In traditional publishing there are things writers don’t control. In this case, this is not a complaint, so much, as “My fans should be aware I can’t do anything about this, and it’s no use at all to complain to me.” Yes, I’ve had complaints about all the things below. Now, if you’re a writer and contemplating publication you should also be aware that if you go traditional you are giving up these choices when it comes to marketing/packaging/distributing your books. Yes, you might be able to negotiate a say over some of these, particularly if you go with a small or medium publisher (those tend to be more accommodating, anyway) but for the large guys, foggedaboutit.
I’ve done this sort of post before, and talk about it at cons (except this post might be a wee bit more frank, since I’ve decided my trad publishing ventures will be limited in future) but yesterday a post by Sharon Lee, in the Baen Bar reminded me I need to repeat it periodically. For most people it’s so nonsensical that writers don’t control these, that they keep “re-setting” that knowledge.
So, from the top. Things traditionally published writers don’t control:
1- The cover.
You might get something called “cover consultation” which means you can give them ideas, and tell them if the cover they want to saddle you with stinks on ice. However, consultation is NOT control. You might wonder why in heavens name there’s a zombie with an udder fetish on the cover of your urban fantasy, but you can’t stop it being there.
2- Author bio/picture
The Author doesn’t even decide if there will be one there. And if the writer does, he or she can’t pick the picture. Yes, I do know in the one picture I have out in the back of a book I look like a right twit. In defense of my publisher, it was the best of several hundred. I do NOT photograph well. As for the bio – most of the time I get to write it. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes the publisher is crunched and goes with an out-of-date bio. Sometimes they carefully excise all references to other names/genres/publishers. It’s their cover and it helps if you think of it that way. For more up to date and accurate info on me, try my website at http://sarahahoyt.com (Though not too accurate, as it seriously needs to be redone and I’m trying to find time. It’s unlikely to happen till after November, when the traveling stops.)
3- Copy editing
Okay, so I’m responsible for some typos. I’m sure of it because well… guys, just read my blog and be aware that I do proofread these posts. The mind that can’t keep letters straight has been through learning seven languages, which means the rules for doubling letters or not are a big scramble. This same mind, btw, tends to dictate too fast for the poor, stupid fingers, which means that they will completely forget half a sentence in their rush to catch up. Entering changes, once I’ve identified the need to, gets even more fun, as I’ve been known to erase the wrong word or type the new word somewhere completely different (sometimes both.) And I’m registered as a frequent offender in the Society Against Comma Abuse. However, with all that – my books do get copyedited when they come out through traditional publishers (or small ones. And in the future, when I bring them out myself, too.) Quality of copyediting seems to be going down across the board and recently a publisher took umbrage at an intimation that it shouldn’t JUST publish the manuscript as it came in. Yes, it was one of the big five. No, I don’t like it. but ultimately how well copy-edited it is is not in my hands, and they don’t pay me enough for me to hire a copyeditor on my own. (Though my assistant does go over the manuscripts most of the time just so I have a second pair of eyes on it.)
3a) sending me typos is totally useless if the book is already out in mass market paperback. Mass market paperback is usually the LAST stage. There is nothing I can do at that point. Yes, there is an off-hand chance an omnibus and/or second edition will come out, but unless you hear it announced, assume it’s not. So, sending me typos is sort of like teaching the pig to sing. Won’t do anything but annoy the pig. It also might make me hyper conscious about typos and slow down the writing. Which I assume would be a no-no for most of my fans.
Please, please, please don’t ask me why I decided to change the style of a title mid-series. It’s not mine to do. Yeah, I can suggest it, but usually something of that magnitude comes from above. In the case of the musketeers changing book four to A Death In Gascony from The Musketeer’s Inheritance got me more angry letters than I care to mention – and it had been done against my will. I think it also helped tank the series (there were other issues.) So… Death of A Musketeer is now out with Naked Reader Press (http://nakedreader.com/storefront/index.php?route=product/product&keyword=Death+of+a+musketeer&category_id=0&product_id=61 — apologies, but for some reason WP is not letting me embed links unless I manually code the html which I dont’ have time for.) When I resolve a wee little dispute with Prime Crime over the next four titles (as in, they’re out of contract, ACCORDING TO THE CONTRACT but I might need to use a cast iron skillet to get the publisher to admit it.) they’ll all come out with Naked Reader Press. Because they’ll be extensively edited (long story, but I was having health issues that affected my concentration) and because they’re mine, dang it, I’ll change the titles back in line, so the order will be Death Of A Musketeer, The Musketeer’s Seamstress, The Musketeer’s Apprentice, The Musketeer’s Inheritance, The Musketeer’s Servant and (upcoming), The Musketeer’s Confessor, and The Musketeer’s Folly.
This means the author’s name on the story cover. What it boils down to, is right now I’ve used/am about to use four names (not counting a house name): Sarah A Hoyt, Sarah D’Almeida, Elise Hyatt and Sarah Marques. Of those, I’ve chosen to use Sarah Marques. I have intentionally chosen that as opposed to my real name because the novels (coming out of Prime Books sometime next year) are so STARTLINGLY different from my normal novels (how startlingly? Vampires. Historical. Sex and sexual tension. WEIRD sex and sexual tension) I’d prefer not to give my readers heart attacks. Also the main characters are the musketeers, but the musketeers themselves are not like my mystery characters (unless you strain them through hell first) and D’Almeida is associated enough with my main name (should be. It’s my maiden name) that it helps to have some distancing.
But all the other pen names were imposed by my editor. I don’t know how much of it was imposed by the publisher. She thought because the previous series had crashed, I should change my name, so the bookstores would stock me. Does that help? Not markedly. Nine years ago Jim Baen told me the bookstores (not being stupid) went off the copyright page. And yet I had to fight them over wanting to change my name for No Will But His. The one that upset me most was when they told me the name for the Daring Finds Mysteries had to be “white bread” because, you know, Sarah Hoyt is wild and exotic. And it couldn’t be Sarah. Hence Elise Hyatt, which is the name most people don’t associate with me. OTOH she has her own fandom and she’ll be bringing out an exciting (TM) series of Orphan Kitten Mysteries via Naked Reader Press. Watch this space for an announcement.
Do I need to tell you I don’t control that? You’d not think so, and yet I get emails saying “Why are none of your books available in my local bookstore/in all of my county?” The temptation to write back “Because I hate to be read and make money” is enormous, but someone would believe me.
Distribution is a cluster– that is, is a complex mechanism, and about to become more so, now that Borders died. If you think of it as a Darwinian competition between bookstores and publishers, it might make some sense. The publishers’ goal is to put as many of your books on the shelves as possible. (Well, in theory. For some of them one wonders, at times.) The stores’ goal is to stock only books that will sell. Now, remember, children, regardless of what you think of the evolution of life, there is no intelligent design in publishing. There isn’t even inate wisdom of markets. Because of the war, both sides of the equation adopt measures that make absolutely no sense. Unless you’re them.
For instance, the name change gets countered by looking at the copyright page. But this assumes that authors are the ones responsible for the tanking of the book, which is built into the computer-numbers game that Borders initiated (for which they had their reward.) It also assumes that writers never change writing style and/or field and write the same book over and over. Never mind. Then there’s the fact that bookstores culled books every six months, so publishers started getting books published every three months, because it would then show as “more books on shelf” and have a chance of having the whole series up at once (unlikely, but publishers dream too.) So bookstores started culling books faster, which means you now have like four weeks on the shelf to sell your books – if you come out with no publicity and have two books per store, your chances of selling are about the same as of winning the lottery. The latest twist seems to be a refusal to special order the book, even if you pay for it in advance. How this gives them a leg up on Amazon is beyond me. No, seriously.
The inate wisdom of the markets is manifesting itself in the fact that the system – having become nearly non-functional – is now being replaced wholesale with Amazon/ebooks/indies.
Meanwhile, it’s not my fault where my books are stocked, where they aren’t, and whatever else publishing houses/bookstores do to each other in their games.
7 – Scheduling
This might or might not be the author’s fault. I’ve been known – oh, so rarely – to be late delivering. But I readily admit to THAT. If you are waiting for Noah’s Boy, third of the shifter series, I will be delivering it soon. It’s been delayed due to other more pressing projects. One advantage of my going mostly indie is that the publishers I still work for will get more regular deliveries. OTOH I delivered the third of the Daring Finds Mysteries in February and it’s not even scheduled yet. AND they took a year to buy the third after the second came out, and I had other things to do, so I didn’t write it on spec. This delay is not my fault. But it is why Elise Hyatt is about to start an indie series. (mwah ah ah ah ah)
8- DRM and ebook pricing.
I don’t like DRM. This is well known, right? I will not sign on with a small publisher that uses it. OTOH I have ZERO control over it when I sign with big publishers.
As undeserved as this might be (grin) I don’t have the name/sales/pull of say, Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. You need that kind of pull to make publishers take that nonsense out of the contract. Until then, you endure. Ditto for prices. Yeah, most ebook pricing is ridiculous and as a reader I’m 100% behind you. But it’s not my decision and not my fault. Yeah, I can go indie, and I suspect I’ll be doing so more and more. But babies need college fees and periodically the cars need fixing. I still need to earn a living, until indie earnings come on line. I’m sorry if you’re inconvenienced. I sympathize with you at heart. But there’s nothing I can do.
(IF I can’t get them to let me have the rights back to the musketeer mysteries, rights that are clearly mine as per contract, without invoking a lawyer, what makes you think I can make them dance to my tune in their pet delusions like DRM and ebook pricing?)
I’m sure there are other things that are not my fault. (I did not steal the cookies; I did not kick – well, trip over, but he thinks I kicked him – the cat; and I did not say a swear word in front of the kids – or maybe I did, but it wasn’t my fault, and besides the word was in Portuguese. Also, the sun was in my eyes. Besides, I was never there and I was led astray by evil companions.) But I think this pretty much covers the essentials that a writer loses control of when traditionally publishing (caveat scriptor) and what readers shouldn’t blame writers for (we’re all packages of frustration, fear and confusion right now, so try not to push us towards heart attacks and premature death. Our other fans will thank you.)