Seven Reasons the Committee Says No

Yesterday I asked for blogging suggestions and there were a number of good responses. In fact, I’ll answer several over the course of the next few blogs. The one I’m picking today is Michael Reynolds’ question: ‎”What are the top five reasons books get shut down in pub committee?”

First, for those just learning the ropes in publishing, “pub committee” is a publisher’s committee that decides which books to publish. Editors alone cannot make those decisions. Instead, when we editors see something we like and we believe is a good fit for our publishing house, we present it to the publisher’s committee and hope they’ll agree with our judgment and vote yes to publish the book. Right now, my batting average is about .600. That is, for every ten projects I pitch, approximately six get a yes and four get a no vote. Although it might vary a bit from publisher to publisher, the members of the committee include at least one person each from editorial, marketing, and sales. In our case, the president of the company is also on the committee.

Instead of the five reasons Michael asked for, I’m going to offer seven. They are, by the way, not in order. They all pretty much carry equal weight.

1. The author is unknown and the book will probably not make him or her known. Face it, most book buyers purchase books from authors they already know and like. Why will they want to try your book—if you’re unknown to them? Similarly, the retailer has only a certain number of inventory dollars with which to purchase his stock. If, say, this September new books are being released by Max Lucado, Karen Kingsbury, Joyce Meyer, Stormie Omartian, and you—what reason will the store owner have to order your book when he would be safer spending inventory dollars on the well-known authors? This is where the very worn term “platform” comes in. A platform is your way to promote your book, thus sending people to bookstores to ask for it. Are you on the radio? TV? Do you hold workshops and seminars about your topic? In short, how will your potential readers hear about you and know if you’re writing for them? By the way, this is an area where I, as a writer, am challenged. I don’t have a platform and in my book proposals, I have to find a way to overcome my lack of a platform. Next week at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference, one of my workshops is “When You Don’t Have a Platform.” (Come if you can. It’s a great conference!)

2. The topic is not of interest in the current market. I see some fine proposals for books that are not presently selling in our market. Twenty years ago, it may have been hard to sell an Amish-themed novel. Now it is not all that hard (if well-written). Currently, contemporary suspense does not sell for us, though apparently some other publishers are finding some success with that genre. Fantasy does not do well. In non-fiction, personal stories don’t fare very well. Related to this is when a book’s potential market is too small. A good example is a well-written proposal I saw a few years ago. The proposed book was for Christian grandparents who were raising their grandchildren because their own adult children had defaulted on parenthood. I’m sure there are many grandparents doing that, but not enough for us to reach effectively through our channels of distribution.

3. The proposed book is not a good fit for our publishing house. This follows perfectly from point two. We’ve had success in areas where other publishers have not. Others have had success where we’ve failed. This is why I often stress the importance of sending a proposal to not just any publisher, but to the publishing house that is successfully publishing what you write. Do your research. [I’m editing this point to add that a book may not be a good fit for us at this time. We may have recently released a similar book and must regretfully say no for now. More than once, I’ve waited and re-presented a good proposal to the committee at a later time and had the book accepted.]

4. Poor writing. Although ideally editors such as myself, only take proposals to committee we believe in, that should mean that poor writing is not a reason the committee would turn it down. After all, why would I take something to the committee that was poorly written? The truth is that I might indeed take a proposal from someone who has a platform and is writing on a strong topic, but whose writing is weak. (With the knowledge that as his or her editor, I can help “fix” the manuscript). But often the committee will just say no in such a case.

5. Sometimes the perception is that the author might not be a good fit for us. One of our core values at Harvest House is: Develop and maintain long-term relationships. If you look at our bestselling authors, you’ll notice that many of them have been with us for a long time. Few of our authors venture elsewhere. That’s because of our commitment to having a relationship that’s not purely business. We’re friends with most of our authors. We pray for them when they need prayer, we encourage them when necessary, and we try to produce the best book we can from their manuscript. But sometimes that’s not what an author really wants. Another reason an author might not fit is that we’re looking for authors who will build a writing career, not just publish one or two books and then call it quits. If you’re a one-book author, you will have a hard time finding a publishing home.

6. Sometimes an otherwise fine book is rejected because of the lack of spiritual value. In addition to our list of core values, we also have a mission statement: To glorify God by providing high-quality books and products that affirm biblical values, help people grow spiritually strong, and proclaim Jesus Christ as the answer to every human need. One good question to ask when you’re looking for a publisher is: What is their mission statement and does my proposal fit that mission? If it does, it wouldn’t hurt to point that out in your cover letter or as part of your proposal.

7. Number seven can only be described as “for unknown reasons.” Publishing committees, like editors and like readers, are subjective. Sometimes they pass on really great projects that go on to be very successfully published elsewhere. Sometimes we read success into a proposal that really isn’t there…and the book fails to live up to our hopes. Sometimes I never find out exactly why I got a no. Usually, though, the committee’s judgment is eventually confirmed. One time I presented a well-known author to the committee and I thought for sure it would be a slam-dunk yes. The proposal was on a topic that was popular in the marketplace, it was well-written, and the author seemed personable. For reasons I never knew or have now forgotten, the committee said no. When I emailed the author’s agent about the results, I received nothing in the way of a “thanks anyway” or “gosh, it would have been great to work with you,” or some sort of acknowledgement that I had championed this author. But I never again heard a peep from either that author or her agent. So in retrospect, I doubt she would have fit in at Harvest House anyway.

Let me add a final word that, just like there are unknown reasons why a book may be rejected, there are sometimes exceptions to a couple of the above reasons for rejection. We have published books when the author had very little or no platform because we felt it was an important book that needed to be published in spite of the possibility of low sales. We have taken books where the writing was less than stellar, but which we were able to edit into excellent books. We have also taken a novel from a “one-book author.” Those are rare exceptions, however.

There you go, Michael. Two reasons more than you asked for. I think maybe next time I’ll offer a couple of reasons proposals never get past my desk to make it to the committee level.

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27 Responses to Seven Reasons the Committee Says No

  1. Sally Apokedak April 6, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    Thanks!

    I wish I could get past all those hurdles, because I love number five. I’d love to work with an editor who prayed with and for me. 🙂

  2. Kathy Nickerson April 6, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    Thanks for the helpful information. I appreciate the way you take time to explain things to those of us who are trying to learn the craft.

  3. Michael K. Reynolds April 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    Not only did you answer my main question, but you responded to a couple of others I had for you as well. One in particular: Do publishers look for a long-term relationship with authors today? This to me is so critical as in my business world, this has been the core to genuine success. The key element to a career is not length of years, but depth of relationships. It’s encouraging to see this as one of Harvest House’s core values. I realize new writers don’t have much leverage, but this is important enough to be a decision maker for me.

    Well done Nick!

  4. Bob Russell April 6, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    As always Nick, your insights are very helpful. Thanks!

  5. Melissa K. Norris April 6, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

    Looking forward to your post on why proposals never get past your desk. Thanks for sharing these insights.
    How much of a platform does Harvest House like for their fiction authors to have? Specifically, a debut author.
    Thanks,
    Melissa

  6. Nick April 6, 2011 at 7:20 pm #

    Melissa, the best thing a fiction author can do is write a wonderful novel in a genre that’s popular. Right now that’s historical romance, specifically Amish, for us. That could change any time now if we see the sales of Amish fiction plummet. As of yet, we have not, so we continue to look for fiction our market wants to read. A platform is of less importance for a fiction author writing in a popular genre. It’s helpful, but not as necessary as for a non-fiction writer.

  7. Richard Mabry April 7, 2011 at 4:04 am #

    Nick, this is absolutely the best explanation I’ve seen of the reasons a proposal dies “in committee.” When I first embarked on my road to writing, I had the perception that the only person I had to sell on my project was an editor, the only hurdle I had to clear was the quality of my writing. You’ve shown us how wrong that was.
    Even now, I’m surprised that you say the pub board only goes with about six of ten of your recommendations. I thought editors were all-wise, and you would at least be batting .995.
    Thanks for sharing.

  8. connie April 7, 2011 at 4:46 am #

    Wow, this was great insight. Thanks for taking the time to hammer it out. I look forward to those other questions being answered too! Have fun at the conference!

  9. Kerry Dexter April 7, 2011 at 4:56 am #

    thanks, Nick. helpful to know — and good to know Harvest House editors pray for your authors, too.

  10. Jill Kemerer April 7, 2011 at 6:00 am #

    Fascinating! I always wondered what publishers look at when a book catches an editor’s eye. Thank you so much for this. I’m passing it on to my friends!

  11. Jennifer Hudson Taylor April 7, 2011 at 6:48 am #

    This is some wonderful information. You’ve explained it well. From a business aspect, it makes perfect sense. From a spiritual aspect, I try to remember that God is control and He knows best where I need to be and what a publishing house needs from authors for their readers. So many dynamics have to fit into place.

  12. Sue Harrison April 7, 2011 at 6:55 am #

    My novels have been released by some large publishers (Doubleday, HarperCollins, etc.) and a small publisher (Thunder Bay Press), but I didn’t understand the whys behind pub committee decisions until I read this post. Thank you for this information!

  13. Tamela Hancock Murray April 7, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    Great post!

  14. Michelle DeRusha April 7, 2011 at 9:00 am #

    I was just thinking about asking Rachelle Gardener if perhaps she would consider writing a post about what the pub. committee is, what it does, and how it makes its decisions. And then I saw this — questions answered! Thank you, Nick — this is really informative (and, frankly, kind of daunting, as I fall into the “no platform” — or very, very small platform — category!).

  15. Carrie Schmeck April 7, 2011 at 9:31 am #

    Looking forward to taking one of your workshops at Mt. Hermon. You have come highly recommended from a few of my author friends in the Redding area. Thanks for this post.

  16. Barbara Robinson April 7, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    Thanks for the information. I don’t want to or plan to be a one-book author. I would love a long-term relationship with a publisher. I love Harvest House books and read many, always longing to be such an author. Jesus is my best friend, and I believe in the power of prayer. I don’t have an agent though, and I’m striving to hon my craft through the Christian Writers Guild and ACFW. I’ve learned so much from both. Eva Marie Everson has been a wonderful writing mentor, and I’ve had some great critique partners. I thank God for the people He places within my path to help me continue with my writing journey for Him. Be blessed in your endeavors to continue to help others. BJ

  17. Lynne Wells Walding April 7, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    Thank you, Nick, for this post. Looking forward to your post on why proposals never make it past your desk, as well. There are so many ins and outs in this business that it would behoove authors and hopeful authors to educate themselves about. Thanks for doing your part to educate us. LWW

  18. Patti Jo Moore April 7, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

    Thank you for this wonderful post! As a (somewhat) newbie, I’m learning ALL I can, and your post clearly answers some questions I’ve had. ~ Blessings, Patti Jo 🙂

  19. Angela Breidenbach April 7, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

    Really helpful post. You gave me an understanding of the how and why and some good suggestions too.
    Appreciatively,
    Angie

  20. Sarah Forgrave April 8, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    Very helpful and candid post! Thank you for sharing these insights.

  21. Kathleen Freeman April 8, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    Excellent post, great information, Nick!
    Many thanks and blessings,
    Kathleen

  22. Mary McKinzie April 9, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    This path of rocky obstacles sometimes overwhelms me until I dwell in God and continue forward in His calling. When I take a moment to pause and sit on one of the rocks, He reminds me of His completed portrait and manuscript…the gift and grandeur of the Rocky Mountains!

    You have shared much insight and I appreciate you and Harvest House, Nick. Thank you very much! May you be continually blessed.
    ~mm

  23. Jeff Adams April 9, 2011 at 7:49 am #

    Nick, you didn’t say anything I hadn’t heard, but you reminded me of things I don’t know. This business and process is very subjective, but that may be why relationships are so important. I haven’t invested 13 years so I could quit now. I won’t be at MH to pitch any of my projects, so have fun. But I’m going to deliberately look at what HH is publishing. Thanks for your investment of encouragement in others.

  24. Rebecca LuElla Miller April 9, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    Nick, your answers are so helpful. I really appreciate you taking the time to help other writers.

    I have to confess, I’m surprised at your declaration that you have no platform. If an editor at a ECPA house has no platform …

    But maybe pre-Internet days that was normative. What readers would actually know who edited or acquired a particular book? Now, however, I imagine you have a growing number of followers. And doesn’t that serve as your platform?

    I so wish I could be at Mount Hermon this year and attend your class on the subject.

    Becky

  25. Janalyn Voigt April 9, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    Thanks, Nick, for giving straight answers in this post. I imagine that these considerations influence decisions about which books to take to pub committee in the first place.

    I echo Michael’s feelings about Harvest House’s focus on relationships. Another emphasis that impresses me about your company is its basis in prayer. Well done.

  26. Bonnie Lacy April 9, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    I enjoyed meeting you at the Writing for the Soul conference in Denver.

    This is a great post. There are so many hurdles …

    But in my heart of hearts, I really do want the right fit: with agents, editors, etc. So when I receive a rejection, I try to take a good look at the manuscript, using the suggested revisions, and keep on truckin’!

  27. Lenore Buth April 29, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    Nick, you flesh out what I’ve known of publishing committees. Thanks for clarifying.

    That Harvest House mission statement is wonderful. Sounds like what we as Christian writers aim to do, as well. During down times I remind myself of that.

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