Our event this month was with the wonderful publisher, Carly Cook of Headline Publishers. Carly was incredibly informative about commercial non-fiction publishing and gave us some great insights into both the acquisition process and the publishing process.
Carly began her publishing career in 2001 as an assistant to Juliet Annam at Michael Joseph and then moved to Headline Publishers in 2006. She will be joining Simon & Schuster in September as Editorial Director of non-fiction.
She talked to us about the commissioning process – about 60% of the books commissioned come through agents, and the other 40% are through her approaching writers. She needs to be aware of popular culture – through magazines/newspapers and TV. When books are commissioned, they are bought collectively following an acquisitions meeting. Everyone needs to be on board – so thats right across the publishing house – from PR to marketing, from editorial to sales.
Often books are trend driven, and she will be looking for the next big thing. For example, following Michael Jackson’s death, Headline raced to be the first publisher to publish a tribute book. They managed to publish within 20 days!
When relevant, publishers have to behave like magazine publishers – they must recognise trends and then be the first to market with a book.
The difference between a book with mediocre sales and a bestseller is often down to luck and timing. BUT a book – even a non-fiction one must have great writing, a strong plot, likeable characters and remember a blog doesn’t necessarily lead to a bestselling book.
Memoirs take skill and time to differentiate it from a feature in a magazine.
When submitting a book to a publisher or agent, write a clear letter – your proposition must be clear and strong. Can you pitch your book in one line? And the content must talk for itself. The voice must be raw and honest and at the heart of the story.
Finally, a top tip from Carly is to read the three most successful books in your genre before you even think of submitting your work to an agent or publisher. Learn about the marketplace and what’s is doing well out there.
We will be sending the recording of the full talk shortly so join the club and receive the recording for free.