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Thursday, June 9, 2011

How a book goes from proposal to publication

During BEA, I had the opportunity to visit the Harper Collins offices with a group of bloggers. We were treated to a discussion of how a book, in this case The Beekeeper's Lament by Hannah Nordhaus, goes from proposal to actual publication and beyond.

Editor Michael Signorelli began by describing the pitch he received from Nordhaus' agent about an article she had written about a beekeeper. She thought there was a good story there, one that would make an interesting book. Signorelli loved the proposal, and Harper bought the book.

With a non-fiction book like this, you usually get a proposal and outline of the book, with a few chapters written. A fiction book is usually bought on the basis of reading the entire novel first, which makes sense. The editor wants to make sure the ending of the novel works.

Signorelli's job is get everyone else excited about the book, and he did a terrific job with this book. Robin Bilardello from the Art Department showed us several different cover ideas they created before settling on the current one (see photo).

She spoke about using just bees on the cover, but that may turn some people off. (People have strong feelings about bees.) Some covers had bees, some had bees on flowers, some had a rendering of a beekeeper. We saw different fonts, and some of the covers differed only very subtly.

We heard from Erica Barmash in Marketing (a great host for the day!) and Jessica Wells in Sales discuss the different ideas they had to sell the book. Erica talked about reaching out to to bloggers, matching up the right book with the right blogger, and how she uses the Harper Perennial blog, The Olive Reader, to generate excitement. Jessica works with many of the big retailers, and I enjoyed her perspective of working with them during this changing economic atmosphere.

Gregory Henry talked about publicity, and I found his talk most interesting. He did not work on this book, but the ideas he ran through on how he would publicize this book to the many different special interest groups (targeting beekeeping organizations, farming organizations, newspapers in target areas such as California, where the beekeeper frequently worked, and Denver, where the author frequently writes for the local paper, NPR Radio) fascinated me. He was full of ideas, and this is something I used to do when I worked in a marketing department for an upstate mall. We had a very small budget, so creativity was key. I loved his creativity!

After a delicious lunch, we were joined by four Harper authors- Diana Spechler, who wrote Skinny, Greg Olear, author of Father Mucker (a great title), Lauren Belfer, author of A Fierce Radiance, and Talia Carner, author of Jerusalem Maiden. 

The authors spoke to us in small groups, and the conversations were lively and interesting. (I was delighted to run into Carner at a book signing she had at BookHampton in East Hampton last week, the link to my post on that is here.)

The best part of the day was hearing people who are so passionate about their jobs. This group loves books, and their excitement about their jobs was contagious. They inspired us all with their enthusiasm to keep on doing what we're doing.

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