A Publisher's Conversation with Authors: Does Pitting One Publisher against Another Improve Your Chances of Acceptance?


It is Tuesday. Time to tall turkey. Monday's madness is over, and Wednesday will take us over the hump, so Tuesday it is--for some serious discussion with authors. Tuesday talks mean to address authors in waiting and self-published authors who would like to go a more traditional route or who would at least like to take their steps with a publisher by their side.

Today's topic addresses effective communication with acquisitions editors. Does it make sense to p it them against each other? To create a sense of competition in order to get one of them to move?

Here are the ways in which authors have tried to tempt me to offer them a contract by alluding to another publisher -- and my reaction and response. 

  • Just a note to say that the book submitted to you is being seriously considered by a United States Publisher. Please let me know how you would like to move forward.
    • My reaction:
      • The author comes across as pushy (trying to take the upper hand), arrogant (assuming that I would even want to move forward), and not someone I would want to work with long-term. 
      • The author is trying to make me think that there is competition for the book to show that I am not smart enough to figure out what a great treasure I have been sent, when I can clearly see that it is no treasure at all.
      • There is no offer involved; being considered is not an offer. If there were an offer, an author committed to this kind of deceptive interaction would have given information and asked for me
      • If there were another publisher, the author would name the publisher, not simply state a United States publisher; I question the author's honesty.
      • Even if there is another publisher involved, I have several negative reactions to the way the author is handling this.
        • This might tell me that somehow my press is second choice; otherwise, why have discussions been going on with someone else. (This is quite a different situation from one where the author states upfront that s/he is making a simultaneous submission, which is fair and legitimate.) 
        • OR, I am the preferred publisher, and the other publisher is being used to get to me and not for honest negotiations. As a colleague to other publishers, this is not at all a tempting scenario. 
        • It is fair to ask for a little time to decide to when there are indeed two offers or when the offer is less than desired -- if the author acts in good faith.
    • My response: Congratulations and good luck!
      • My response in these cases is always to react as if I have been told a truth (though it is pretty clear that it is not.). Typically, I simply write, "Congratulations and good luck!" I then trash all related files.
      • More frequently than one would think I find out coincidentally afterward that it was not true and that the author self-published; sometimes, I find out because somehow the silly author has added me to his/her distribution list (not sure what s/he thinks I am going to do; buying the book would not be among any actions I would take).
  • I have several other publishers interested in this book, but your press is the one I prefer to publish with.
    • My reaction:
      • While this might seem flattering, unless the author specifies legitimate reasons for having such a preference, I am not going to take the author at his/her word but assume that this is an attempt to curry favor in order to get a book contract.
      • It is going to be a waste of my time if another of the publishers is accepted, so I will wait.  We do not hurt for book proposals, and they all take time. I am not going to spend time giving feedback and evaluating a proposed book if it might end up with another publishing house, I do not want to end up in a bidding competition. That can be expensive and time-consuming, and I have other choices. I do not have to go through 
      • I do not want to get into a 
    • My response:
      • If I really want the book, I might ask the author to explore the other options and then return when the only house under consideration is ours.  
      • As with other "competition" situations, I typically say "congratulations and good luck." Here, it might be something like, "I suggest you check out those other interested publishers and take the best offer you get; if you do not get an offer, then come on back, and I will take a closer look at your proposal.
  • I have consulted with other publishers who tell me that this book is exceptional; they wish they had the ability to put it out now, but they are stock full of forthcoming books but would love to think about it later. If you can put it out now, I will go with you. 
    • My reaction: 
      • Books take time to come out. Period. Regardless of publisher. If the statement is true, this is not an author I want to work with. Too impatient and will likely be demanding in ways that complicate a working relationship. We would not drop everything and latch onto a particular book (unless it is, indeed, time-dependent -- and we have rushed through and prioritized time-dependent books before).
      • Actually, I do not believe the statement. Knowing the industry, I think that it is likely there are no other publishers, and this is an attempt to influence my thinking -- which is not going to work.
    • My response: 
      • Books take time to come out. It is unlikely we would be able to do better than any other publisher, but we appreciate your interest in us.
      • If you truly need the book out immediately, you might consider self-publishing. [Note: in many cases of arrogant and pushy authors, self-publication is really the best option for them; they can control everything in the process.]

So, is there any advantage to using this tactic? 

  • When it is actually the case that there is interest from several publishers, but the author prefers X publisher, it is okay to say so. List the publishers, and tell why you want Publisher X. If it rings true, publisher X may consider it. It might be much better, though, not to mention any other publishers and explain why you are coming to publisher X -- why are you interested in this particular publisher? (Too often authors do not mention this one very important information that would make their proposal considered more seriously.)
  • When you have a contract from a publisher but really would prefer publisher X, share the content of the contract and explain why you would want to turn down the contract. If publisher X cannot do better, though, you will be left with the original contract. (Sometimes, I will look at the conditions of the contract and advise the author to go with the publisher who has made the offer if it is a good one.)

The bottom line is that most publishers are not convinced to take on a book because they think or are told that another publisher is interested in it. In fact, that could have the reverse effect. You will have a better chance of selling your book proposal to a publisher if you can show its relevance to one of the lines of publishing by the publisher, including references to books published by the publisher that you have read, the book's marketability, and your platform. 

Lesson for today's Tuesday talk: Honesty is the best policy. Don't try to pit one publisher against another, thinking that any given publisher will take the bait. Probably, none will. Sell your book to the publisher on its own merits and the quality of your platform. 

 Read more posts about publishing HERE.

 (Book available from MSI Press LLC; discount of 25% with coupon code FF25; currently on sale for $5, but that offer will not last long).


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