Sometimes when I have a thought it dies of loneliness. Just like when I posted Q. Is the Publisher Always Right? some time ago. So, calling this ‘Part Deux’ may be over-stating things a bit seeing as how there wasn’t really much to the first post. *sigh*
What originally started me on the train of thought was contemplating the tension between a writer writing what s/he wants/needs to write, and what a publisher knows/feels will actually sell. I love writing – I write because I can’t not write (my head will explode) – but in writing I also want to be a self-supporting writer. The whole point, for me at least, is to sell books (well, once I finish writing one – I have a finishing coach who yells at me ‘Finish it!’ over breakfast once a fortnight). I want to be able to make a living as a writer. This is bloody difficult and the subject of a future blog post.
But I digress. Once you’ve written your novel, had it edited, developed, proofread, and schlepped around to publishers and agents, if you’re really, really lucky you might just find a publisher who wants to put your book out there. You need to be able to work with this person: you need to be able to take advice, constructive criticism and to recognize that in some cases at least your publisher is going to know the best way to go about publishing you. This may mean you are asked to re-write something, to change something else, to restructure a part of the book, to lose a character. As a newbie author, do you then (a) abuse your publisher, (b) explain to them how you think the publishing industry works, or (c) say ‘Yes, sir/ma’am, may I please have another?
As an emerging author, you need to understand the BOP – balance of power. When a publisher – a traditional publisher – signs you up, they take a financial risk. Basically, they are laying a bet that your book will sell. The bet they outlay is the advance to you. Whether you like the idea or not, you are an investment for the publisher. You have a symbiotic relationship: they rely on you to produce work they can sell; you rely on them to continue placing bets on you. If one member of the team stops working, then everything grinds to a halt.
When you submit a manuscript to a publisher as a newbie author, please realize that chances are you have very little power in this situation (unless of course you know you’ve produced the new Harry Potter/Twilight or you’ve managed to make zombies sexy – a fortune awaits s/he who can do that). You are not, and please please please remember this, doing a publisher a favour by allowing them the opportunity to publish your book. You are the supplicant. Follow the submission guidelines – don’t tell the publisher why the rules don’t apply to you – it is unwise in the extreme.
If a publisher signs you up, then you need to remember that you have a business relationship with your publisher. You write the books; the publisher publishes them; they get sold; you and your publisher stay in business. Quid pro quo. In recent weeks I’ve heard a new author claim not to care if only three copies of his book were sold – because at least those three would ‘start a dialogue’. Indeed, the dialogue will be with your publisher and it will start with the words ‘We need to talk’. The same author also claimed that the prize money attached to a literary award recently won ‘meant nothing and didn’t even factor in to entering the competition’. (Oh, really? Then please allow me to take that inconvenient and unimportant $20K off your hands!)
One of my friends in publishing is currently tearing her hair out because several authors are not quite understanding the BOP. They are not big name authors, they are not literary geniuses, they are not selling books by the truckload and yet these individuals insist on explaining to an experienced publisher ‘how the publishing and writing industries work’. Ah-ha.
If you really disagree with what’s being suggested, then try to find a middle path that makes changes both you and the publisher can live with – artistic compromise in the interest of a symbiotic relationship. When you consider the changes you’re being asked to make, don’t let ‘offense’ be your first port of call. ‘How dare someone ask me to change my work!!’ There are no golden words. No one is perfect. And the price of a good publisher/editor is beyond rubies. Your publisher can be your greatest ally – they know the business, they can be an excellent guide for your career.
Is there ever a time when the BOP changes? Yes, when you become Neil Gaiman and/or J K Rowling.
Is the publisher ever not right? Well, yes, sometimes for sure. If your publisher seems to be bringing the crazy to the party then maybe you do need to reconsider the relationship. But until the crazy makes itself known, try to play nice and be reasonable. And don’t you be the one to bring the crazy.
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