We publish business non-fiction, mainly, and that is always a niche market. Very few business books sell in large numbers, because not all readers are 'business people' with a need to develop their careers, presentation skills, leadership skills etc.
Therefore, for most business authors, the way they actually make a living from their book is as a marketing asset for their business. People who run service businesses in particular have a difficult time demonstrating value, and a book is a good way to capture intellectual property. There are many ways that a book adds value to a service business.
So our criteria is more like, "Can this book add value to the author's business?"
We look at what the author's business is, what they're doing to market that, where a book would support them, how many they are likely to sell and so on. We turn away books that are badly written, and we do look at what else is in the market. We also look at the author's credibility in their field of expertise.
Our selection process is similar to that of a traditional publisher, but we look at the author's business as a whole, not just their book.
Size of network is not that relevant, actually. We did some research into social media and found that marketing 'experts' advocate the use of things like Twitter, but in reality their use of such tools is misleading at best:
In terms of a personal network, real people you know, they are probably not the potential target market, so they're not that valuable either. Where they are useful is in building and communicating the author's credibility, but that involves a bit of engagement on their part, which they aren't always willing to give.
The author is vital in marketing the book, because the book is a mechanism for getting the author's ideas to the reader. Therefore the reader isn't interested in the book itself, they're interested in connecting with the author's expertise, or creativity, or sense of humour or whatever the book is about, and the author's personal credibility is therefore key.
This is why the big publishers see ebooks as a threat, because once we free ourselves of the pleasure of holding a chunk of paper, what we really want is to connect with the author's mind, and the delivery mechanism will evolve to support the way that people live and work.
The size of a network does not necessarily denote credibility. I would say that our decision process involves something like this:
Is the author credible in their chosen subject?
Is their book well written? Is it accessible? Does it convey the right expertise to the right people?
Is the author committed to developing their business, and is there the right business environment for the book to make an impact on their business success?
Is the author looking for a partner relationship that allows us to add value, or do they see the publisher as the dogsbody who puts their work on the shelf?
Ultimately, the success of the book must be a partnership that engages the reader, the publisher, the author and the author's business.