Confessions of an Acquisitions Editor

Mar 23, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Every Other Book, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Sunny Frazier

Sunny is acquisitions editor for Oak Tree Press. This post was originally published in 2011.

Small publishing houses work for me because I can’t seem to resist the urge to put my two cents in on how the publishing house works. I’m sure Simon & Schuster or Random House could care less about what I think on the way they run things, but I’ve had two publishers now who value my opinions. Let me tell you, it’s a heady feeling.

When my current publisher was backed up by the onslaught of query letters, I volunteered to lend a hand. Not that I know anything about acquisitions (is there a training manual somewhere?) but I know what I like to read. I’ve also studied the market and have an idea of what sells.

I loved all the letters I received. Some were funny, some were written by a quivering hand, all were hopeful. But, here’s where I went off the beaten path of query letter/synopsis/outline.

Sunny Frazier

When I open e-mails, the first thing I look for is genre and word count. We are a strong genre house, our word count doesn’t exceed 85,000. This is the only way to make books cost effective, for both the buyer and the publisher. While mainstream publishers push the idea that BIGGER is BETTER is a BLOCKBUSTER is a BESTSELLER, we have more realistic expectations. Sometimes the best novels come in small (55,000 words) packages.

I know all the writing books stress that the query letter is “The most important letter you’ll ever write.” Really? How about the letter to the IRS explaining that strange tax deduction? To Santa for a new computer? To Match.com to complain about bad hook-ups?

I don’t even read the query letter. Blasphemy!

The first thing I do is Google the writer’s name. I’m expecting to see at least a website. I’m hoping for many more hits. How active is the potential author on the Internet? Does this person blog? Have they joined any professional/social sites other than Face Book? What has this person been doing to foster their career goals?

Because it’s not just about the writing anymore. I lecture on marketing at conferences. My mantra: marketing starts the minute you decide you’re a writer. Waiting until the novel is finished puts you behind the pack. Name recognition is key. Why would anyone in the writing field want to withhold words, to refuse the reading public a sample of their “voice?”

I doubt if the big houses bother to investigate. I wonder if they even look at their slush pile before sending rejection notices. Although the expectation is that a big house will supply an endless marketing budget for the book of an unknown author, that’s not going to happen unless your name is Paris Hilton or Prince Charles. Marketing has become the responsibility of the author.

Although my publisher originally believed I wasn’t fair to authors, I convinced her that checking the writer’s “street creds” goes a long way to selecting authors working hard at their career goals. In my opinion, they are the ones who deserve a shot at publication.

But, that’s just me. And I’m the acquisitions editor.

Sunny Frazier worked with an undercover narcotics team in Fresno County for 17 years before turning her energies to writing the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries. Based in the San Joaquin Valley of California, the novels are inspired by real cases and 35 years of casting horoscopes. Sunny is also acquisitions editor for Oak Tree Press.

10 Comments

  1. Thank you, Sunny, for the insight into the industry and your work with the Posse. You have helped so many writers (including me) see the value of marketing and platform.

    Reply
  2. Hi Sunny. I think I read the original post on this. Sounds familiar. But, I don’t recall having seen Kings River LIfe before. Also, on signing in here to comment, there was a glitch in “the feed” from another of my websites, which didn’t allow the comment …. until the WordPress site was plugged in. Reading this piece by you makes me want to wrap up a NaNoWriMo draft and start pitching to agents and houses. You are both informative and inspiring.

    Reply
  3. Interesting game plan you follow. Probably information potential writers should have before they start submitting. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  4. Still good advice. And still needs to be repeated to all of us. It is very easy to get caught up in the writing and forget the marketing. Writing is easier. Marketing is hard. Keep reminding us, Sunny, until it becomes our habit.

    Reply
  5. Great post, Sunny! I think you’re approach is very fair to authors. How unfair would it be to encourage an author who has no interest in promoting his or her own writing? All those books heading to the pulper – it makes me sad just to think about!

    Reply
  6. I too think I’ve read your post, but it never hurts to read your words again because I’ve learned the importance of online presence. It’s helped me a lot when I turned from big presses to small ones and ebooks on Kindle. When I make a submission I want the house to know who I am when they see my name. Thanks for good reminders to all writers who want to be published.

    Reply
  7. So true, so true. I decided up front, without ever querying anyone, to self-publish. This put the entire marketing burden onto my own shoulders (exactly where I wanted it) and I have been operating on the assumption that it’s entirely up to me to get my own name and my book’s name out there. And guess what? Acquisition editors (hi Sunny!) have heard the buzz and are expressing interest. So I guess the moral of the story is: if you don’t want to self-publish, plan to self-publish! The more you can do for yourself, the more of an asset you are to a publisher, rather than a potential liability.

    Reply
  8. This post is even sweeter this time around. Why? Because now I have street creds. Thanks to you, Sunny, the actions I took to create them have helped me develop myself as a better writer!

    Reply
  9. Sunny, thanks for the interesting post. I HAVE wondered what makes authors stand out to you–or not. And I admit that my website, which I’ve just updated, was created a decade ago to market my first book. That website I created AFTER the book came out. Now, while hardly ahead of the curve, I’m at least on its wave.
    D.R.

    Reply
  10. Gosh, I’m almost glad I didn’t read this before submitting. If I’d known all you do–and don’t do–I may have agonized even more. LOL Seriously, this was a very informative piece. I just presented some business plan and marketing ideas in a workshop this week. It still surprises me when people say they want to be published but they are unwilling to do the work to promote their writing. I told them that is a fine choice. They can choose to be a writer–and not be published. I chose to be a professional writer. Thanks for this post. I’m going to send it out to my workshop group!

    Reply

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