Thursday, February 04, 2010

Control Issues

I'm continuing the weird two steps forward, one step back pattern on the book I'm working on. As I work out what should be happening in a new scene, I realize that there's something off about a previous scene that has to be fixed. It's a little frustrating, but I'm hoping that by fixing these things up front, it means the last half of the book will go more smoothly, and I won't have to take the whole thing apart and put it back together again when I'm doing revisions on it.

I also really enjoy re-reading these scenes when I'm re-working them. I think that's a good sign. I haven't gone back and re-read a scene just for the joy of it and because the scene makes me happy so much since I wrote the scene in Once Upon Stilettos where Owen first takes Katie back to his place and then figures out the thing about the shoes.

And now I want to re-read that scene again. Sigh. I think that's one of my favorite things I've ever written.

On another topic, the ongoing Amazon/e-book fuss and some of the reader mail I've been getting lately have made it apparent that a lot of people don't quite get how the publishing world works and what role writers play in it. It seems that some are blaming the authors for the e-book pricing wars, and I'm always getting mail telling me that I should have my books shelved in a different section or I should put different covers on them. So, here's a quick primer on what an author controls in the publishing process:

The author controls (sort of) the story.

The author may (depending on the contract) have control over any biographical information the publisher puts out about her. (My contracts have said I get to approve the author bio and any bios in publicity materials.)

And that's about it. Some bestselling authors with real clout may be able to control things like titles or covers, but that's more veto power than the ability to dictate. They may be able to negotiate things like release date.

For the most part, the ideas belong to and come from the authors, except in shared-universe situations or publisher-generated series. An editor may say, "I'd love to see what you could do with XXXXX because that's selling well right now," but the author isn't obligated to write XXXXX. Of course, the publisher isn't obligated to buy anything that isn't XXXXX. (By XXXXX I mean whatever storyline, theme or subject matter, not super-hot erotic content.)

The author more or less has say on the story, though the editor does have input. I haven't had a major clash with an editor on the story, but generally, when that happens, the editor wins. The author can refuse to make changes, but then the editor can refuse to publish the book, and if the author isn't living up to the contract and providing a manuscript that the editor thinks is publishable, it can be considered breach of contract and the author would have to pay back the advance. Most of the time, it's in the interest of both parties to come to some sort of compromise. Usually, the editor has a point about what needs to be changed. Something is wrong that needs to be fixed, but the author and editor may not agree on how to fix it. There are situations when it can't be worked out, like when the book is a square peg and the editor is trying to make it fit a round hole (like trying to turn something the author sees as a fantasy novel into a romance novel or a mystery, for instance) or in cases when the project has been orphaned -- the editor who loved the project in the first place and bought it leaves and another editor takes on the editing role and just doesn't get it or doesn't see what the first editor saw. Then the book may end up getting killed or won't match the author's vision (sometimes both).

The author can submit the book to whichever imprint within the house she wants, but it still may land in a different place in the bookstore, depending on how the publisher decides to package it. The author ultimately has almost no control over shelving or category decisions.

The author may get input on titles, but the publisher will change titles based on what they think will sell. Most authors don't get veto power if they hate the title (I actually fought hard against the title Enchanted, Inc. Not that I had anything better in mind, but I just didn't like that and didn't think it would be that appealing to readers. Obviously, I lost.).

The author may get input on the cover, which may or may not be entirely ignored. With one publisher, there were multi-page questionnaires about the book, with details about all the characters' physical descriptions, the setting, the mood, etc. Then the covers had almost nothing to do with anything the author put in those questionnaires. The editor who initially bought my series had me send links to covers I liked and we talked about what we wanted to do. I think the result was perfect for the market at that time, but the market then changed suddenly, and I'm not sure those covers are currently the best approach. But I can't make them change the covers. The only thing that will change the covers (or the shelving, for that matter) is if the movie gets made and they do a tie-in edition with pictures from the movie on the cover, or if I become a huge bestseller with something else that's shelved in the fantasy section and the publisher that owns the rights to my backlist decides to capitalize on this by re-packaging my older books in a way that's more similar to what's currently a hit (or if my backlist has gone out of print at that point and I can resell it to another publisher for re-release). Right now, I can tell them until I'm blue in the face (and I have) that my primary readership seems to be in the fantasy genre and these books would sell better if they were treated more like lighter urban fantasy, but I can't make them do anything.

The author has zero control over pricing and very little on format. The only control over format comes at contract time, where the author could choose to walk away if it's not going to be a hardcover release. The publisher sets the cover price. The author probably won't even know the cover price until she sees a printed copy of the book with the price on it. She also has no control over how booksellers price the book -- if it gets discounted or not. The publisher sets the cover price, and then the bookseller decides whether or not to discount it.

The author has zero control over whether or not the book gets into stores. That's up to the publisher's sales force and the bookstore buyers, and the sales force can't make the booksellers carry the books. If you can't find your favorite author's book in your neighborhood store, the people to talk to are the people who work in that store. If you complain to the author, you aren't accomplishing anything because the author can't wave her magic wand and make books appear. Even if she passes this on to the publisher, the publisher will say they can't make stores carry books. If you complain to the bookseller, you're at least letting them know that there's a demand for the book in that store.

For the most part, you can be mad at the publisher or you can be mad at the bookseller, but unless you didn't like the content of the book, then the author is probably not the person to blame.

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