Acquisition Reality by Emma Jay
As a student in the Publishing program at Centennial College, I imagined how I would one day determine the manuscripts to be published. I had a very romantic idea about the whole thing. I envisioned a gigantic slush pile in the form of hundreds of emailed queries that I would have to go through, wading through story after story and only choosing the most well-written, interesting, impactful stories to put out into the world. I thought evaluating submissions came down to looking at just writing quality and the author’s ability to tell a good story. However, the reality of working in acquisitions ended up being very different. Overall, it was a lot less romantic than I expected; it required a far greater focus on business, evaluating a book as a marketable product instead of just a meaningful story.
Like being an author, I think careers in publishing are easy to idealize. People who love books but don’t work with them see them as having an almost whimsical quality — the author writes this amazing story, and suddenly it’s printed and bound and put out into the world, ready to be loved by hundreds of people. The reality is that publishing is a business like everything else. Behind every book is a process that involves a whole team of people who work very hard to get it into the hands of readers. It’s a process that takes a lot of time, money, and other resources. The most important question asked at the acquisition table is: do we invest in this author and story?
When I started my internship at Latitude 46, I really began to understand the reality of the acquisitions process. Looking at submissions, I had to think of so much more than whether the story had merit or if it was well written. Determining whether or not I thought a book had potential was only the first consideration; if the answer to that question was yes, I had to step out of the role of the reader into the role of a business person. I had to look at the story and ask myself if there was a market for this kind of work. Would people buy it, and if so, who is that buyer? Will the book sell enough copies to justify the cost of putting it through the rigorous and expensive publishing process? Am I confident that the writer will put in the effort to promote the book and get themselves more readers? For a publishing house to survive, they need their books to make back the cost of the whole process, from hiring editors to printing and binding to marketing and distribution. A book holds a lot of sentimental meaning to an author, but it’s also a product in the marketplace. At the end of the day, thinking a manuscript is good just isn’t enough to get it selected for publication.
Still, even if a manuscript is well written and will likely sell successfully, there is one last consideration that needs to be made before it’s selected for publication. Does it meet the mandate of the publishing house? This factor carries a lot of weight. The books a publisher puts out are not only a reflection of the author’s ability, but also the values and merit of the publisher itself. At Latitude 46, that mandate comes down to two very important criteria: whether the manuscript has a strong connection to Northern Ontario and whether the story itself is one we have yet to read. The first part of that is fairly self-explanatory, while the second requires more thought.
Evaluating whether or not we, as a publisher, wanted to publish a manuscript and share its story came down to considering Latitude 46’s values. Representation was always a very important quality to look for; underrepresented and marginalized voices need to be heard and included in Canadian literature, so those stories were always prioritized. Other considerations involved looking at the overall message that the manuscript was trying to communicate and what kind of impact it may have on the reader. These were the things that made evaluating submissions most intimidating. Published books have a significant role in shaping culture, so I always felt a degree of responsibility if I was going to endorse a book to be published. Was this book going to make a positive contribution to Canadian literary culture in some way? Does it provide insight into important conversations that need to be had about our society?
I took these questions very seriously every time I looked at a new submission and gained a whole new understanding of the business of publishing.