How much does the marketability of a book factor into the acquisitions process? How does “market research” for a book work?

The Acquisitions Process

When an acquisitions editor decides to pitch the book for the publication green light, marketing and sales factor into the equation. Oftentimes, the decision to publish a book comes down to the numbers: how many books will sell and at what price compared to the cost of actually publishing, promoting, circulating, and distributing the book. The information goes into a formula—a profit and loss (P & L) sheet. In essence, the marketability of a book comes down to numbers: how many books will actually sell, and how does that number compare against the cost of publication?

Determining P & L

Authors often must provide information to help calculate the P & L—who the audience is, what the market is, and why that market is profitable. The publisher will likely compare the manuscript or proposal with similar books already on the market—i.e., the competitors. The publisher will also likely discuss what season the book belongs in and what line the book should be published with. Editors and financial analysts use this information to determine the number of books that might sell and at what list price, if the book might have rights to sell (foreign, book club, movie), and what kind of royalties the author should receive. All the cost information is fed into the P & L, and if the book is projected to be more than marginally profitable, the project will probably proceed.

Ways of Marketing and Promoting

In today’s publishing world, authors sometimes must fend for themselves in marketing and promotion. Authors must create their own websites, run their own social media (facebook, twitter, myspace for people who actually still use myspace), and create their own publicity. Yet, fortunately, all is not lost. Some publishers still provide traditional services such as a press kit, Advanced Reader Copies to magazines and journals, blast e-mails to editors and producers, follow-up phone calls, book signings (publicity, transportation, etc.), representation in the publisher’s seasonal catalogs and on the publisher’s website, publicity in your genre’s materials (magazines, events, etc.), representation with large booksellers (Amazon and Barnes & Noble). All these forms of advance promotion and publicity will help create hype for the book, increasing its chances for selling well. Of course, the cost of these services is included in the P & L sheet. Once the book has been published, publishers will help continue publicity through book signings, readings, and other promotional events as well as maintaining a presence with the major sellers.

Selling the Author

One of the biggest questions that determines whether or not a book will sell is not what the book is about but who is writing the book. Publishers are much more likely to take on an already-published or well-known author—these authors are simply easier to promote and more likely to sell. A publishing house might look at previous awards, the author’s website and online portfolio, and sales history. If an author has not yet been published, the author might consider creating a website/online portfolio, facebook page, and twitter account to help build an identity and market presence.

For more information:

Image by Rachel Spurrier

By Rachel Spurrier, Peer Consultant at the William L. Adams Center for Writing and President of the Bryson Literary Society, Texas Christian University. Rachel blogs about publishing at


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