly from the opinions above.

I think people regard traditional publishing as far more monolithic and uniform than it really is.

While profit is the motive for all of these businesses (and for most small presses as well), each company, and in fact each imprint, will often function very differently. Each editor will also have different tastes and perhaps more importantly for this analysis, more or less authority, based on the structure of the company, the exact title of the editor, their personality and their seniority.

Some imprints and editors, pride themselves in taking on projects that are considered less commercial and more experimental or avant guarde than others.

If you want less traditional work published by a traditional publisher what you need to know is which imprints those are and who those editors are to maximize your chance of acceptance.

Most new purchases at traditional publishers are purchased by the editorial staff as a group decision. Most often the sales and marketing people are usually not involved until the book is presented at a sales and marketing meeting AFTER the purchase has been made. That is not to say that the potential profit of the book is not considered when the purchase is made, but the sales and marketing people are usually not involved before the purchase is made.

There have been editors who have lost their jobs at both ends of the spectrum. Some for taking on too much non-traditional or risky work, and some for not taking on enough. The analysis people are presenting here is far too simple in what is a massive and varied industry.

I also think it gives too little credit to editors, some of whom are really quite bright and have been reading and buying fiction for decades. They know when you are submitting formulaic work or are trying to "give them what you want". What most of them are looking for is something fresh and original and compelling, but fits withing the parameters of their imprint and will sell enough copies to make the purchase worth while for them. That is a big ask, but that is what they are asking.

The key to doing all of this successfully is good information, knowing who the imprints and editors that are your best fit are. That can be achieved by either a lot of spadework on your own, or by having a good agent.

I would also disagree with Devor's decision tree for unpublished writers.

The first step is knowing yourself as a writer. Once you understand yourself as a writer, honestly, and have goals, then you can make decisions about how you want to publish your work, if you want to publish it at all.

But you have to be very honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, and tendencies as a writer.

Goals are tough to figure out as well. Do you want to make your living as writer, or do you see it more as a part time gig or a hobby or creative outlet.

So I would suggest you know yourself first and then figure out what methods are the best fit for you to publish your work. Unless the money is the lead factor for you than how you want to publish your work should probably much more near the end of your process than the beginning.