Ch-ch-changes: The Holy &^% Moment

‘Tis a fact – publishers make changes…your manuscript, your publicity, your message, your cover, your title. Most of the time authors understand this and may grumble a bit, but ultimately go along with those overall changes because they understand it’s part of the publishing machine. The point is this:

We don’t change things to screw up your book. Honest.

We aren’t the folks who pull out the carpet from under your feet just because we like to see people splat themselves on the floor. We institute changes and spend tens of thousands of dollars to ensure your book rocks inside and out because we believe our way will sell more books. In short, we’re on your side and your main cheerleaders.

But…( you knew there was one, right?) that’s why working with new authors can be a bit challenging. Many editors I know avoid it, in fact, which bites because new doesn’t equal untalented, yanno? From our standpoint, however, book production is fast paced from our end and painfully slow from yours, and we don’t have the time to train you in the ways of publishing. Some agents are quite helpful in educating their authors – others, not so much.

So let me offer some perspective from my side of the batcave.

Your Manuscript

It is a fact that you will be edited. Our words don’t pour forth directly from the hands of the Great Cosmic Muffin, and at that, I’m sure Mrs. Great Cosmic Muffin edits The Man from time to time. The fact that your editor may have you move sections of your book from here to there is no cause for affront. The same goes for a request to parse something down or expand something else. Or change the ending. We do this because we believe it makes for a better book.

Are we always right? Sadly, no. Editors are human (rumors to the contrary, notwithstanding) and some things can go flat. We’ve all read books we felt were horribly edited. Truth is, taste is subjective, so we’re all crazy to think that our way is THE way. That said, we rely on our sales teams, our production crew, our publicity and marketing folks to keep us on the straight and narrow. This means that we’re working with a lot of experience – and that gives us a larger measure of confidence that what we’re doing is the right thing.

So please don’t take offense at being edited. Get used to it. It’s the way of publishing.

Your publicity

You might have an idea of how your book could/should be publicized. More often than not, authors fail to see a bigger picture in terms of publicizing their books, so their focus can be on the narrow side. We will often get our fingers into your muck and make additional suggestions as to what you can do for your own promotion that will support what we’re doing on a national basis. Remember, you have an entire team of publicity/marketing folks who are working to blast your book out there, and they think far more globally than you can imagine. That’s why we have meetings with them when discussing our upcoming releases.

Yes, this may entail that you expand your horizons a bit, but when was that ever a bad thing? The idea is to expand the focus of your audience.

So please don’t take offense at having your publicity tweaked. Get used to it. It’s the way of publishing.

Your Message

I’ve talked about it before: does your book have some kind of message? It may be that you have a very clear idea of what your book’s is. But we may read it and decide there’s more than what met your eye, and we may want to exploit that. In and of itself, that’s no biggie – but it may impact how your book is ultimately edited and promoted. The idea is to get as much mileage out of your book as possible.

So please don’t take offense at having your message tweaked. Get used to it. It’s the way of publishing.

Your Cover

Cover art changes like the beagle’s designer collars. This happens usually because the art dept. designs something the editor thinks is mahvelous. We all partay and dance on the desks. Then the publicity and marketing folks get their turn, and suddenly we’re back at the drawing board. I listen to them because I readily admit that I’m too close to the subject matter after editing it. I understand all the nuances, so there are artistic things I miss. Besides, I’m not a cover designer or a marketing person.

The marketing and publicity folks are in the front lines of talking to the genre buyers, and those peeps have very definite tastes. I know, taste is subjective, but I’m more apt to listen to a learned force than I am an author who has yet to sell a book to an audience of strangers. Book buyers know their  market, and they know what’s visually appealing. So when you scream bloody murder at a change, I’m sympathetic, but I’m not moved.

Of course, sucky covers exist, and it’s a fine line as to how much input you have with your editor. The best thing you can do for you and the relationship with your editor is to ask solid, intelligent questions and realize that you don’t have any say.

So please don’t take offense at having your cover art changed. Get used to it. It’s the way of publishing.

Your Title

Oboy, this is a big issue. The truth is that most books’ titles are changed. I know…most of us writers go into our stories with a very definite title that we believe embraces the very soul of our stories. In reality, they don’t. They feel that way to us because we understand every nuance to our stories and how representative the title is to the plot. However, the thing you need to ask is, does that title convey the necessary tone of your story?

If your book is titled Deviation and the cover is of a circus, then the book buyer is going to be confused because there’s no correlation between the title and artwork to convey what this book is about. Deviation could mean any number of things TO YOU. Maybe your main character likes to deviate from the “norm,” or refers to something eccentric about your main character – but none of it has anything to do with the plot. The problem is that the reader won’t understand what “deviation” means UNTIL they get into the book.

Our concern is that the reader has to first be compelled to BUY the book. Question is, will they? And this is what drives the publicity/marketing folks batty. The last thing they need is to have B&N buyer ask, “Sooo, what’s that mean?” Ouch. Rather than lose a sale, they’ll cut us off at the pass and insist, threaten us with death suggest a new title.

Fiction is a bit different because they can get away with all kinds of funky things and no one seems to mind. Frankly, I find it irritating because it forces me to dig deeper to figure out what the book is about. Question is again, will I?

So please don’t take offense at having your title changed. Get used to it. It’s the way of publishing.

The long and short of producing a book is that changes are a guarantee, and authors who understand this have an easier time giving their egos a vacation. Changes aren’t about the fact that you’re not “good enough” or that you lack vision. It’s about the fact that the folks who are publishing your book have a lot more experience selling books than you do. We’re all on the same team in order to sell a ton of books. If you scream and stamp your feet, you risk exposing yourself as a noob.  No one minds new. Many mind a noob.

*Noob: someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know, and they don’t care.

9 Responses to Ch-ch-changes: The Holy &^% Moment

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    Two things I see new writers screaming about…title changes and not having any say in the cover art.

    Personally, I don’t WANT say in my cover art. I have less graphic design talent than the beagle. Anything I suggest is likely to suck. Best to leave it to people who are, you know, GOOD at that kind of thing.

  2. You’re right. Those are the two big ticket items, and it’s really so not fun because I have to justify why we’re making those changes. Sometimes they make me feel as though I’m trying to screw them. Very unpleasant. But the truth is, few authors are qualified to know what constitutes a good title or cover art.

  3. Chris says:

    I really could have used this post ten hours ago. 🙂

  4. Wish I could send this post to an author I know who recently ranted in public about her cover and her publisher. She has her rights back, by the way, but I fear her reputation is also shot. And when I say she ranted I mean she did so in a really awful way.

  5. Sorry, Chris.

    Carolyn: regardless of who is at fault, it’s bad form for either side to lose their dignity.

  6. I can understand your point that editors are worried about new writers not wanting changes but, even though you’ve specified new doesn’t necessarily mean untalented, it also doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t know what to expect. Most ‘new’ writers I know have researched the business and know that editors/agents want to sell the book (this post would be part of that research). My question would be how can you prove you know the business if you are ‘new’ and never given the chance to show that you are a professional?

  7. Bethany, the best way to prove you understand the business is to write a very professional query letter and always act like a pro. It’s easy to tell who’s new and who has done a lot of research about the industry.

  8. Frank Mazur says:

    When changes are made by the editor and/or marketing folk, especially where they regard title, rearrangement of sections, and a different ending, are they clearly articulated to the author and supported with reasons that are concrete or close to it?

  9. […] Lynn Price explains how and why publishers change things. […]

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