Posts tagged authors
Posts tagged authors
Quick! What publishing industry minutiae do you want to read about?!
If you just read through all of the Query Quagmire archives, then you are both dedicated and possessed of superb taste. You may stay.
I love these questions! It’s sometimes difficult to separate my Evil Editor persona from my Bookworm persona, but sometimes that’s to my advantage, especially when buying books. I actually rarely buy books based on just happening upon them in the bookstore. But that has a lot to do with the fact that I have a “to read” list that’s longer than “War and Peace” and am therefore pretty focused in my bookstore forays.That said, I do very often pick up books at the bookstore or library to find out more about them, and occasionally buy them. It’s much easier to identify these books than the “meh” books because, well… I usually don’t even notice the “meh” books. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to answer your question by explaining what doesn’t earn an insta-“meh.”
When I’m at a bookstore, I kind of leave myself at the mercies of the bookseller’s marketing decisions. What I mean by that is that I will absolutely pick up and look at a book that is cover-out, rather than one that is spine-out, or one that is in a display or end cap rather than shelved with the rest of its genre. Those books aren’t displayed prominently by happenstance. It was a very deliberate decision on the part of the bookstore and the publisher.
I notice and pick up books usually based on cover design, title, and where they’re located in the store. One book I picked up recently based on its title was “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline. It was a bright orange and yellow cover, and the title immediately triggered something in my brain that went “VIDEO GAMES CHILDHOOD NERDINESS YES.” Another book I picked up and bought randomly was Cherie Priest’s “Boneshaker.” I liked the cover design and the font (yes, the font) so much that I had to find out what it was about. Then it was all STEAMPUNK and ALTERNATIVE HISTORY OF THE CIVIL WAR and 19TH CENTURY SEATTLE and STRONG FEMALE PROTAGONIST and HOLY FUCK THE INTERIOR FONT IS BROWN THAT IS A BOLD MOTHERFUCKING DESIGN DECISION. So I bought it, and have bought three other books by Priest since then.
Books that I’ve put down and walked away from despite great titles and covers usually happen when I read the description and it begins something like “Clarice thought she was just a normal girl until something extraordinary happens and she discovers her secret destiny…” or “Eustace feels drawn to the strange new girl who just moved in across the street and this is the story of their intense romance at the age of sixteen…” or “Special Agent Grant McBarden is up against his most dangerous challenge yet…” or “This is the quietly desperate story of a middle class white family falling apart even as they learn to be together…” or some other hackneyed piece of terrible catalog copy. If it sounds like something I’ve heard of before, then I just don’t bother.
I’m drawn to the original, or to what triggers happy memories I guess. And I tend to trust the marketing decisions of the publisher. That has led me astray less often than the recommendations of friends (“The Name of the Wind” destroyed any trust I had in the reading tastes of casual acquaintances).
Hope that helps!
I SAID GOOD DAY, SIR!
What audacious cheek!
Congratulations! And this is a brilliant question.
I love working with authors who have a sense of humor, who can laugh at themselves and at this ridiculous industry we’re mired in. I like it when my authors are friendly and warm while still maintaining professionalism (“What are you wearing?” is a bit too friendly and warm), and I like authors who can be self-deprecating without making me worry about their self esteem issues.
I’ve had the best experiences with authors who are patient and understanding. If I don’t get back to you for two weeks, it’s ok to email me and say “Hey, I know you’re probably insanely busy with twenty other books right now, but when you get the chance I would really appreciate a brief update on where we are.” That has the dual effect of making me feel guilty for back-burnering you and of endearing you to me immensely. Conversely, I hate it when an author leaves me a passive-aggressive voicemail after regular work hours to say “I really expected you to get back to me by now and can only assume that you’ve lost interest in my book and therefore you have three days to respond or I’m taking my book to another publisher.” Hate that.
I like authors who have reasonable expectations and aren’t afraid to admit their ignorance and ask questions. Don’t know something? Ask! That’s what I’m here for. It’s literally in my job description: “designated explainer of the publishing process to any and all authors.” You won’t look like an idiot if you ask what you think is a stupid question (see “self-deprecating sense of humor,” above) and it’s better to be on the same page with your editorial staff than to be sitting there in the dark wondering what’s going on.
I like authors who don’t have egos the size of Greenland. This is a business partnership. I don’t work for you I work with you. I don’t owe my job to geniuses like you writing books (well, technically I do… but don’t fucking act like it) and you aren’t God’s gift to modern literature. Humility is much more attractive than an overblown sense of entitlement.
And lastly I like authors that I connect with, as ambiguous as that sounds. The author with breast cancer I mentioned a few posts ago (who is doing just fine, thank you to everyone who wrote such caring, supportive notes!) didn’t just tell me about her Spiderman radiation joke out of the blue. She knew I’d get the joke because we had discussed our mutual love of comic books before. I have another author who writes to me about his hobby of collecting vintage revolvers and sends me pictures of his new pieces because while he was researching his last book I told him that I thought “cowboy guns” were really freakin’ cool. It’s little things like that that make a working relationship both productive and fun. The person on the other end of the line is, in fact, a person and it’s ok to get to know them.
Good luck with your new book. You’re going to be a great author to whatever editor has the good fortune to work with you.
So the bad news is one of my authors is battling breast cancer. The good news is she’s hilarious:
“I had my radiation planning session today. When I asked the nurses where they insert the spiders into the machine they didn’t know what I was talking about! I said, ‘I’ll bet you get people asking you about spiders and super powers all the time,’ and a nurse said ‘No… you’re the first. I’ll have to ask the resident on duty about that…’ How is that possible?! Spiderman, The Hulk, RADIATION, hello?! My geeky heart was horrified.”
I’ve decided that when I need her to revise something I’ll just tell her “AUTHOR SMASH!”
So I’m three glasses of wine into a long night and I feel like this is the perfect time to answer this question. Bear with me.
Y’know that song from “The Sound of Music” that the Mother Superior sings? “Climb every mountain. Ford every stream. Follow every rainbow until you find your dream.” That one? Or, y’know, The Supremes. Whatever works.
Imagine me singing that to you right now. I have a lovely voice.
If you want to publish your YA novels, then yes. Yes, by Steinbeck’s typewriter, there is a point. There is a point to trying to get published. There is a point to getting published. There is a point.
Maybe it’s the aforementioned three glasses of wine. Maybe it’s because it’s late and I’m feeling charitable. But I’m feeling rather truthsome right now.
There are days during which I honestly wish most of the authors who come to me with book proposals had just decided to NOT. I wish a lot of them just hadn’t bothered, or had queried somebody else. It would certainly make for less work on my end, and fewer hard decisions. My knee-jerk reaction to your question was to say “If you’re having doubts, then just don’t bother.”
But (wine don’t fail me now!) that answer would be doing a disservice to you and to the other readers of Query Quagmire.
Because telling you not to bother is just self-serving and lazy on my part. All those blogs you read are written by agents and editors like me who are tired and jaded and bitter and a little bit insane. And reading all of that can certainly be disheartening. But what you don’t hear from us are the success stories. Complaining is cathartic, so we don’t really talk about the times we receive perfect queries, the times we meet authors who are brilliant, the times we come across book proposals and say “Ah. Yes. This is the book I was born to edit!” Because it does happen. And you could be that author. It might mean you have to go through the gauntlet of bitter, cranky editors, but if you want it to happen then there is certainly still a point to going through said gauntlet.
The last thing I did today at the office was read a manuscript that made me smile. It was… whimsical. It was understated. It had me reading way more of it than I had intended. And when I glanced at the clock and realized most of my colleagues had gone home while I was absorbed in this unpolished manuscript from an author that no one had ever heard of… I knew I had a winner. And I wrote back to the author immediately and requested not only the full manuscript but “whatever they needed from the press to support their work” which is my euphemism for an advance contract.
That could be you.
Or it couldn’t be. It could really go either way.
But neither of us will know unless you try.
“Thanks for the words of encouragement. This has been an entirely new experience for a novelist, and you’ve been terrific guiding me through it.”
Sometimes my authors say the sweetest things. :)
A part of me is screaming internally because the last thing that I want is for people to perpetuate the stereotype that all editors are “just failed writers anyway.” Because that couldn’t be farther from the truth, and I have yet to meet a successful editor in the prime of her career sighing away at her desk because what she really wants to do is write.
But to be perfectly honest (because my conscience is dragging me along kicking and screaming), you can learn an awful lot about publishing from inside the belly of the beast. And you just might learn something that will give you a leg up in your own quest to get published.
I do think, though, that it would be a little disingenuous to work for a publisher when what you really want to do is sit on the other side of the table. Your colleagues who really and truly want to get ahead as publishers, not writers, will probably harbor a little bit of animosity towards you. Not only because of the aforementioned damaging stereotype, but because you are taking up space in a competitive industry when you don’t actually want to be part of that industry (or at least, not on that side of the industry).
If this is a tactic you’d like to pursue, then I recommend you seek out a brief externship, a semester-long internship, or enrollment at one of the Publishing Institutes (DU, Columbia, etc). That way you will get an insider’s perspective without necessarily standing in the way of someone whose goal it is to seriously pursue an editing career.
Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor.
Psh, only ~authors~ can appreciate a good Query Shredding. Everyone knows editors have no interests outside of maliciously destroying the hopes and dreams of innocents, eating cute puppies, and tea.
Damn straight. Also knocking over sandcastles, tripping old ladies, listening to Wagner, and eating Cheez-Its. Lots of Cheez-Its.
Synonyms: release - immunity - liberation - discharge - deliverance
So I ask you, dear unsolicited author: Why exactly do you think you are exempt from my rules? Did someone in my office personally inform you of this supposed exemption? Or is it just that you suffer from Triple S (Special Snowflake Syndrome)? Either you follow the submission guidelines, or your query doesn’t get read. It’s as simple as that.
“Is it too late to change the title?”
“I recently got divorced so my last name changed. Is it too late to change that in the book?”
“Just got my advance copy and I hate the cover. Is it too late to change it?”
“Hey Editor! Just got my advance copy! I forgot to mention that I lifted big chunks of text from another source without permission. That won’t be a problem, right?”
“I’ve decided I prefer a different spelling of the protagonist’s name. It’s not too late to change, is it?”
“I think including a map would be a good idea. Is it too late to add that in?”
“You sent a copy to the New York Times, right?”
“This was a really long, hard process. I think I deserve more royalties. Is it too late to change that in the contract?”
“There’s a typo on page 97.”
“You’re translating the book into Icelandic, right?”
“My friend in Bangladesh can’t find the book in her local bookstore. I thought you said the book would be released today!”
“Is it too late to change the cover copy? I don’t think it’s very representative of the main themes and conflict of my book.”
“I forgot to thank my wife in the dedication page. Is it too late to change that?”
“My astrologer says this is a very inauspicious week to launch the book. Could you hold off until Thursday, July 19th instead?”
“So I’ve heard about this thing called an ‘errata sheet’…”
“Thanks a bunch, Editor. It’s been great working with you, truly it has. Which is why I’ve decided to go with a different publishing house for my next book.”
“Thanks a bunch, Editor. It’s been great working with you, truly it has. So what are you doing for dinner tonight? Should I pick you up at 7? Wear those strappy black heels you wore when I hand-delivered my months-late page proofs to your office at midnight that one time.”
“Thanks a bunch, Editor. It’s been great working with you, truly it has. But Marketing Manager on the other hand… you can tell her sincerely, from me, that I want her to go die in a fire.”
“I’ve decided to self-publish. Is it too late to stop production?”
“I would like to list my cat as a co-author, as she is truly my guiding inspiration. It’s not too late to add Senorita Sassy-Pants to the cover, is it?”
“Oh hey, thanks for getting in touch! Yes, the book looks fabulous. Since I have you on the line though, I thought I’d give you a heads-up that I’m faxing you a list of changes that need to be made to the book. It’s not too late to input those changes, is it?”
To all of the above: Yes. Yes, it is absolutely too late.
Considering I can think of three off the top of my head, I’d say they’re fairly common. Juliet Marillier’s “Sevenwaters Trilogy” has a different narrator for each book, George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” switches third person limited POVs by the chapter, and K.A. Applegate’s “Animorphs” books (CHILDHOOD FLASHBACK!) switched between five different narrators for every book.
However, I don’t know of any significant difference in sales for these multi-narrator book series as compared to series that are all narrated by the same character. My guess it probably wouldn’t negatively affect sales potential if you do it well.