Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Confessions of a Big Five Publisher Intern - a Guest Post by Sara Wildes

Hi! This is Patricia Beal. I'm happy to introduce my new writer friend Sara Wildes. We met after the publisher she works for rejected my debut novel early this year (I later sold it to Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas). Enjoy this unique behind-the-scenes Sara wrote for us. She is young, about to get married, and an aspiring author herself.


Becoming a Publishing Intern 

My entry into the publishing world began December 2015 during my last semester of school at Lipscomb University. My class was required to attend mock interviews with the intent to discover how we would do in a real job interview. I almost skipped the interviews, but my senior year motto pushed me forward: when the only thing better to do is sleep, you don't skip. So I breezed through the interviews without much thought and was glad when they were over, never to reenter my mind--until a couple weeks before graduation, I received an email from one of the interviewers. It was the lead editor from a major publishing company in Nashville, wanting to know if I'd be interested in interning starting the next month as an editor/marketer while one of their members would be out on maternity leave for five months. For a student about to graduate and already getting depressed about possibly getting stuck working as a fast-food cashier for the rest of her life, this offer was just what I needed to get launched into my first year as an official adult. 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly 

My first day on the job, I was overwhelmed with the amount of books on shelves throughout the building. The perfect place for a reader. Even the front counter desk was made of stacked books! The first task I was given was to print out a manuscript and bind it. This task has gotten old three months later, but it was cool the first couple times to know I was holding a young book in its early stages of being created. Other exciting aspects of being here have included meeting authors, attending a sales conference, titling books, and gaining an insider's perspective on how publishing actually works. 

Within two weeks, my naive positive outlook on publishing was crushed upon attending my first acquisitions meeting. A dozen editors and marketers sat around the table to discuss three of our latest debut titles that hadn't been immediately declined. A couple days prior to the meeting, we had all been sent the book proposals followed by a survey for us to rate each 1 to 5. Believing them all to be interesting stories I'd like to read, I think I gave one a five and the other two a four. I felt embarrassed when the others' scores were revealed in the meeting. Several 2's. A couple 1's. The rest 3's. What was wrong with these people that they didn't want to immediately acquire these books?! 
It was called: social media. For acquisitions meetings, everyone reads the proposals then does research on the writers to discover how many followers they have, how many platforms, and determine the quality of social content/website/blog. Typically, Twitter and Facebook are the two important sites, along with either a website or a blog which serve as a central platform to point to the others (Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). It's up to the writer how many platforms they utilize--a couple good ones will impress, several good ones will really impress, while several bad ones will look bad. 

Do what you think suits your content best and will reach the audience you want to publish to (don't bother with Google+). If the writer has been published before, we also look to see if their books have at least 300 ratings each on Goodreads. Ultimately, if a writer hasn't marketed themselves well enough already, the team won't even consider acquiring their manuscript. Realizing this was what discouraged me about ever getting my own book published. Maybe being an author really was just a crazy dream. Until the day came when I thought, If other writers have become famous, who says I can't too? And so I decided to start taking action to become another great author. 

What I will do differently now as a writer 

All my life, I have wanted to have my own book published. My friends would say to just go get them published. What held me back? I didn't know how to just "go publish my book." I wrote my first complete book when I was twelve. Since then I have begun several others, completed two, and written half of two others. The first two are Christian Fiction, the others young adult fantasy, and future novels mystery/suspense. Since coming to a publishing company and seeing the process writers have to go through, I have begun serious edits on my favorite manuscript, started a blog, and begun building my social platforms to gain an audience (more details on this process can be found on my blog post Adventures in Social-Land). Both my blog and social media have allowed me to connect with a lot of great writers I never would have met otherwise. They have helped to both encourage as well as provide guidance in the areas I need it. Getting the numbers I need to impress a publisher will take a while, but they are increasing steadily. Now my next step to getting published (after finishing final edits on my manuscript) is to prepare a proposal to start sending out to agents. 

Advice for authors to sell more books 

Listen to your marketers. I can't speak for every publisher in the world, but here our marketers take care of the book sales. A few weeks ago, I mailed out boxes to booksellers with a couple copies of a new book, a few bookmarks, pens, personalized M&Ms, and a magnet (all the products were designed specifically for that book). To spread a book's popularity to readers, we also regularly give out digital versions of books on Net Galley as well as physical ARCs (advanced reader copies) to people who either blog book reviews or review books on places like Goodreads and Amazon. These sort of things are the reason a writer should strive for a contract with a publisher before attempting to self-publish. A publisher will take care of all your editing and marketing for you. They want you to succeed, because they are as dependent on your book's sales as you the writer would be. 

Advice for people hoping for a contract with major publisher 

Connections make a huge difference for people trying to get a contract with a major publisher. Even if a book proposal doesn't sound immediately enticing, it will still be voted on in a meeting, if it has been suggested by a respected author or agent (Not many proposals actually get voted on. We may receive five or ten a week, but only two or three will appear in the biweekly acquisitions meeting). Become friends with published authors and meet good agents at writing conferences. Also, don't try to self-publish if you want a major publisher. With the belief that a self-publisher will be hard to work with, the marketers here don't want to work with someone who will likely think they know how to do everything themselves. Marketers want a writer who will follow their direction without question and put in the time to upkeep their social platforms. 

Where will I go from here? 

Once this internship is over, I plan to continue marketing myself as a writer (on Facebook, blog, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Goodreads) to gain an audience for my books. Hopefully you'll see one of my books published within the next few years. For now, I'm working on my blog to educate and inspire other writers while searching for an agent to represent me. As far as my career is concerned, I'm not sure that an 8 to 5 indoor job is suited for me. I'm too much a free spirit to be indoors all day from sunrise to sunset. And I have too many dreams to pursue. Between writing, I'd love to open my own restaurant featuring a bookstore then pursue marine biology to become a dolphin trainer. If those don't work, I'll move to gardening. Honestly, my list doesn't end. I'm a writer and an adventurer. I don't believe in having to find one job and sticking with it forever. We get one short life to live. So I live through both my characters and through myself, seeking adventures and living life to the fullest.

Connect with Sara:

Aspiring Writer. Blogger. Reader. Dreamer. Adventurer. Lover of hot chocolate, rainy days, and nature.

(Dream Big Image by Dan Elijah Fajardo - Dandingeroz Designs; Social Media Image by Shutterstock)


  1. Thank you for this inside look! I understand that the publishers are looking for good bets financially, but I can't help wondering how many good books we are missing out on because the author is not an extravert on social media.

  2. Patricia, thank you for introducing us to Sara. Sara, wonderful to get an inside peak of a large publisher. Fascinating your comments on that acquisition meeting and the significance of an author's following. 300 reviews on GR, wow. That's a lot. Looks like the indie publishing world is only going to get bigger.

    All the very best in your future endeavours. A dolphin trainer would be pretty neat!

    Many blessings,

  3. LeAnne there are Lots! It's all about the risk factor and not necessarily writing quality.

  4. Hi! Thanks, Sara! This is all so good to know. Thanks for being here. I'll continue to follow your adventures via LivingLitUp :)

    LeAnne, I think every editor and agent has multiple stories of books they rejected and that ended up doing great someplace else. Also, this post gives us an idea of what happens in average, but it doesn't have to be the case every time. I have a platform that impressed them, but they rejected me because of the story itself. A couple of editors believed in it, but couldn't get the others onboard. In all reality I can already see God's wisdom in His choice of publisher for me, and can't wait to see what He will do with my debut. God blessed me with a lovely day job that start on Monday, and my dream publicist said yes and will be onboard soon. And then you have stories like our Kara Isaac's, who managed to get an awesome two-book deal with a legacy publisher when her platform was in its infancy. By the way, so thrilled for her release day today. She and her family are now rocking YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. All this to say that at the end of the day: "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will." (Proverbs 21:1).

    Ian! Hi! You're welcome. By the way, your post about your debut so impressed me that I signed up for the spotlight on "Monarch Books and Lion Fiction at Lion Hudson" session at ACFW this year. I'm not trying to sell anything to anyone at this year's conference--I'm just curious to hear their pitch.

    Blessings :)

    P.S. You'll see me here more often now that I've turned in my first round of developmental edits to my publisher.

  5. Thanks, Patricia and Sara for this really interesting post!

    Wow, I am so glad that my social media platform obviously wasn't the deciding factor in my getting my first contract. With my whole 100 Facebook followers and (maybe) 300 Twitter followers at the time there's no way I would have survived that vote! :)

  6. Excellent post - thank you, Patricia and Sara. Sara, your insider insights into the publishing industry are fascinated (if not slightly worrying). Out of interest, what kind of Facebook and Twitter numbers do publishers look for?

  7. I don't know a specific number. I think for Twitter I would try to get at least over a thousand. And for Facebook around 500. We also look at how much your followers engage with your posts. 15 or more likes and comments on each post is preferable. Basically you want more followers than your personal social media would have.

    1. Thanks - glad to hear they look at engagement as well as numbers. Numbers are easy. Engagement is harder.

    2. So true. I'm working on short post about Facebook engagement. I get about 200 likes and 12 comments on each daily post and gain hundreds of fans every week, but they don't just happen. There's an art and a science behind what God's been doing there, and I want to share what I've learned. Facebook page users have many choices to make based on their ultimate goals.

  8. So interesting. I found my platform began to grow once readers found my books and "followed me home" from the backs of my books. In other words, my sales brought platform more than my platform brought sales. They're growing together!

    1. Good for you, Valerie. That's great to hear :)

  9. Excellent post. Thanks Patricia and Sara.