Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Rooted In Our Humanity

The question was real and is something many of us think about but rarely express.  One of the emails from a submission form on Right-Writing.com asked, “How can I have full editorial control without self-publishing?”  The answer is pretty simple—you can’t.

In traditional publishing, the publisher contracts with the author to write the book. That contract contains certain rights to edit, design the book cover, copyright the book in the author’s name, pay a certain royalty rate and a certain advance along with a lot of other factors.  The author commits to sending in a particular manuscript on a particular deadline and at a particular length. At their expense, the publisher commits to producing and distributing the book. If you don’t know much about publishing, this commitment from the publisher is significant. It’s significant not only in their financial investment but their distribution into the bookstores and other sales channels. The publishing process is rooted in cooperation between the publisher and the author. Does this break down? Yes, on a regular basis. Authors have published books where they don’t like the title or the book cover. Publishers have manuscripts that arrive with some editorial problems which from their perspective need to be fixed before they print the book (which is the largest financial cost). It takes communication and cooperation for the chain of communication to be restored and continue.

Yet isn’t it just rooted in humanity to want to have full editorial control and not self-publish? I’d love to have the publisher use my book title. So I have a responsibility to select a great one which makes it through the many stepped review process. I’d love for the publisher to love my manuscript and not have to do much editorial work on it. So I have a responsibility to tell the best possible stories and write the best possible manuscript. I’d love for my published book to reach as many people as possible (sales). My publisher wants the same thing so it’s in my best interest to constantly work at marketing my book to my circle of influence (each of us have one).

It’s always easiest to go and become a hermit somewhere then crank out a lot of words, self-publish a book and stack them in your garage or storage room. Many self-publishers will gladly help you achieve this dream. It’s a much harder path rooted in a cooperative spirit to work through the traditional book publishing process. It takes an unusual measure of patience and persistence but it is possible. I’ve witnessed this process over and over and I’ve been a part of it a number of times. It’s a key part of why I wrote Book Proposals That Sell. I want writers to understand from the acquisitions editor’s perspective what it takes from them to get a book through the maze of publishing.

OK, that’s my little insight about the writing life for today. Don’t forget that throughout this week I’m also telling brief stories about different U-Turns at God Allows U-Turns

2 Comment:

At 9:08 AM, Blogger Sam Pakan Left a note...

I understand, as a writer, the responsibility to produce the best manuscript and title I'm capable of producing. Still, it's difficult to trust someone with a work I've expended blood, sweat and tears over. And that trust is difficult not because I believe my work can't be improved, but because I know it can also be diminished.

As a magazine editor, I saw pieces ruined not because the editor really wanted to improve the work, but because an ad was sold hours before deadline and space had to be made to accomodate it. Or, less frequently, because the editor simply didn't have the ability to do a proper job. Or even, on a couple of occasions, because the editor seemed to be jealous of an outside contributor's work.

Now, I'm not saying that happens frequently in book publishing, but it is a concern. And horror stories abound among writers, most of which, I suspect, are rather one-sided. It is hard, none the less, to hand your baby over to someone you don't know and trust that they will, in fact, "get it" and not edit out the punch line.

At 10:17 AM, Blogger Sam Pakan Left a note...

Just reread my own post. I came across a good bit more contentious than I intended. Sorry. I needed a good editor, I guess


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