One of my clients recently spoke to a friend, the wife of a long-time New York Times bestselling author who brought up a new kink in the book writing business. This woman, an author in her own right, said that she knows of several authors with major publishers who lost their editor due to lay-offs at their publishing house.
Unfortunately, when your editor leaves the publishing house, your book may languish because the person who fell in love with the project and has the most passion for it is now gone. This is really bad news. In the publishing industry, we call the book an “orphan.”
You don’t want your book to become an orphan. So, how do you protect yourself? One way is to complete your book before you send out the book proposal. That way, your book can proceed to editing and printing much more quickly and decrease the odds of becoming an orphan.
My client, however, didn’t want to wait another several months to finish her book. She’d been working on the book proposal for more than a year and it’s finally ready to send off. Neither of us felt like waiting. We agreed that she would send off the book proposal to agents, but continue writing at a healthy pace, so that once her book found a publisher, she would be well on her way to completing the book.
There’s no right or wrong answer here. You just need to be aware of the changing dynamics of publishing right now and make the best choices you can. And then…trust the universe.
Stephen Monrad says
How common is it for books to be orphaned like this? If it is rare, I’m not that worried. If half of the book proposals accepted get orphaned, I’ll need to think more about the problem. Do you have any rough guesses as to how often books get orphaned?
Kathleen Burns Kingsbury says
I love your blog and the phot you used in this post!
I have a question re: a book proposal that I wanted to run by you. I have traditionally published a book called Weight Wisdom. It is co-written and was well received. I am now in the process of pitching a new book idea that I will be writing alone and that is not directly related to the topic of the first book. My new book proposal is on the money psychology and how we can use it to make more money and be more at peace with our dollars and cents. My question is this: When you are writing a book proposal is it best to just list the publications and articles that relate to the topic or is it more effective to list all the books and articles you have had published regardless of the topic area?
Thanks in advance for your words of wisdom.
Thanks for your questions, Kathleen. I’ll answer them in a new post shortly.
I did get more of an answer to your question. Elizabeth Pomada, of Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents, e-mailed me with an estimate of 30% of books being orphaned right now. That is a high number and something to take seriously.
Stephen Monrad says
30 per cent is high.
I guess if it takes a couple of years to get a book to market once the deal is signed, it isn’t surprising that editors move on often.
Other than writing the book before approaching a publisher, is there anything else that can be done? For example, can you get anything useful written into the contract that might help? Is it possible to get more than one editor in on a project so that if one moves on all is not lost?
It’s not necessarily just that editors move on. Many senior editors are being laid off and replaced by younger editors who are paid less.
Other than writing the book before approaching a publisher, I think your best bet is self-publishing if you want full control.
I love the way you’re thinking creatively about contracts and double-editors, but the book industry is very traditional. While a good agent can negotiate important ingredients into a contract, I don’t see either of these as likely. Perhaps the rigidity and traditionalism of the book publishing industry is one reason for its troubled situation at present.
As someone with a business school background (masters in management from MIT’s Sloan School, with a concentration in marketing), my first experience with a publishing house surprised me. There are so many simple things publishers could do to be more strategic, efficient and effective in marketing books–from providing an effective marketing and promotion guide for new authors (more than just a one-pager) to having the sales force weigh in on decisions. I think we are seeing that those publishers that are still doing well are the ones who are more flexible, are responding to changing markets and plan strategically.