Become a member


May 15, 2024

Behind the book: acquisitions meetings

Behind the Book is the ASA’s series of articles demystifying the book publishing industry and providing behind-the-scenes insights from industry professionals. 

This week we look at acquisitions meetings. What is an acquisitions meeting? Who is involved? What’s discussed and what are different departments looking for in a manuscript? Get the inside scoop from Roberta Ivers, Publisher at HarperCollins, and Jean Smith, Marketing and Publicity Manager at University Of Queensland Press. 

What is an acquisitions meeting? Who is involved?

An acquisitions meeting is where different departments within a publishing house come together to discuss and decide which manuscripts they wish to publish. The range of participants can vary depending on the size of the publisher but, typically, an acquisitions meeting will consist of the editors or publishers pitching manuscripts to the team, sales and marketing representatives, and the CEO or managing director. 

Roberta Ivers, Publisher at HarperCollins says “Acquisitions meetings are attended by representatives from all relevant parts of the business: from publishing of course – the individual publisher or commissioning editor bringing the proposal, the publishing director and often other members of the publishing team so they can offer their thoughts and expertise in the discussion of the proposal; from marketing and PR for promotional aspects of the proposal, and of course key members of our sales team, including the sales director and key accounts managers (these are the sales managers who look after the biggest retailers in the country, such as Big W/Kmart/Target; the chains such as Dymocks and QBB; and online retailers such as Booktopia and Amazon). Our managing editor and CEO attend acquisitions meetings too to offer their feedback on the proposal as well, so it’s an all-of-business decision.”

Jean Smith, Sales and Publicity Manager at UQP says “We have a monthly acquisitions meeting where our publishers put forward proposals for consideration. We have an acquisitions committee but anyone in the business is able to attend if they’d like to.” 

What's discussed in the meeting? Which questions are typically raised in consideration of a manuscript?

Acquisitions meetings are conducted to determine the viability of your manuscript in the book market, and their considerations go far beyond how compelling or well-written the story is. Publishers are purveyors of great stories but they are also businesses and need to make decisions taking into account the costs of producing, publishing, distributing and marketing the book.  

Roberta says, “In the meeting we discuss every aspect of the book, such as the story, the writing, the author, and of course our passion and ambition for the proposal, including what size and kind of audience we think the book will have.”

She considers, “Is it great writing? Is it a story that readers will want to read? Do we all love it and see the potential in the book? Who is the author, have they published before, is it a debut novel? Who and what is the audience for the book? When will we publish it, and in what format, what price? Which retailers do we think will support the book? How many copies do we think we can publish over the lifetime of the book? And again, do we all love it? And if we don’t love it, can we see that lots of readers will love it?”

Jean considers similar questions, “Does this fit into UQP’s list? What is the sales and publicity potential? What are some similar titles on the market and how have they performed? What do you love about the work and the author? Would there be any potential challenges in pursuing this project?”

Alongside considerations of where your manuscript fits in the market, including consumer trends, and the popularity of the subject you’re writing about or genre you’re writing into, the publishing house is also considering who you are as a writer. Are you a debut author or have you published before? If you are a debut author, who is the person behind the story? Why would someone want to read your manuscript? If you’re published already, how were your previous book/s received? Do you already have a network of interested readers? A social media following? A common trap authors fall into is thinking that if they don’t have a large social media following they won’t even be considered. This is not the case. While a social media presence can help, it’s just one factor a publisher considers. All of this is why it is especially important to emphasise the who and why in your manuscript submission. 

What is your department’s role in the meeting?

“The publisher is the champion of the author and the proposal at the meeting, “ Roberta says, “We don’t bring proposals to the table unless we strongly believe there is a passionate readership or a strong, or large, audience for the book. We’re story experts too because to be a good publisher you need to be a great reader – as publishers we publish books that readers want to read (or will want to read) so it’s our job to recognise great writing and stories, find new writing talent and spot trends in the publishing landscape, and much much more. So a publisher brings proposals to the business via the acquisitions meeting, leads the discussion in the meeting and then manages the decision made by the collective team as to next steps, which is generally making an offer to the author and/or agent if everyone agrees that the proposal is something we all want to champion as a company and publish.”

In an acquisitions meeting, Jean brings a sales and publicity perspective to the consideration of a manuscript, “I try to picture how we would bring this book to market. I look at how promotable the book and author are; what makes the book stand out from other similar titles on the market and/or whether it’s filling a gap in what’s currently available. How a book would fit into UQP’s list and the quality of the writing are always important considerations as well”. 

How does the team come to a decision?

Roberta says, “The decision to publish is very much a collective decision based on the huge amount of expertise and experience of the people in the meeting – and passion of course! The reason why we may decide not to pursue publication might sometimes be about audience size – again, we want to publish books that readers want to read, but if the audience is considered too small to justify all the passion, work and commitment that goes into publishing a book by every member of the company, we may decide against it. Of course we often decide to publish books that are for a smaller audience too – it just depends on what our ambition for the proposal is and whether it’s a book that fits our ethos and publishing strategy well as a business. Sometimes we all just love the proposal so much that we want to publish it regardless of some of the other factors.”

Was there ever a manuscript that caused a great divide in an acquisition meeting?

Roberta says “Over my publishing career there have been many energetic conversations about proposals in acquisitions meetings and sometimes we do decide not to pursue a proposal any further, but we are all very respectful of each others’ significant expertise and experience. As publishers we are great judges of stories, writing and trends, our marketing and PR teams are experts in their area and can tell us how well the book can be promoted, and of course the sales team work with retailers every day and know a huge amount about the retail landscape and what is working and what isn’t. We’re all experts on the subject of reading audiences – so while a decision may be made not to publish, there is always a very good reason behind it”.

Jean says “We often have some robust discussions around proposals but they are always respectful”. While it may look like there are many cooks in the kitchen, an acquisitions meeting is where everyone centres the collective goals of the publisher. “Ultimately UQP’s list and legacy is far greater than any individual and we like to keep this idea at the heart of any conversations”. 

How can I best prepare myself for success in my submission?

Publishers have hundreds, if not, thousands of manuscripts submitted to them and authors who can show they understand the business side of publishing are likely to have a higher chance of standing out. Be thoughtful in your submission, conduct research into the book market and publisher, demonstrate your knowledge about the current publishing trends and where your manuscript sits in today’s market, and help the editor or publisher build a story about why your book might appeal to readers. 

If you need help to prepare your submission, book in for Pitch perfect or Pitch perfect: picture books, designed to teach you how to develop an engaging, informative pitch to publishers. Or, if you’d like tailored advice about which publisher to pitch to, and how to go about it, Publishing Consultations with industry experts are available through the ASA.