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President’s Column:
A Better Way to Acquire New Books?

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The current manuscript submission process–every publisher receiving and slogging through an unending stream of inappropriate proposals–is ineffective. I always considered it a necessary cost of being a successful small publisher. But is it? Could PMA set up a better matchmaking mechanism?

Two developments have just raised this question for me.

First, in our recent PMA member feedback project, so many of you said that finding quality acquisitions is one of your most vexing ongoing problems: How do I get good commercial books? Find qualified authors? Build new title series? Identify authors with ideas who can write? Effectively review submissions? Find good products that match our mission? A successful publishing company needs to fill its pipeline with quality new titles. It’s clear that this is not an easy task. How could PMA help?

Second, at this moment, I have two very different manuscripts on my desk. Both are high quality. Both have been rejected by the huge corporate publishers, and they were turned down by several agents. But both are great niche books that deserve to be published and that will make money for the right publisher. They don’t fit our niche. They do fit some independent publisher’s niche, but whose? Where do I send them?

 

An Expensive Exercise

Here’s a picture of the matchmaking process that most of you will find all too familiar. After Pfeifer-Hamilton published Old Turtle and it won the ABBY, we started receiving 2,000 children’s book proposals each year. That’s in addition to our usual 500 or so regional submissions. And we didn’t even publish children’s books! Often the proposals presented books that were worth publishing. But they just didn’t fit us, and we usually didn’t know where to refer the authors. So we responded politely with a rejection letter. At one point, this task required a half-time staff person–just to say, “No.”

Of course, we aren’t alone. Most of you face this same time-consuming challenge of mining the slag pile looking for the next great overlooked gem and finding very few nuggets. Authors want to find publishers. So they throw their manuscripts out all over the place hoping they will stick somewhere. You want to find your next excellent book. So you dutifully slog your way through whatever is submitted to you, looking for something you can turn into a profit. It’s costly for the authors. It’s costly for the publishers. There must be a better way.

 

The Clearinghouse Scenario

Could PMA provide an Ebay-type clearinghouse as a member benefit, where authors could register their proposals and member publishers could scan them for items of potential interest? How would this be effectively and efficiently organized? Vetted? Financed? Administered?

In this day of Internet communication, if we put our minds to it, we should be able to create some more cost-effective method for matching authors and independent publishers–with your creative help.

If you will send your reactions about the value of this concept–and about how such a service could work–to me or to Jan Nathan, we will take them to the board for discussion. We will need the best of your thinking to move forward. My e-mail is Tubesingda@aol.com. Jan’s e-mail is jan@pma-online.org. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

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