The commissioning calculations

Day 2 of the 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge, and today we’re focusing on target reader. This is perhaps the most fundamental of all the bits of thinking the challengers will be doing over the course of the challenge – the synopsis, selling points, contents, marketing plans, EVERYTHING falls out of that understanding. 

I was explaining in today’s live video how, for a commissioning editor, there’s a complex instinctive calculation taking place whenever they read this section. On the one hand the primary target market needs to be big enough to make the prospect of at least several hundreds of copies possible, ideally several thousand (depending on price); but on the other hand, a broad market sector is hard to reach and even harder to convince that this is the book they need to buy. A narrowly focused target market, on the other hand, is easier to reach, more likely to be actively interested in the book and therefore to convert to purchase, and probably willing to pay a higher price. Less potential upside, but less risk. That balance then feeds into an even more complex calculation involving the timeliness of the topic, the credibility of the author, the strategic direction of the list, the competition already out there, and many more factors. Commissioning is an art, not a science.  

(For the business book author, of course, the calculation is slightly different. If the book brings in one big bit of new business from a corporate client, that’s likely to outweigh several years’ worth of royalties from book sales. So it’s important that you’re clear on who it is you most want to reach, and that you hold that in mind during discussions with the publisher.)

It was lovely to read this from someone who took the challenge back in June last year during the course of the day, between responding to the posts of all the current challenges:

‘I just wanted to say a huge thank you to Alison Jones – I joined her book challenge last summer on the advice of a few people from this group. Out of that challenge I developed a robust and well thought submission document. I spent a huge amount of time thinking about what I wanted from a publisher and /or agent and I am so excited that today the official announcement has been made about my publishing deal, my new book comes out in September. I am absolutely convinced that I would not have reached this point or been able to navigate this world of publishing so well without those early weeks spent under Alison’s online guidance developing my proposal.’

Just doing my job, ma’am 🙂