Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Behind the Scenes: Preparations for Proposing a New Book

When a potential author prepares a proposal for a new textbook, my work begins. Here's an admittedly incomplete list of the main tasks acquisitions folks like me need to complete before we can bring a formal book proposal to a decision making body.

  • Work with author to refine proposal, table of contents, sample chapters, and such

  • Create survey to gain feedback on project

  • Find and assign reviewers to complete the survey

  • Compile survey feedback and review with author

  • Request production estimate, which lists the various costs of each component of the book. To do that, I need to provide these estimates and other data:

    • Title and subtitle

    • Trim size

    • Number of book pages

    • Type of cover and binding

    • Number of colors for cover and interior (black-and-white interior is 1-color, black; black and, say, magenta interior is 2-color; what you call full color is 4-color to us, the colors being cyan [blue], magenta, yellow, and black)

    • Number of photos and how they will be supplied (film, hard copy, or electronic)

    • Number and approximate complexity of illustrations (for instance, 100 illustrations: 60% complex, 20% moderately complex, 20% simple)

    • Anticipated manuscript submission date

    • Anticipated publication date

    • Price and other business model considerations

    • Anticipated total fees for developmental editor

    • Ancillaries to be offered, such as:

      • PowerPoints, including number of slides and images to be inserted

      • Test bank including number of test items

      • Instructor's guide, including number of pages and images to be inserted

      • Interactive software

      • Online resources

      • Image bank including number of images

      • Flash cards, including format (print, electronic on CD-ROM, electronic online), total number, and number of illustrations, if any

      • Accompanying workbook (which actually gets its own proposal and financials)

    • Estimated cost of building ancillaries

  • Complete what we call here a gross profit estimate, or GPE, for which I need to supply the following:

    • Expected unit sales over life of title (LOT) for each market (MA, PA, NP, etc)

    • Expected unit sales for first year

    • Average discount for distributors and retailers

    • Number of complimentary copies needed to properly market the book

  • Prepare formal proposal document, including:

    • Overview of the product and ancillaries

    • Why the proposed author is the right person to write the right book at the right time for the right market

    • Summary of reviewer feedback

    • Royalty rate, amount of author grant, and other author-related financial information

    • Full competitive summary, including:

      • Title, author, edition number, publisher, copyright year, ISBN, page count, price, and so forth

      • Ancillaries available

      • Strengths

      • Weaknesses

    • Market analysis

    • Any other information we believe will help the decision making body, in my case the Editorial Board, determine whether to publish a book

Whew, no wonder I'm always behind!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Planning Your Own Succession

One of my authors, a wonderful person  I consider a friend, was recently diagnosed with a cancer for which there is no cure and for which the best available treatment might give him 2 or 3 more years of life. He writes a successful book for us, and we had thought, obviously, that he would be writing new editions well into the future.

The diagnosis and prognosis are awful, horrible, despicable. As a friend, I will provide as much support as I possibly can. Of course I will, just as he would do for me.

But from a professional point of view, the news takes on different meaning. It's sad to even have to think about having a professional point of view about this, but there it is and there it must be.

We talked recently about what a succession plan, a kind of Plan B so that we know what to do in the event of his death. It's a difficult conversation under normal circumstances, never mind when death has become more than an abstract concept, more than letters on a page, when it has become, in all its frightening detail, real.

The discussion about succession brought home the fragility of life, certainly, but also the worth of the partnership that exists between a publisher and an author. Publishers sign authors because they believe in each author's vision, ability, and dedication. We publishers want to maintain a lasting, mutually fulfilling relationship as long as possible, and we don't like it when a good author leaves us, especially under these circumstances.

Leave us they do, however, and for that we all need to prepare.

If you're a textbook author, do you have your own succession plan? Where will your future royalties go? Into a trust, for example, or into probate?

Who would you want to continue writing your textbook? Do you have someone specific in mind? If not, what are the qualities you want us to look for in a successor? What degrees, experience, and abilities should they possess before we consider them?

These are the questions publishers face when an author dies, and they're questions we might want to answer now, before the reality of our own demise becomes all too real.