Is it an editor's responsibility to ensure your book will be saleable to book stores?

This must be negotiated up front with your editor. If you don't divulge your publishing and distribution requirements at that stage, then your editor can't be expected to factor them into the edit. Also, you may find that some freelance editors simply do not have this skill. It is more of a traditional publishing skill than a self publishing one.

Before an Australian eBook Publisher editor edits your manuscript, your publishing plans are requested. Often the writers we work with don't know, and are either hoping to try traditional publishing or have already decided to self-publish.

If you are self-publishing, then distribution into book stores is not usually seen as a factor during editing. It is unlikely that any self-published book will get into book stores—even traditional publishers have to compete fiercely for book store (or retail store) shelf space and they employ teams of sales people to work these accounts.

The booksellers, who buy books for their chains of book stores, will interact with these sales teams and glance through a few different publisher or distributor catalogues for the latest likely best sellers and must-have books that they are confident will sell.

A self-published author walking into a store with their box of books is more than likely going to be politely asked to call or email the bookseller for the chain, who lives in another city, and never spoken to again. There are some exceptions, such as with extremely niche books being offered to extremely well targeted book stores or other retail outlets. Independently owned book stores, for example, and regional ones, are more likely to stock locally produced or books that are highly relevant to their niche market. There may also be airport book stores or industry specialty stores that are relevant for certain books.

Traditional publishers are across all these complexities, and that is their greatest strength and asset compared to self-publishing, but they are large enough and their business model means that they must involve their marketing team prior to acquisition stage, before the author is even made an offer.

At an “acquisitions meeting”, the publisher (a person working for a publishing company) has a manuscript she wants and she or he has to convince head of sales, marketing, publicity and other publishers as well, to make an offer on the book. So at least six people will read the manuscript before that meeting, long before an offer is even made to the writer's agent.

Something to do with the content that would affect sales might be discussed briefly at this stage and flagged for editorial comment later. The actual discussion about changing content is usually handled after the rights have been purchased (by paying the author an advance). The editor, in consultation with the sales/marketing people, would say to the author “we need to change XYZ or your book won’t sell” and most authors would go with their publisher’s advice rather than give their advance back.

If your book has explicit content or anything controversial (eg. offensive/inappropriate portrayals of sexism or racism) and you are going to try to get it into book stores you should make sure your editor is capable of analysing this and advising you. What is inappropriate? How long is a piece of string. It depends on the book, the author, the editor, the target market (the readers, their location, culture, values etc.), the book store chain, the bookseller who works there, management etc.

Many bookstore chains (i.e. the directors, the booksellers, the individual owners) will have a certain opinion about books with explicit content (i.e. large amounts of foul language). It's not like the movies. Books don't have a rating/classification system after all. If a bookstore thinks a customer will walk in their store (a retail outlet) and be disgusted by something they randomly pick up off the shelf, and walk out never to return, then they won't stock it.

If you are a self-publisher then ultimately the responsibility for managing this lies with you.

As you can see, if sales are important to you, your distribution and marketing plan should be in place before you've finished the editing stage of your manuscript. For expert publishing advice, please contact us for a pre-publication consultation. The first half hour is FREE!

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