Are Publishers Taking Risks Anymore?

I’ve gotten some interesting questions from readers lately, so I’m going to post my answers here, so all readers can see. The first is from Jeni:

Am wondering if you think the world of children’s books is getting more conservative? Are publishers taking less risks? Are authors being positioned so that they have to play it safe?

Publishers are still taking risks, but the risks they’re taking will be based on story rather than a writer’s raw talent, I find. Publishers are much more willing to try a brilliant book about a strange subject, unheard-of paranormal creature, situation, or whatever (like Libba Bray’s GOING BOVINE (read my review), a book about a crazy mad cow disease road trip, but executed with ridiculous genius, which went on to win the Printz), than to take a risk on a book that’s good but a hot mess by a writer whose craft they’ll need to develop in the editing process.

That’s why it’s so much more important, now than ever before, to have impeccable craft, breathtaking storytelling skills, and a marketable idea. Publishers are still taking risks… but they’re smarter risks, and they’re risking on more quality material than they might’ve been before. They’re also buying things that scream “commercial” or things that fit the trends as they see them. And those are the two main drivers of acquisitions decisions today.

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  1. Naomi Canale’s avatar

    This is great to know. So glad to see more from the other side of the desk.

    A question; When you get a manuscript that has breathtaking storytelling but the craft is, well, ugh. Have you ever taken it on?

    Thanks!

  2. shelley’s avatar

    This is good feedback-I think I know this, but you articulated it just right, so a person can understand it. Thanks for that!

  3. melodycolleen’s avatar

    Thanks again, Mary, for some great information.

    So, am I to assume that what I would refer to as a “quiet” book might be a hard sell right now? Do you see any indication that the trend may change? I know that’s unpredictable, because trends change every day. But I am curious.

    Thanks.

  4. Don Cummer’s avatar

    Where does historical fiction rank in the risk sweepstakes?

  5. Lynn Rush’s avatar

    Nicely said, “…but they’re smarter risks.” I think everyone is now taking smarter risks, huh? It bleeds out into daily living, too, with the economy the way it is. Everyone has to be smarter about how they spend, and that’s what publishers are doing, right?

    Great post!

  6. Kat Apel’s avatar

    That rings true for things I’ve been hearing too, Mary. Nicely summed up!

    Craft and quality are very (very very very!) important reasons to polish and perfect a manuscript BEFORE submitting. Rush and you may be too late!

    In terms of ‘commercial’ value – I’ve heard that stories with a market ‘tag’ to hang it on (release dates/topic coinciding with popular days – Father’s Day, Easter…) are easier to sell. For PBs, anyway.

    Still have to be good books though – story and craft.

  7. Jeni Mawter’s avatar

    Mary, thanks so much for your considered and insightful comments. And thank you for crossing ‘The Great Divide’ between writer and publisher. Your vision and generosity are hugely appreciated.

  8. christine tripp’s avatar

    >or things that fit the trends as they see them.<

    Since a trend is only a trend for the moment and publishing, after the manuscript is aquired, can take years, how does the Editor or publishing house know the trend will still be in fashion by the time the book is released?
    At conference’s you were constantly told, don’t follow the trends, don’t change your portfolio to match what is out there now, as it will be over by the time you submit. Hum… sounds like the speakers advice will need to change?:)

  9. Pam’s avatar

    I certainly do hope that publishers continue to take risk–especially since my writing is geared towards the “dark side.” BTW, I’ve nominated you for a Sunshine Award. Please visit my blog if you’d like to accept. :)

  10. Mary Ann Duke’s avatar

    By the time I get my dark, edgy, paranormal, breath-takingly commercial tome rewritten into impeccable form, the trend will be other-wheres. LOL.

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