49: The (He)art of Book Publishing Excerpt: Land a Traditional Publishing Deal — Q&A with My Editor at Portfolio/Penguin Random House

"I'm looking for a fresh idea. A clear thesis and a deep question that you're exploring in your work. Why are you the right person to represent this set of ideas to the world?"

—Natalie Horbachevsky, acquiring editor, Portfolio/Penguin Random House.

1 in 3 people say they want to write a book someday. Are you one of them? As Michael Larsen puts it, it's no longer a question of if you can publish a book, but when and how. This week's podcast, an excerpt from my 5-Day The (He)art of Book Publishing, dives into the how of getting a book deal with a traditional publisher. (Pardon the brief echoey-ness at points!)

We'll dive into a Q&A with my genius editor at Portfolio/Penguin Random House, Natalie Horbachevsky, where I got to ask everything I have always wanted to know too! We cover what she looks for in terms of platform, what types of big ideas are most appealing to publishers, her role as editor throughout the process, what motivates her to proactively reach out to an author (scouting), and if self-publishing first helps or hurts.

More About Natalie Horbachevsky

Natalie Horbachevsky joined Portfolio, Sentinel, and Current in 2011 and is now an editor with the imprints. She primarily edits business books on a wide variety of topics, including marketing, sales, entrepreneurship, management, leadership, workplace culture, productivity, and technology. Her notable books include New York Times bestsellers Earn the Right to Win by New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin and The Wisdom of Oz by Roger Connors and Tom Smith; 800-CEO-READ Management Book of the Year Joy, Inc. by Richard Sheridan; Finish Big by Bo Burlingham, I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam, Dealstorming by Tim Sanders, Superbosses by Sydney Finkelstein, and Hug Your Haters by Jay Baer.

Topics We Cover

  • Natalie's role as editor from acquisition to publication

  • The advantages of going with a traditional publishing house

  • The four elements Natalie looks for when acquiring new books: idea, platform, tribe, voice

  • When/how she gives authors a second chance if a project isn't right at the moment but might be in the future

  • What percentage of book deals come from literary agents, friend-of-a-friend, verses proactively making offers

  • What she looks for when scouting for potential authors

  • Where she looks online and offline for new authors

  • Whether self-publishing first helps or hurts

  • How much leeway there is for a book to change after getting a deal; from proposal to final draft

  • How creative disagreements improve the editorial and traditional publishing process

  • The life of a book from proposal to finished product

  • How the editing process progresses

  • Launching and marketing: how much publishers care about "making the lists" versus the long tail

  • Is a low-selling book forever a black mark in terms of getting another deal?

  • Reasons a book might underperform in the market

  • The ratio of proposals to offers that she typically sees (5-10%); the Portfolio imprint publishes 65-70 hardcover books a year

  • What authors can do to submit the most successful first draft

  • Tips for finding a literary agent

  • Types of books that are underrepresented that she's always on the lookout for

  • What happens when editor and author disagree on feedback

  • How the packaging process works (cover, title, subtitle)

Podcast: How to Land a Traditional Publishing Book Deal with Natalie Horbachevsky

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