High Maintenance Authors
How do you know if you are a high maintenance author? Yes, it’s a real term that people inside publishing use when they talk about authors and writers. For me, the author's attitude is one of the keys. It’s important for you not to assume (or act like you assume) that you are the only author in the publishing house.
Just as the evaluation of our manuscripts is subjective (something we often forget as writers), the tolerance level of a particular editor or a publisher will vary as to when they label an author high maintenance. Believe me, it's not a label any author wants. I’ve been there when the editor groans to their colleague in the next cubicle that they’ve received another email from an author or another demanding voice mail message from the author (maybe both in some cases). This type of author has tipped the balance and gone over to the high maintenance category. Within a publishing house, everyone works as a team. We are involved in frequent meetings with other aspects of the company—sales and marketing. We meet at the coffee pot or go out to lunch together. We are keenly aware of who marketing is calling high maintenance and who editorial considers high maintenance or which authors the sales department is avoiding.
There is a delicate balance between being proactive. If you want to be proactive with your publisher, I highly recommend you purchase a copy of Publicize Your Book! by Jacqueline Deval, a publisher at Hearst Books. Last April at a conference in NYC, I met Jacqueline and she knows her stuff. The perspective is different than any other marketing book for writers--because Jacqueline has worked inside a publishing house as a Director of Publicity with a large list of books to promote and knows the tensions. As someone who works inside a publishing house, I know that the publishing team wants every book that is published to sell and sell well--but there are only so many hours in the day and limited dollars that a publisher can spend. Writers often assume that publishers don’t care enough about their particular book. The reality from being on the editor side of things is quite different. I understand the writer has passion for their particular book but the greater financial investment is always on the side of the publisher. For each book, the publisher has invested somewhere between $50,000 to $100,000 in each book—with a modest advance, no marketing dollars and through production and editorial costs. The publisher invests this type of commitment in every book—and wants to earn this money back from sales to stay in business.
Any writer needs to hear what Deval says in the Introduction of Publicize Your Book!, “The reality of book publishing is that there are too few resources to support every book. This means that some books will get publicity campaigns and budgets while others will go without .The good news is that author who know how to properly represent themselves to their publishers can find discretionary dollars for book promotion.” This book encourages the author to be proactive—not high maintenance.
The perspective is important for writers to learn--how to be proactive but not high maintenance. I compare it to the difference between a demanding child to their parent or a close friend who comes alongside you in the midst of a crisis and says, "How can I help you?" If you were the person with the load of stress inside the publishing house, which person would you want to cheer and support? As the editor, I’ll move toward the proactive author who comes alongside in a heart beat.