– by Angela Scheff
What’s your biggest hurdle in publishing the projects you love?
SMITH: Tastes are subjective, so while a particular book might be a passion project for me, it becomes my responsibility to spark the same passion in my publishing team and sales force. This is a creative challenge and a good one to have, but I am reminded often that everyone has their own unique tastes and they don’t always align. For the projects that instantly click with our team, we can accomplish great things together. For the projects that receive mixed reactions, it requires more work and creativity to gain necessary support.
ALLEN: Other publishers. We work in a stable industry amidst fine folk who are employed by other publishing houses. For the most part we all know a good book when we see it, and we’re willing to compete aggressively to get it.
WONG: Platform. It is increasingly important for authors to come with a somewhat developed personal platform that publishers can come alongside and amplify. Often when I’m feeling torn between my personal passion for a project and my responsibility to the company, platform is somewhere in there as a factor. That’s not to say that we don’t, every now and then, make exceptions, but they are, at the end of the day, exceptions to the rule.
What do you wish potential authors knew about your job?
SMITH: We are for you more than you know! At Zondervan, we have a fairly intensive review process comprised of three team meetings: editorial, marketing, and sales. It’s my job to tailor each presentation to each audience, so these three teams are essentially the first real customers of your book. I need their support to make a solid book offer! So I view my role as a champion for your project, even though you will never see most of this behind-the-scenes process. Before a potential author and I ever have a phone call or meeting, there is a significant amount of discussion, planning, editing, and presentations that happen on behalf of their book.
We are certainly selective and not every project is the right fit, and I know this can be discouraging to aspiring writers. We do not enjoy turning down projects and are quite familiar with being turned down by authors ourselves. But if you are word person, I am cheering you on. Every time I meet a prospective author, or open a new proposal attachment, this is not an imposition—I am hoping to be wowed by a voice, an idea, or a story that the world needs to hear.
ALLEN: I would want authors to know that my job is to publish books that have a real chance in the marketplace. If we as a publisher fail to do this, we will cease to exist. Generally publishing pros are not selective because they’re mean. (Some of us probably are mean, but I doubt that’s what drives our selectivity.) We’re selective because we need to be to survive in this industry, let alone thrive in it.
Publishing is two parts art and one part business, but the business part is definitely there. And so I want potential authors to know that effort and ingenuity really matter. Desire matters. And desire that goes to work—the work of developing a great concept, the work of building a substantial platform, the work of crafting compelling writing—matters even more.
WONG: As the acquiring editor, I am your frontline champion from acquisitions through publication. Whenever I point out an area that needs strengthening or clarifying, from concept to structure to positioning to title discussions and beyond, it’s because I want to give your book its best shot at success. Often, I am navigating the concerns of various parties on the publishing end of things—marketing, publicity, sales, retailers, etc.—so I’m not making suggestions or asking you to rethink things on a whim. There is much more behind what I ask you to consider than you might be aware of on the surface. So if I’m asking tough questions and making suggestions to you at proposal stage, I’m investing in you already.
Thank you so much, Stephanie, Chad, and Jessica, for sharing your expertise and heart with your authors and our readers!