Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Publishometer: How to tell whether a manuscript will be acquired

I am an unpublished author trying desperately to be a published one. I feel I am a good writer and follow all the guidelines. I know publishing is a business first and foremost, but when I see yet another celebrity with a children's book in the works, it's disheartening. Plus I'm really, really jealous! My question is: Would a publisher choose a mediocre book written by a celebrity over a well written book by a no-name just because it may sell better?
There are essentially three variables at work:
  • Quality of Writing
  • Consumer Interest in Topic
  • Degree of Celebrity
Editors want to weight things in terms of Quality of Writing. But editors also know that the Public -- the book-buying consumer -- cares a hell of a lot more about Topic and Celebrity than Writing. And yes, publishing is a business. So use this guide:

Quality of Writing:
  • Transcendent -- 50 points
  • Excellent -- 45 points
  • Delightful -- 40 points
  • Good -- 35 points
  • Decent -- 30 points
  • Drivel -- 20 points
  • Culpable -- 10 points
  • An abomination to anyone above the IQ of an orangutan -- 0 points
Consumer Interest in Topic:
  • I WANT that! -- 110 points
  • My kid won't shut up about that -- 90 points
  • My kid likes that, and so do I -- 70 points
  • My kid likes that, but I'm pretty tired of and/or annoyed by it -- 50 points
  • Hmm. Maybe? -- 30 points
  • No, thanks -- 20 points
  • Ew, really? -- 10 points
  • You couldn't PAY me to expose a child to this, and I'm writing to my congressman -- 0 points
Degree of Celebrity:
  • Hollywood royalty -- 120 points
  • Hollywood and widely recognized -- 100 points
  • [Other field] and widely recognized -- 80 points
  • Not widely recognized, but still a certain amount of celebrity -- 60 points
  • Not recognized by anyone outside of books, but with a good track record -- 40 points
  • Not recognized by anyone outside of books, but previously published -- 20 points
  • Unknown -- 0 points
  • Famous for something people actively want to keep their children away from -- 0 points
Anything over 120 points total is going to be published.
Anything under 90 points total is going straight to the recycling bin.
The stuff in between has a chance, but may be a long shot.

So, for instance:

Celebrity: Unknown
Topic: No, thanks
Writing: Transcendent

Celebrity: Hollywood royalty
Topic: Ew, really?
Writing: Orangutan

Feel free to play with this publishometer to your heart's content.


Chris Eldin said...

Depressing and funny. Reading your blog is making me bipolar, yanno.

Jan Jones said...


ae said...

COL. :(

Casey McCormick said...

Now if only we knew we could rate ourselves accurately on the first two.

Very cool breakdown though. Thanks for this!

fakefrenchie said...

That's depressing!

Vacuum Queen said...

Totally true. It's the PUBLIC that ultimately makes the decisions, not really the publishers. We're the ones out there dropping coin on reality show fiction. I vowed awhile ago to open it and scan it at the bookstore, but not pay for it and bring it home. Same goes for tabloids. I get enough fill at the stores, and save my dime for something better. :)

Christopher Goodwine said...

Motivating! No, Depressing. No, inspiring! No... ugggh.

*Embarks on a mission to become a heavily screwed-up Hollywood celebrity*

ggwritespoetry said...

Wow! I love the publishometer... I'm been playing with it all morning long... it's addictive!

Joe Iriarte said...

:D Brilliant!

Aimee K. Maher said...

I think I may cry.

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

This is great, EA. Thanks. Oh, and by the way, I loved that you thought of including "famous for something people actively want to keep their children away from" and giving it zero points. That was good thinking. The first thing that came to mind was a picture book written by Hugh Hefner. LOL! (Please don't tell me there really is one.)

The Storylady said...

So I'm trying to figure out the number of points I might earn. In the Degree of Celebrity column, I'm the library Storylady and I have about 150 kids per week come to my programs. I also visit elementary schools with my manuscript and kids get all excited about it. Would that get me 80 points? 60 points?

ae said...

Just when you feel slightly good, this makes you feel worse. But it is okay. I'll keep going.

Ben-M said...

Unless they've been submitting to literary charities, it seems the correspondent answered their own question right about here:

just because it may sell better

magolla said...

So unless I sleep with some Holliwood big wig, I'm toast and will never get published. Too bad I live far, far away from Hollywood's clutches.
*shrugs* I'm good with that.

Editorial Anonymous said...

I did not mean this to be depressing.

I simply expect you to be shooting for a Quality of Writing level of "delightful" and a Topic Interest level of "my kid likes that, and so do I". Anything hitting both of those has a high probability of getting published.

You're all supposed to know how to write, and know what speaks to kids and parents. Which is why we like you so much better than damn celebrities!

Lee Wind said...

Hysterical. I mean, I'm hysterical at how true this is.


Nicola Morgan said...

Love this! Brilliant! Not only funny and perceptive but very useful for unpublished authors.

Anonymous said...

I think the ones that call it motivating are probably newbies, no offense.

If you've been in this for a while and have been passed over by editors who wanted your book to be "...a little more this and a little less that or a little less that and a little more this..." and you've finally made it to aquisitions meetings only to be shot down, and during all this you've alternately had editors string you along by not reading your agented-subbed ms for five or six months at a time, and your own agent is mostly AWOL, forcing you to dump her after it took you two YEARS to get a freaking agent, AND THEN you see Lauren Conrad of "The Hills" fame announce a three book deal (ghostwritten, no doubt) and the first comes out eight months later and end up on the NYT best-seller list, yeah, you know, it isn't motivating. It blows. All of it.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I love this, EA. I think it's fun even if it's true that Hollywood celebs get the book deals automatically. Have any of you considered how many actors are out there who are not celebs? They've already lived the slush pile and the majority of them don't make it out.

Yeah - shoot for writing better and on a more desirable topic.

Anonymous said...

What the hell is funny about shutting out the talent that puts the food on your table, editors? This is a joke? How can trained juvenile writers try and get jobs as actors, musicians, or sports stars? There is no competing here. These celebs already have jobs that pay them quite well. It's *funny* they take over other's trained and sincere efforts to get paid and work? No wonder the business is falling apart. When the editors who are laughing are out of work, remind me how funny this is. And when this madness shifts back into reality, I'll remember NEVER to approach you for work. I'll take my talent to those who appreciate it.

Colorado Writer said...


Anonymous said...

Wow. It kind of looks like all the time we spend trying to improve our writing isn't that valuable!

Samantha Clark said...

Thanks, EA. Funny and interesting. And you're right, in your comment, we should always be shooting for a level of writing that's "delightful."
As for the celebrities, the skeptical side of me wonders how many of those books are ghost-written. I'd say quite a few, but I don't know. Anyone know?
I'm not a big fan of celebrity-written children's books, unless they're really good -- as it should be with any book. But I will say this, if a parent who's not much of a reader will buy a book for his/her child because he/she's a fan of the celebrity who wrote it, that can help introduce the child to books and hopefully become a reader for life and I'm all for that. Also, if the book is ghost-written, then at least some of that author money is going to a hard working writer, and that's not a bad thing either. And if the celebrity wrote the book and it's brilliant, well, then they deserve all the success it will get.

Joe Iriarte said...

Jesus, Anon, way to miss the point.

1) This was not an endorsement of the ease with which celebrities get their books published.


B) The "talent that puts food on their tables" isn't you, bud. It's those celebrities, because their books sell a gazillian copies. If you want to lash out at somebody, and you don't want to be pathetically misdirected, lash out at the sheeple who buy those ghostwritten or subpar celebrity novels. Don't buy any yourself. Convince your friends not to buy any. Blog about how you shouldn't buy any.

I don't think you'll do any good, but at least you'll be tilting at the right goddam windmill.

Joe Iriarte said...

And while you're at it, don't watch Entertainment Tonight or TMZ, don't read tabloids, don't read People, and don't follow the goings on of celebrities just because they're celebrities. All these publishers are doing is reflecting our own culture back to us. Don't like it? Don't be a part of that culture.

gillian said...

Thanks, E.A.,
This gets me off to a great start this week! I'll be smiling all day. Really appreciate the time you took to send us some humor. Beats the $14.00 movie I saw last night.
Happy Editing!

annerallen said...

Brilliant, true, and I'm going to go jump off a bridge now...

Joni said...

Anonymi who are justifiably upset: This is reality, at least in North America today. Stop thinking that this reality is going to put editors or publishers who don't "appreciate your talent" out of business; it's not. There are too many celebrities and too many people who will pay for their stuff, orangutan writing or not. So you can:
a) Do as Vacuum Queen suggests and try to change reality by how you drop your coins (among other things).
b) Laugh to prevent crying (or embarking on screaming rages with guns)
c) Get out of this business. You can always write for friends, yourself, and library story hour.
d) Both A and B.

Personally, I like D.

Jennifer said...

As someone who works in kid's books, I can think of several times celebrities or semi-celebrities were turned down because their books didn't have appeal. I can also think of celebrities whose kid's books weren't best sellers because they kind of sucked.
It makes me sad that you unpublished folks are commenting about being jealous or depressed or bitter. Are you writing to get on the best seller list? Or are you writing because you love to write and love kids etc? You'll be much happier (and more likely to sell your books to an editor) if you are in the second-category.
If you have a great voice, writing chops and are dedicated to your craft, you will eventually get published, celeb or not. I think that's what EA is saying with this publishometer.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I think the reason it might be a bit depressing is because, well, it's not that hard to get up to 'good writer.' It takes a LOT more work to break through into the 'delightful' category.

Maybe I can just kidnap Ally Carter and Rick Riordan, chain them up in my living room, and force them to instruct me in the arts of writing until I rise to their level?

Except then they'd never finish THEIR next books, and I'd be stuck wondering what was going to happen next FOREVER!

See, EA? It's a no-win situation! =)

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Joe Iriarte writes... Jesus, Anon,

There ya go, Joe, dropping Celeb names! ;)

Haste yee back ;-)

Jeff Reid said...

VERY funny - and I'm purposely trying to take advantage of this situation. Our site lets people "cast" favorite fiction using celebrities, and we think this activity will goose a book launch - for free - as long as it has celebrity names attached to it, even if it's just a "fantasy cast". The Academy gives out the Oscars, but it's Joe and Jane Sixpack who crown the American Idol. Same dance, just books. And if it lets a literature instructor inject 'movie fun' into a classic, we're all winners.

Joni said...

"If you have a great voice, writing chops and are dedicated to your craft, you will eventually get published, celeb or not. I think that's what EA is saying with this publishometer."

Actually, note that having a topic with consumer interest over the 50% mark on the scale beats out even transcendent writing. I think that's fairly accurate and THAT'S the point that more of us (at least, those of us with literary or "quiet" or oddball or you-name-the-adjective work) get most discouraged by, not the celebrity thing.

E.M.Alexander said...

Lauren Conrad's book was written by an orangutan?

Just kidding.

No, seriously...was Clyde, the same orangutan that co-starred with Clint Eastwood?

gillian said...

P.S. The $14.00 movie was "Bruno". If you haven't seen it, he was attempting to become a...? Right. Celebrity!

I appreciate the recap of what all of us already knew. This is inspriation to just write better (and enjoy the process more.)
Thanks again!

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

Those of us non-celebrities with oddball topics who work hard to perfect our craft have another option--an independent or alternative publisher whose mission matches what we write. OK, you're probably not going to get rich publishing with a small press, and you're probably not going to get the kind of attention a major publisher with a savvy marketing department can offer, but a really well-written and original book can find its own path. My new YA novel may be on one of the most unusual topics of the year, but I did find a real publisher--albeit a small and struggling one--and the novel has been treated with respect by critics and in the marketplace.

literaticat said...

For those who are upset by this information - I truly don't get it.

This absolutely does NOT mean that you won't be published. It just means that you have to have a good idea and be a terrific writer -- how is that different from what you THOUGHT the qualifications for publication were?

Trixie said...

OOhh baby, I've tallied my points and I have a chance! Remote, but there's hope...

Joe Iriarte said...

"There ya go, Joe, dropping Celeb names!"


Jimmer said...

Do author/illustrators get extra points? Only if he/she has a highly original style? It's often said that illustrations can trump the text of a picture book thereby increasing an author/illustrator's chance of being published--is it true?

Sam Hranac said...

Mag - Flipping - Nifficent!!!

Deirdre Mundy said...

Warning--- this is my first rant of the morning --so it's a little long.

I was always under the impression that in today's market, you had to be awesome.

The big question is, I think, how does an author BECOME awesome? The answer seems to be lots of time in the saltmines of revision.

But if you've gotten into kidlit as a get rich quick scheme, you're probably better off entering Publisher's Clearinghouse online.

Heck, even the all around acknowledged GREAT children's and YA writers don't seem to get rich... if they're LUCKY and work like slaves, they might make enough to replace their day job, but rich??

Celebrities make more from books, but there's an oppurtunity cost involved-- while they were writing their 1 million dollar novel, they COULD have been working on a 2 million dollar movie! Celebrity time is just WORTH more in the marketplace.

It's no use getting upset. We all just need to work harder so that we can be a Jane Yolen/ Katherine Patterson/ Robin McKinley / Jessica Day George (Okay, she's not up there with the others YET , but her books are really great, and she seems to have a long, productive future ahead of her!)

But all those authors have worked hard, struggled, listened to critiques, tried to apply them even when they want to tear their hair at, and generally played by the rules.

Being angry at celebrities is being angry because the rest of us have rules. Well, celebrities get free passes on MOST rules in our society-- heck, if a normal person lived like that she'd end up in jail, lose her license permenantly, and probably finish her life as a stoned addict on a street corner with a cardboard sign.

IF you want to rail about celebrity culture and how unfair it is, fine. But kidlit did not CREATE that culture--- editors and publishers are stuck with it just like we are.

So quit sniffling, spend a few hours with some of the really great new books out there that AREN'T by celebrities, and then get back to work!

The Reign of Ellen said...

I'm just waiting for Jon or Kate to come out with a children's book.

Ew, really?

DOT said...

Speaking as an orangutan, I am outraged by your deprecations. Our measure of zero intelligence is Katie Price and everyone else who appears in Hello!, OK, Heat or equivalent celeb magazine.

S. R. T. said...

Wonderful! Made me laugh out loud!

The only thing I might add is "similarity to something that is already selling really well - 10 points."

shawjonathan said...

"famous for something people actively want to keep their children away from"

Doesn't that just about cover Madonna?

Sandy said...

Very entertaining. No one ever said this business is easy.

I wonder how many copies of their books the celebrity actually sells. Frankly, I never read their autobiographies. Some of them are nice people, but I'm still not interested. They already have enough money so if they don't become best sellers they'll do just fine.

Very interesting post.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Shawj- I don't know. The way some people dress their toddlers, I'd say that they actively WANT their children to be like Madonna! =P

In fact, I bet there are SOME psycho-stage-mother types who'd even snap up a Lindsey Lohan or Paris Hilton kid book!

Anonymous said...

Oh No!
That means for me (being opto-mystic):

delightful 40 points
readability 70 points
unknown 0 points

110 so so close

-go back to college for another degree in something I can make a living at
-keep on writing
-keep submitting 'cause maybe there will be an agent for me yet

Adam Heine said...

For those of us who have no control over our Hollywood-level fame, and can only guess what the public will by dying for by the time we're shopping our novel, it looks like the approximate path is:

Writing: Delightful
Topic: My kid and I like that
Celebrity: Previously published (do short stories count?).

holly cupala said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Editorial Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3:34--
110 means your work has a high likelihood of being published.

120 will definitely be published.
90 has no chance at all.
So everything in between are varying degrees of probable.

Louise Curtis said...


I scored myself at 85. Note to self: have octuplets.

My current scheme (since schemes keep me amused while waiting on publishers) is to write a two-month twitter tale and become a celebrity at that. Doomed to failure, you say? Read the story from August 1 this year and see if it's transcedent enough for ya. (It has pirates.)

Scotti Cohn said...

Can I hear an Amen? Amen! LOL

Sophie Playle said...

Maybe I should be putting more effort into become a celebrity than I do into my writing then... :(