Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Inside the Business at Balzer + Bray and Contest

Today, I've got a different kind of post for you guys. It's one I'm way excited to share, that I think you'll enjoy.

To celebrate the release of her fourth book, Wanted, I've teamed up with Heidi Ayarbe to go behind the scenes at her Harper publishing imprint, Balzer + Bray. From acquisitions to editing to cover concepts, we've got the scoop straight from the people involved!

 1. How attached do editors get to the books they work on?

Every book that an editor acquires is a reflection of her personal taste: we buy books that we love, that speak to us, that make us turn the pages and keep us up at night. Once a book is acquired, we work for months with the author to edit and perfect it; then, leading up to publication, we pitch the book in-house to our sales representatives and convince everyone else to love it as much as we do. So as you can imagine, we get very attached to our books. For books to succeed we must believe in them and be their cheerleaders—we must be attached to them, and get others to feel attached to them too.

2. You read a manuscript and love it. What happens next?

This varies from house to house, but we’ll give you a glimpse into how it happens at a HarperCollins imprint like Balzer + Bray. If an editor here falls in love with a manuscript, the next step is to bring it to our team editorial meeting where our colleagues weigh in. If they, too, love the book then the editor is green-lighted to bring the project to the in-house acquisitions meeting. At acquisitions, our marketing and sales folks, as well as our editor-in-chief and publisher, provide feedback about where they see the book on our list and in the marketplace, discuss the sales numbers and marketing spend, etc. And if they feel as strongly about the book’s potential as we do—well, the editor is set to make an offer!

3. How do you determine long-term goals for a book?

For every book we acquire, we have a vision for it from the moment of acquisition right up through pub. In all cases, a long-term goal is to get people talking about the book and get them interested in it. On top of that, we may also want to target independent bookstores or the school and library market, or if a book is publicity-driven, where we think we can get coverage. There may be niche markets we can explore, or perhaps the author has a strong platform in another area, or a terrific social media presence. Each book has different goals, and they are determined by the literary or commercial appeal of the book, who the audience is, and how the book can fit into the market. A whole range of considerations, to be sure!

4. What goes into a cover concept?

When our designers are in the nascent stages of designing a jacket, the first step is for the editor to provide a jacket summary outlining the book’s plot, its target market, its competitive titles, and its genre. Working off this document, as well as the manuscript itself, the designer comes up with different cover concepts. The designer considers what’s working in the market, what is popular vs. overdone, what the jacket needs to communicate about the book itself. They consider illustrated covers, iconographic covers, and photographic covers. Is this book about an individual, a journey, a big adventure, a new beginning? The designer must decide what to capture in the jacket art and what must be conveyed to a potential consumer who picks up a book off the shelf. Moreover, they must consider the spine as well as the front of the jacket because sometimes books are shelved spine out in stores and sometimes they are shelved face out—and even more commonly, consumers see books only on-screen! So we also look at the jacket images quite small as well as full-size.

5. What goes into the decision to change a cover, once it's been revealed and printed on ARCs for some books?

The ARC—or, advance reader’s copy—is a book’s first time out in the world. It’s the first time retailers, bloggers, media outlets, and consumers will see the book and respond to it. For each book, we select a jacket that we believe is strong and will encourage sales. Sometimes, however, we can be wrong. Perhaps a book doesn’t get the reception we wanted, or perhaps people tell us that the cover isn’t working for them and it isn’t eliciting the reaction we intended. We take this feedback into consideration, and if we think that the book would have a better shot if we changed the cover, then we’ll go back to the drawing board. Want to get it right, and we will change the jacket if we feel it’s best for the book.

6. How many hands are involved in one book? We always think only about the editor and, perhaps, the cover design. Who else is involved in the "behind the scenes" process?

Many, many hands are involved in one book! When a book is first acquired, it is true that the editor alone handles the project for several months while the author is executing revisions. But once the book is ready to go into copyediting, a lot of people get involved. The copyeditors read the book several times, working with the editor and the author to make it flawless. In the meantime, the designers are coming up with a fabulous jacket to wow our sales representatives and, ultimately, our consumers. Our marketing and publicity teams are dreaming up creative and wonderful ways to tell people about the book and get them excited. Our sales force is talking to buyers at retail outlets such as Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and independent bookstores to make them fall in love with the book and sell it in their stores. And our production department works with us and with the printer to get the jacket and the interior perfect and up to standard. Then there is inventory, who keep an eye on our stock, and finance, who keep an eye on everything…

Publishing a book involves a great many people, and we are always exceptionally grateful to everyone who helps makes each book a success.

7. What's one thing most people don't know about the business but probably should?

The publishing industry—especially children’s publishing—is very small. We’re a tight-knit community, and editors get to know one another, even across different houses. This makes for a lot of camaraderie, support, growth, and friendship. It’s an incredible business to be a part of, made even more incredible by the dedicated people who work in it.

Huge thank you to Sara Sargent and Donna Bray for giving me some time for this interview, and a thanks to everyone at Balzer + Bray!

Congrats, Heidi, on another release!

Wanted is on shelves now, and is a modern day Bonnie & Clyde type story, and one you definitely do not want to miss!

And because what's a celebration without a giveaway, I've got a mega prize pack up for grabs to one lucky winner! The prize pack includes a signed copy of EACH of Heidi's books (Freeze Frame, Compromised, Compulsion, and Wanted), as well as a paperback copy of one of my favorite Balzer + Bray books (besides Heidi, since those of you who know me already know how much I adore her books), A Need so Beautiful by Suzanne Young!

To enter, just fill out THIS form!

This contest is US/Can Only, and ends  May 30.


  1. Wow! What a great giveaway. I've been meaning to pick up some of Heidi's books. They all have a really interesting premise

  2. Great article! Heidi's amazing!

  3. It sounds like a tough job to be a cover designer. Trying to capture the essence of an entire book on a cover can't be easy. There are some really talented ones out there!