How Do Publishers Decide Which Books to Bet On?

We found this excerpt from Anne Trubeck’s book So You Want to Publish a Book?  on Jane Friedman’s amazing blog and know that when you read this short guide to the way publishers think you’ll be as grateful to both these find ladies as we here at TVWriter™ are.

by Anne Trubek

Each book a publisher launches is its own miniature, stand-alone start-up. Every book is a gamble. Publishing could have a game table on the floor of a Vegas casino, nestled between blackjack and roulette. Bet on which title will earn out, and which will fail. When a title doesn’t break even, the casino swipes the chips off the table. But when a bet wins, it can make up for all those losses. A few bestsellers can support a press despite many money-losing titles.

So how do publishers decide which books to bet on? There’s lots of risk involved when you take a look at a few words sent via email and decide that those words might, in one to three years, end up selling enough copies to earn back the money that you spent to make those words into a book, and then earn a little more so the publisher can take a little bit of money home herself.

Publishers ask two main questions, and they’re the same two questions any capitalist or gambler asks: how much should we stake, and how much might we profit?

To answer those questions, most publishers do a ridiculously complicated set of projections on a profit and loss spreadsheet (P&L). This process involves guesswork into a number of different categories: how much a book will cost to print, how many copies will sell, how many ordered copies will be returned, how much the author will receive in an advance, what the list price will be, what trim size it will have, how much money it will take to market and publicize the book, whether it will be hardcover or paperback, if it will appeal to distributors who help sell the title to accounts like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent booksellers….

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