A Cooperative Spirit
When it comes to book publishing, editors are looking for authors who have a cooperative spirit. While I had written a number of books, I’ve not self-published any material—so I had no idea the real cost involved to produce a book until I began working inside a publishing house. I’ve seen the actual financial statements for books so I can validate what Brian DeFiore, literary agent and former Editor-in-chief at Hyperion, said at an ASJA meeting several years ago. He estimated a $100,000 price tag for a publisher to bring a manuscript into the marketplace. That price includes a modest advance to the author but also includes the printing costs, the design costs for the cover and the editorial work on the manuscript (in other words the entire package).
Because of this financial investment, a publisher in their publishing contract has certain rights—and some authors balk at these non-negotiables. The publisher will title the book. I regularly tell authors if they create a great title, then it will stay throughout the publishing process (or so has been my experience). Your publisher will also edit your manuscript and shape it into the best possible presentation. It’s pretty logical since they want to earn back their investment—and more—if they want to stay in business. From my perspective, the key idea is for the author to be someone who cooperates with the process and actually jumps into it to help sell books and enthusiastically get the word out about their book.
With this background in mind, I was perturbed with the anecdote which opened the November 2005 Fast company article by Lucas Conley “Getting on the Same Page.” The opening of this article makes it out like traditional publishing is purely adversarial and the wishes of the writer are totally ignored. I’m sure there is some people have those experiences but it hasn’t been my general publishing experience. In general, the publisher wants the author to love their title and their finished book—so they will show the book at every opportunity and enthusiastically help the publisher sell books. Certainly there are author horror stories but in general, writers and publishers want to work together to sell books.
What I do like about this article (and why I’m writing about it) is the statistical information about the overall picture of book publishing and the average sales of books. If you aren’t familiar with this information, then it will help you have a more realistic picture of what happens with books on the average. Of course, every author believes their book will be beyond average. Yet that optimism has to be tempered with realism which you build into your book proposal and marketing plans about what you can do for your own book if published.
Also notice how they handle their manuscript review process to gain feedback from independent readers before the book is published. I’ve seen these techniques but often on a more limited scale. Lucas Conley writes, “Upon receiving a manuscript, he'll [the managing editor Jeevan Sivasubramaniam] team the author with a reviewer whom he believes will like the book, one who is bound to be skeptical, and a couple of others, including at least one “wild card” with no specific background in the subject. The reviews—often 15 to 20 pages from complete strangers—can be hard to swallow, especially after months or years of solitary wordsmithing. “Authors are typically horrified,” says Piersanti [Steve Piersanti, Berrett-Koehler’s founder and president]. “For the first three or four days they can’t even see straight.” The ends justify the means, says Sivasubramaniam, who derives a mischievous pleasure from his role as matchmaker and intellectual alchemist. “When four reviewers who’ve never met one another come to the same conclusions, the author pretty much has to stop and listen,” he says.” What a gift of such valuable feedback—yet many authors resist receiving it—then more importantly doing something proactive about the feedback to change or fix their writing. If you can learn to handle this sort of process, you will be strengthened as a writer and your ability to grow in the craft.
Also note this article doesn’t shy away from the time involved in this feedback and cooperative process. There are some interesting words tucked into this article worth reading—such as “some authors can be difficult” or “the author’s dominatrix-like demands.” It’s now how you want to be portrayed even internally within a publishing house. Yet the results of cooperation in the publishing process are impressive and worth noting. Whether you are a much published author reading these words or a never-been-published-want-to-be, I believe there is something valuable to learn from the process.