Until The Fat Lady Sings
Maybe you’ve heard the expression, it’s not over until the fat lady sings. It’s rarely discussed in publishing (at least from what I’ve read) but it’s true in book publishing as well. A book isn’t a book until it’s actually published. Yes, you want to celebrate if you are offered a book contract from a traditional publishing house. But if you carefully read the contract, there are benchmarks for the publisher and for the author. If something isn’t met along the way, then the book can be cancelled and not published. It’s why I’ve encouraged authors to celebrate when they actually hold the book in their hand. Yes, work hard to get exposure and market your book but also realize you’ve achieved a real milestone when your book appears in print. As an editor and as the author, I’ve been involved in some of these challenges and it’s not easy but it does happen. I’ll not be detailing them in these entries but I have had some unpleasant experiences in this area of publishing.
Why am I introducing this topic? I was fascinated to see the detail in this article in the November 20th issue of Publishers Weekly titled, “Witch Scares Off S & S.” It gives you a taste of this dynamic process of publishing and some of the discussions that authors and publishers have before a book releases into the marketplace. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers originally contracted to publish Ken Robbins’ book, Pumpkins. The author/ illustrator of over 25 children’s books, Robbins had a disagreement with the publisher about an illustration in the book with a witch. The Publishers Weekly article includes the illustration but I could not located it online to show you. The publisher was concerned the religious right would object to the witch illustration and asked for it to be removed. Robbins decided not to change the image and got his rights back from S & S, then took the book to another publisher, Roaring Brook Press, a part of Holzbrinck Publishers. If you carefully read this article, you will see some of the negotiations and the decisions made for this particular title. It’s not an isolated story but happens throughout publishing.
I call this article to your attention for several reasons. First, some authors are pretty combative with their editor in the editing process. I mean they almost fight every single part of the process. If you are one of these types of writers, I’d encourage you to loosen your stance in this area. The publisher wants to produce the best possible book product to sell into the marketplace (which they intimately understand). The work between the author and the editor is a cooperative venture with the goal of producing excellence. Just be aware that you have to pick and choose your battles carefully because some of these battles will be a deal breaker (cancel the book which is not a happy situation for anyone). The process isn’t over until it’s over. It’s a valuable call to excellence and cooperation in my view.