And Bend and Stretch and… Ouch!

24 Nov

Publishing a good book is not a one-man band.

I’m not saying that a person can’t publish all by themselves – Amazon is cluttered with people who do – but their books are all too often as entertaining as the aforementioned band. It’s a novelty that will hold your attention for a minute but hardly for a full concert. Put another way – when it comes to dancing bears, the wonder is not at how well he dances but that he can dance at all. There are exceptions I’m sure – people who can write, edit, design, illustrate, complete e-book formatting, market, publicize, and do it all professionally or, even, competently. I just haven’t met them. I know I sure as hell can’t.

Most writers understand this or soon learn it: It takes a village to raise a book. And that’s a good thing.

One of my biggest rewards as both a writer and an editor comes from the collaborative process. Notice I said ‘reward’ and not ‘pleasure.’ That’s because collaboration isn’t always easy and it’s frequently not fun. Writers and editors sometimes (often) butt heads over what works and what doesn’t. The editor is not always right but he or she is not always wrong either. Writers are blind to their own weaknesses: if they weren’t they would fix them. Editors may have an agenda of their own – stylistic preferences, their own secret story to tell, marketability, etc. – which is why sometimes the writer-editor partnership doesn’t work. But when it does, when the writer is open to change and the editor is genuinely motivated to help the writer be the best writer she or he can be, the result is often magic. I’ll say it again, for perfect clarity; the job of the editor is not to change the writer or the book but to help them be more fully themselves in their writing. A bit like therapy without either the couch or the judging.

I suspect one of the hardest things to do for a self-publishing writer is to find an editor who can actually help them. It’s all about the direction the money flows. If a writer hires an editor, the money flows from the writer to the editor; the editor owes their living to the person they are supposed to edit. As such, it will be tough to be tough – even if the writer asks for it. It’s like going up to your boss and telling him his decisions are stupid. It may work out, it may be productive, but you probably don’t want to do it every day. If a writer sells to a publisher, the money flows from the publisher to the writer – and to the editor (even if the publisher is the editor, this is still essentially true, only more so). The editor has complete independence from the writer and can be completely frank about what they think needs to be done. The writer retains – usually through contract – the right to disagree and, even, veto suggestions. But the relationship will be one of equals.

But that isn’t the end of the process. As a publisher, you have to engage in all aspects of the production and eventual marketing of the book. Again, no one person can do it all. Not and retain their sanity.  Still, someone has to be in charge.

Take cover art. A good publisher will try to find the right art to represent the book. Small publishers like Bundoran and CZP, may use the same artist for all or most of their books as a way to create brand recognition. But it is not simply a case of handing the book to the artist and waiting to see what happens. I often consult the author to see what image they think of as most representative of their book; I may have my own ideas. The artist may fix on something else entirely. Discussion ensues but just as the author is the source of all inspiration regarding the text, the artist needs the freedom to create as well. They produce a ‘draft,’ some editing is proposed and a final design is agreed on. Who gets the final say? Usually neither the writer or the artist – the publisher makes the decision. If the publisher and the writer are the same person, it’s important that they try to wear different hats in making the decision. After all, it is the cover art that causes many people to pick up a book by an unknown author, especially in genre fiction.

I could go on but I think I’ve made my point. Everyone has their own best destiny. Writers are best at writing; editors at editing, artists at arting, I mean, painting, designers at…. and salespeople at selling. It’s not that we all can’t do other things but division of labour and relative advantage does make it more efficient and more effective to assign the tasks to the experts.

The good thing is: collaboration is good for you. It’s like going to the gym. It may require a real effort of will, it may force you to stretch yourself until you hurt, but in the end it makes you into a better person. Though, unlike the gym, it usually doesn’t make you thinner.

News of the Week

As previously announced, Bundoran Press has signed Darusha Wehm to a one-book deal. The working title is “The Wheel” but I suspect that will change before we’re done.

An interesting article about the resurgence of long novels – nothing new to lovers of genre, of course.

One man’s opinion about the future of publishing. The most cogent point: no-body really knows.

Check out our books on Kobo, Kindle and our own web-site: e-books reduced in prices, some trade paperbacks, too.

See you at SFContario.

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One Response to “And Bend and Stretch and… Ouch!”

  1. chadwickginther November 24, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    Great blog, Hayden!

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