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Behind Closed Publishing House Doors: How Publication Decisions Are Made

by Rachel Stone

Did you ever wonder how or why publishers publish what they do?

As an industry insider—executive, manager, and editor for over 35 years—I can give you the lowdown.

Actually, it’s what you think it is, and the answer is pretty simple: MONEY.

These are some of the questions publishers ask themselves when they’re evaluating your manuscript and considering whether or not to publish your book:

Is it well-written, accessible?

Is it the right fit for the marketplace?

How does it stack up against the competition?

What does it need to have to outshine and outdistance and, most importantly, outsell the competition?

The educational publishing arena is a very competitive marketplace dominated by some big publishers with deep pockets (aka Prentice Hall/Pearson Publishing and McGraw-Hill) and large sales forces and lots of marketing dollars to spend, not to mention connections to educational government bodies and individuals. Therefore, small publishers don’t have the margin for failure that big publishers do; their margin for publishing mistakes is much narrower, their benefits-to-cost ratios much smaller. In other words, their gamble on your book is much costlier to them; they need your book to be successful as much as you do in order to survive. Their bottom line and survival is much more dependent on the success of their titles—ALL their titles.

For an educational book to be accepted for publication, the above list gets further refined, for example:

Is it accurate, up-to-date, and aligned with the current educational standards?

Are difficult concepts clearly explained with appropriate illustrative material (graphics, tables, photos, illustrations)?

How does your book function as a learning tool? Is it a better learning tool than the multitude of other books out there? Is the vocabulary clearly explained and defined, are there summaries included, interesting real-world examples that engage the learner?

If it is a test prep book, will it enhance a student’s performance on the test? Are there enough questions of sufficient degrees of difficulty for varied learners?

What kind of support package does it have?

AND, most importantly for the electronic age, what/how many electronic devices can it be used on, and, what interactive features does it have?

If you’re trying to publish a book for the general marketplace, a version of these criteria probably apply to you, too. Ask yourself, Why should people buy YOUR book? What makes it unique? Interesting? What is it about your book that makes it stand out from the crowd—what is your unique vision or story that will make people want to read your book and glad that they did? What do you want people to take away as their unique reading experience? If you’ve got that magic something that nobody else has, then you—and your publisher—have a winner!


Rachel Stone is an experienced publishing executive and hands-on editor and proofreader who has worked at Prentice-Hall, MacMillan, and John Wiley & Sons, among others.

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