Publishing: The Ins and Outs according to Melanie Saward

This week my Writing and Publishing class had the pleasure of Melanie Saward (@littleredwrites) cluing us in to what exactly goes on behind the scenes in a publishing house, in relation to her time at HarperCollins.

She spoke about several processes, including how manuscripts enter into publishing houses, the fight publishers endure to get their chosen manuscript signed, and the editing process.

How manuscripts come into a publishing house

  • Literary agents
    Melanie says this is a safer option for publishers, because the manuscript is more likely to be of high quality and therefore is worth looking at.
  • Slush pile
    Unfortunately, manuscripts only rarely make it into the publishing process via the slush pile.
  • By invitation
    Publishers or editors (or both) often visit festivals and other events, and offer to read manuscripts there.
  • Writer’s Houses like Varuna
    Writer’s houses and retreats allow writers to apply for fellowships, during which they receive one-on-one time with editors.
  • Publishing houses overseas
    Publishing houses can buy the rights titles from other houses overseas.

Reading, reporting, and writing pitches

This is a slow process. Unfortunately, Melanie says there will never be enough time or people to read all the manuscripts that come into a publishing house. This may mean that your manuscript being accepted for publishing could be luck of the draw.

Melanie says one reason for this process being slow is balancing time.

It was hard to balance finding time to sit and read the piles and piles and piles of manuscripts that arrived every single day with those manuscripts that we had an investment in already.

Melanie Saward

Because there is no financial investment in reading any manuscript that a publishing house doesn’t have a contract with, they will understandably devote more of their time to working on publishing signed manuscripts.

Acquisitions Meeting

Once a manuscript has been read and the publisher thinks it’s amazing, all the publishing house’s big wigs have a meeting to decide whether the house will sign the manuscript.

Topics of discussion include

  • Merits of publishing
  • Author and their willingness to promote their work
  • Whether the work resembles the author’s life and if are they willing to talk about this at launches and publicity events
  • Where the author is from and what promotion opportunities their location provides
  • When the story is likely to sell
  • What to compare the story to to predict sales and booksellers’ interest

Melanie says a publisher needs to be passionate about the manuscript they bring to the acquisitions meeting, because generally the meeting will include arguments based around any number of the above points.

Post acquisitions meeting: the revered publishing contract. Photo source.

Post acquisitions meeting: the revered publishing contract. Photo source.

If the manuscript is accepted for publication at the acquisitions meeting…

  • Added to system
  • Offer made and contract sent
  • Editor allocated
  • Timeline made
  • Deadlines set


>>  Next stage: Publishing: The Editing Process according to Melanie Saward


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