Great Expectations…For Your Career, That Is

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.

If you read the book, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, you probably were motivated to do so by wanting to glean as much detail as possible from those who had gone where you had not yet ventured. Well, publishing needs a What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Publish. Sure, everyone has a vague notion of what it means to be published, but it isn’t until you dive into the deep end that you discover how little you really knew.

Here are a few of the misconceptions (oh, gosh, that’s a pun, isn’t it) about publishing that I encounter regularly:

  • Once you have a multi-book contract or have had three or so books published, you can quit your day job. Or buy that new car you’ve had your eye on. Or invest in a vacation home. Barring best-sellerdom, the dreams of financial freedom are unlikely when a writing career is in its infancy. A multi-book contract provides you with a lump sum that’s handsome, but that money, in actuality, will  have to last you for a really long time. And, if the books don’t quickly earn out the advance (which  is a typical scenario, by the way), getting the next contract could be a hard-won battle.
  • If life interrupts your creative writing process, the publisher will understand a missed deadline. It really doesn’t matter if the publisher understands or not. Certain immovable forces come into play once a book’s production schedule is set in concrete. The wheel of publishing is stronger than the author, the editor, the agent, and the publisher. Once that wheel gathers momentum, it can’t stop suddenly.
  • Your creative effort belongs to you. I know this sounds just plain wrong, but when you sign a contract, you are selling your baby to the publisher.  While the contract provides certain protections for the author in terms of how much of the manuscript can be changed, the publisher has the right to declare the manuscript unacceptable–which means the book won’t be published and you’ll have to return your advance. Such a situation is unlikely to be in anyone’s interest–the author’s or the publisher’s–and plenty of efforts to find common ground will be employed before the situation reaches that point. But sometimes the author and the publisher simply  have differing opinions about what the book is supposed to be.
  • If you don’t like a title or a cover design, those elements will be adjusted. Nope. The publisher reserves the right to make the final decision. Hopefully you and your agent can present compelling reasons to alter a title or a cover, and I’ve seen some publishers bend over backwards to make sure the author is pleased with the outcome. But other times, not so much.
  • An author’s career takes and maintains an upward trajectory. That’s what we all dream will  happen, but that isn’t always the case. At times circumstances occur that are out of everyone’s control, such as the economy taking a serious dip; your editor and in-house advocate losing his job; a cover that didn’t connect with the intended reader; or a national disaster occurring on the day your book launches. Or the news cycle doesn’t favor you, as happened for one of my clients, whom many national talk shows were seriously considering to appear to promote her book for Mother’s Day. But that week the talk shows were informed they needed to focus on the swine flu.  Mother’s Day–and my author–were forgotten.

So how does an agent manage an author’s great expectations for his career? By talking honestly about these and all the other issues that confront an author. By walking through each event with the author. By being proactive in avoiding false expectations for clients. By pointing out the best path to trod that will eventually lead to quitting the day job, buying the new car and the vacation home–much farther down the road than the author expected.

But when that grand day of hitting the best-seller list occurs for you, be prepared. Here’s a short video that will help you to set your expectations at an appropriate level.

6 Responses

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  1. Teri D. Smith says:

    Your pun was hilarious! I think my biggest misconception a few years ago was thinking authors get to name their own books. I realize they sometimes get to keep their titles, but not always. Interesting.

    There’s a whole of lot of pulling together that happens to get a book on the shelf!

  2. Annie Downs says:

    Janet, I am totally enjoying this series. And that video MADE MY DAY. Hilarious.

    Thanks!! 🙂

  3. Thank you for the realistic view of what writers should expect. We can only hope that everything in the process falls out in our favor – and only then if we do our part.

  4. janetgrant says:

    The pun just jumped from my fingers onto the screen. At first I thought, Oops. Then I thought, How fun!
    I love that video; it made me laugh in several places. Her tongue-in-cheek humor pleased me.
    Thanks for enjoying those things with me.

  5. david w. fry says:

    Inconceivable! Okay, I couldn’t resist taking that pun on a run. Ouch. Maybe I shouldn’t sign my name to this post. 🙂

    In all seriousness though, Thank You Janet for sharing a realistic perspective to those of us on the periphery. I for one appreciate the tour of reality. This post is a blessing and helps us neophytes recalibrate our expectations. Or as this geek is want to think … reboot!

  6. Thanks, Janet (and colleagues), for taking time to instruct writers who aren’t even your clients or paying subscribers. This information is so helpful, and I loved the video!