“I have full control!”

“I have total control over my editing, my cover design, and it’s not costing me a thing. And the best thing is that they are distributed by Ingram and Baker & Taylor.”

The author looked pretty smug when she said it. I blinked a few times to formulate the proper reply other than, “I can’t figure out who is more deranged – you or your publisher.”

The knee-jerk reaction is to want complete artistic control over your book. After all, you’ve carried your vision of the finished product ever since you stared at your first blank page. It’s logical to want to see that vision become reality. But thar be danger in this thinking.

Who’s running this insane asylum?

And let’s face it; any publisher who is willing pay for the production, marketing, distribution, and selling of a book AND give full control over to the author is a publisher who needs a cranial enema. STAT.

Know this:  Every publisher exacts some measure of control with respect to author input, and your mileage may vary. However, it’s the publisher’s dime, and they need to have ultimate control over the quality they produce because they are the ones who will go out of business if they fail. If they are constantly hindered by authors who insist on a different cover or balk at making edits the editor feels need to be made, then the book could suffer serious setbacks. Or worse – be a really lousy book that’s physically unattractive.

There is a world of difference between total control and the give and take between editor and author. A happy author is an author who will be proud to promote their book, so we always strive to find common ground when producing a book.

What do you know about cover design?

Let’s look at this logically. You – hopefully – went with a certain publisher because you know they publish quality books and get their books into all the right marketplaces. You trust that they know what they’re doing – and you know this because you’ve checked their background. You know what books they’ve published and how well they’ve sold – and where they’ve sold.

The short and sweet of it is this:  You went with them because you trust them.

If you’re looking to maintain total control, you need to ask yourself WHY?

What do you know about book  production, which includes cover art, editing, marketing, promotion, distribution? And no, you can’t separate those things because they all feed into each other. If you have a fantastic product, that impacts the level of marketing, promotion, and distribution. And how can you – an author – know the elements that go into a great cover design?

I’ll admit that my most sqidgy time is when I’m showing new cover art to an author because many are shocked. It’s not that we have crappy covers – it’s because it’s different from the vision the author had when they start writing their book. They see the artwork, and they freak out because it’s so drastically different from what they’d  imagined. NOOOOOO! they scream, I wanted gold unicorns! Ok, I’m exaggerating. But cover art is the first bit of glaring reality that your book is alive, and it can take your breath away.

If you have total control over your book, you’re supplanting your publisher’s expertise to design an effective cover based on market research. Your decisions are based on emotion. Your publisher’s decisions are based on knowing what elements make an effective cover. If you doubt me, I highly recommend you read the most-excellent chapter on cover design in The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box. That chapter reveals exactly the thought processes that we discuss when designing a cover. It’s stuff the average author has NO CLUE about.

So ask yourself: Do you want a cover that will sell, or a cover that makes you happy? Believe it or not, it’s not all about you. It’s about selling your book to huge numbers of people. Are you in the position to make that call?

What do you know about editing?

While it may thrill you that you have complete control over the editing process of your book, you are from from objective. You know that adage;  lawyers who represent themselves have a fool for a client? Well, the same can be said for authors who maintain total control over their edits.

Authors, for the most part, lack objectivity, and they need the impartial opinions of professionals in order to produce a marketable book. Editors, on the other hand, have their eyes on the marketplace and have a lot of experience (hopefully). But just because an editor bought your book doesn’t mean you don’t need to be edited.

You do. Trust me on this.

And sure, it’s vital that all authors know how to edit themselves, but it’s hard to always be the impartial observer. Your editor can see that the story arc needs to be moved up, or there needs to be further character development. We can sniff out show vs. tell far more quickly and easily, and can work on your pacing and flow. We recognize when backstory is taking over your book and how to break it up or edit it out.

Editing, like everything else with your publishing experience, should be a give and take proposition. And yes, we realize how scary editing is because the first thing authors worry about is having their work so vastly edited that it no longer looks like their work. Believe me,  no one has that kind of time, so I suggest not wasting the brain cells worrying about it.

We also realize you worry about the quality of editing because it’s so subjective. We’ve all read books and wondered what the editor was smoking, right? This is why it’s important to know your publisher and the quality of their books. If you’ve read several of their books and liked them, you can feel assured that your book will be well cared for.

Letting your editor sit in the driver’s seat is the difference between a pretty good book and a fantastic book.

Who agrees to this kind of arrangement?

For you savvy writers, you’re asking yourself the obvious:  What kind of publisher would enter into such a restrictive agreement where they pony up all the money and let the author call all the shots? For my money, I’d say publishers who don’t know what they’re doing, or they don’t worry about how those books are going to be sold.

My little author friend above hooked up with a publisher whose reputation has been widely discussed for royalty inaccuracies and editing disasters. They have no distribution. For the record, Ingram and Baker & Taylor are warehouse distributors, meaning they distribute to libraries and bookstores when an order comes in. This means that for an order to be generated, that library or bookstore knew about your book – whether from a sales rep or a customer order.

They are not trade distributors who have sales teams who represent their publisher clients’ titles and actively market them to the national accounts and local stores. They don’t put them in special catalogs and widely distribute those hard copies to the buyers.

So my little friend is in trouble because no one will really know about her book unless her publisher has an in house marketing team…which theydon’t because it costs money.

So how does your book see the light of day? Well, it invariably falls to the author to do the all of the promoting and marketing. Your publisher may do a few fliers and schedule a few author events, but that is very localized stuff. You basically have zero national exposure unless you do it yourself.

I know what you’re thinking:  So how does the publisher make money? They get it from their authors through author orders. They may do a very small print run – say 25 books – or, in some cases, they may not print up any books at all until an actual order comes in. This minimizes their financial risk. But it also makes your book irrelevant before you ever step foot out into the world of promotion because it’s not really available anywhere unless someone orders it.

See, the long and short of it is this:  A publisher who gives total control to the author isn’t really that interested in the end product because they aren’t selling to the public. They’ll get their money from the author and move on to the next victim author.

Publishers who carry the financial risk have a vested interest in ensuring the product is of the highest quality. So you have to ask yourself why a publisher would grant you total control over your book, knowing full well that you aren’t in the position to make the best decisions.

If you take that thought to its logical end, you may feel quite differently about that need for control.

12 Responses to “I have full control!”

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    My only fear on cover art is the factual errors that so often seem to creep in.

    Believe me, I don’t *want* control over my cover art. I’m a lousy graphic designer and I know it. But if my heroine is brunette, I don’t want her to be blonde on the cover. If my book takes place in a desert, I don’t want the cover showing a jungle. If half of my book is about learning to ride a horse bridleless, I don’t want the horse on the cover wearing a bit and bridle (Horses on covers seem to bring out the worst of this…and that’s a real example. I’ve also seen…same series…a horse that was clearly light cavalry in the book drawn as a Great Horse on the cover.).

    How can an author avoid seeing their book out there with a *misleading* cover?

  2. This is why author involvement is vital. But that’s a huge difference between ultimate control. I always ask my authors for cover ideas. Sometimes we incorporate them, sometimes we don’t. Heck, even my cover designer shocks the margarita right out of my hands from time to time.

  3. Madison Woods says:

    I had the opportunity to attend a panel given by Lou Anders about the cover art for scifi/fantasy books he was handling for Pyr Books. It was a very good presentation geared toward writers, and you’re right, there’s a lot the average person wouldn’t even think of that goes into designing a cover. More than just the artwork.

    I hope most publishers would want the sort of input NinjaFingers talks about, though.

  4. I didn’t want to be the pushy author who asks for a heroine holding a three-foot-long sword set with a ruby cabochon in the hilt, wearing a black cape fastened with a blah blah. So I went a bit too far in the opposite direction and asked that the cover be “hot but subtle” and that my name or the title be in a banner that could be reproduced on the sequels to show series continuity.

    When I saw the cover, I was a bit taken aback – because, as you said, Lynn, I had this mental vision of my heroine. She’s inspired by Scarlett O’Hara, so I wanted her to have that Southern belle look. The woman on my cover is pretty – and goes well with its color scheme – but she’s not Scarlett.

    Once I got over that, though, the cover worked for me (and for readers, which is more important). But I know exactly what you mean about the squidgy moment.

  5. I have to say that with all my squidgy moments, the authors – to a one – all agreed that our covers rocked. It just took them some time to adjust to the new vision.

  6. NinjaFingers says:

    Except that I see it often enough that it’s clear that marketing aren’t taking input from the author. Or, for that matter, from the editor…who should know the heroine’s hair color as well. I would definitely trust a good editor to keep those kinds of mistakes from happening.

  7. Marisa Birns says:

    Don’t think I could ever want “total” control over any book that I write (finally!)

    And for the reasons you’ve delineated. I don’t know anything about designing covers, or marketing, etc., so I’d rather leave it to the experts.

    Trust, give-and-take, and respect for the process…that’s so necessary for an author who is serious about the end product being as successful as possible.

    By the way, today I purchased The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box. Can’t wait to read.

  8. kimkircher says:

    I agree that seeing the cover art of one’s own book is a come-to-jesus sort of moment. It was for me. It wasn’t until I showed it to my mom, and got her approval (although she certainly wanted to put her two-cents in) that I knew it was spot on.

  9. Oh, bless ye, Marisa. Many thanks!

    Kim, just know I was biting the inside of my cheek waiting for your reaction. I will say that our distributor loves the cover. As do we!

  10. Frank Mazur says:

    Here’s what I’ve long wondered about: in the design of a cover, besides the editor, do any of the others first read the book, even as a speed-read?

  11. Why would I want to design my own covers?
    I have covers designed by people who know what they’re doing!
    (And I love them for it, and I love my covers.)

    The other day I was in the post office – not the sort of place I expected to find books. But lo, two tables bulging with $5 books and . . . most of them had covers that looked so flat and uninviting. I picked one up, didn’t recognise the imprint at the back – but they boasted ‘we can publish your book. Editorial appraisals. Cover design . . .’ you get the picture.

    I’m sure the authors all felt completely in control the whole time . . .

  12. Maggie Dana says:

    Ninjafingers is right about horses covers. They are invariably awful. The horse usually looks half asleep with its ears at half mast, and the female that inevitably accompanies the horse is either wearing lingerie (one shudders to think about her bare feet) or leading the horse from the wrong side. Or both … along with the horse sporting an inappropriate bit/bridle/saddle.

    The author of Water for Elephants ran into this with the cover of her first novel, Riding Lessons–lingerie clad heroine leading dozy horse from its right (a.k.a. incorrect) side. She complained to her editor at HarperCollins, then provided them them a cover image that worked, all in 24 hours.

    Publishers, please take note: REAL HORSEWOMEN DON’T WEAR FLUFFY SLIPPERS AND FRILLIES IN THE BARN!

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