How do publishers find new books or authors?
Book proposals and query letters are the primary vehicle to ask publishers if they are interested in a project. But is that the only way publishers find new works? Or are publishers out seeking new books or authors, and if so, how do they find them?
First let’s differentiate between trade publishing and specialized or academic publishing. A trade publisher, such as Penguin Random House, has an avalanche of new ideas and books being proposed to them on a daily basis; more than they could ever publish. They turn down many good ideas for great ideas. They don’t have to go looking, but they still do.
Academic publishers, on the other hand, do field unsolicited projects and ideas but not nearly as many as they wish. They supplement these by seeking out new authors and new projects. By understanding where they go to find these projects, emerging authors and leaders can understand these avenues and help tailor their career efforts to make themselves more attractive candidates for getting their project published.
The person charged at a publishing house for finding new projects or authors is usually called an acquisitions editor, sometimes a commissioning editor. This person is charged with not only fielding unsolicited projects but setting the direction for that line of books and keeping it forward thinking and profitable.
The acquisition editor will attend and monitor major conferences or meetings (whether in-person or virtual) to keep their finger on the pulse of what is happening. Speakers are prime source of possible book authors or as reviewers for new ideas.
Professional associations are another source. The ranks of their leadership and their committee members show who is spending their precious little free time to further their field’s goals and make it a vibrant and growing area. These people members also show an acquisitions editor that they understand the big picture and can do the work necessary.
Authoring scholarly journal articles, contributing to magazine or news stories in the field, and writing blog entries all are rich sources for acquisitions editors of possible book editors or authors, as well as new topics.
Social media has become another place to find people with their finger on the pulse for important or emerging book ideas. The people that do social media well, that is have true dialogues with other leaders on key issues, are few and far between and therefore make them more valuable.
Finally, personal connections are a great way to find new projects and authors. Once an acquisitions editor has five well-vetted contacts that they can trust, they can ask them, “who else should I be speaking with?” This invariably leads to a growing network of other forward-thinking individuals. The one downside to this approach is they might possibly end up developing a stable of people with a certain or single-perspective and not having a diversity of ideas. The acquisitions editor may use a host of other ways to find new projects or ideas, but these are just a start.
I encourage you to understand and use these avenues to make connections with key people at publishing companies. By being on the radar screen of acquisitions editors, your eventual book proposal will fall on more sympathetic eyes. And it becomes more likely to get published.
John Bond is a publishing consultant at Riverwinds Consulting. He works with individuals on publishing and writing projects. Schedule an initial complimentary phone call at Publishing Fundamentals. In his career, he has directed the publishing of over 500 book titles and 20,000 journal articles. He is the host of the YouTube channel “Publishing Defined.” Contact him at email@example.com.