Blogger: Mary Keeley
Publisher mistakes happen. Oversights occur. Disagreements with your publishing team take place. Delays cause negative ripple effects. Any one of these can have a detrimental, sometimes devastating, effect on your book during the production process. Not if, but when any one of these happens, it’s best for the sake of your career to be diligent and let your agent do the talking.
Authors, be diligent.
Staff changes and publishing house acquisitions cause upheaval, not to mention staff reductions, which pile more work onto those who remain. It’s a prescription for trouble. That’s why it’s increasingly important for authors to be enthusiastic, cooperative, gracious, prompt with your due dates…and quietly diligent.
An author’s diligence is key because once the contract is signed, the communication shifts to the publishing house interacting with the author directly. Your agent, who can’t be everywhere at all times for every client, relies on you to notify him or her at the first hint of trouble.
Following is one extreme example to illustrate the kinds of things that can go wrong. A multi-published author I know focused attention on extensive marketing activity once the publisher approved the full manuscript, which, by the way, the author had turned in on time. When the publisher made a decision on the cover, the acquisitions editor sent a copy to the author. Often, publishers forget to send a copy to the agent too. Fortunately, the author was wise to forward the cover file to the agent and ask the agent to intervene because there were obvious problems.
Let your agent do the talking.
Author issues over covers can be sticky situations. Covers are within the publisher’s realm of responsibility. However, a good agent will negotiate wording in the contract, providing a client the right to give input on the design. Designers occasionally are resistant to perceived criticism of their work and to the extra time and work a redo will mean to their schedules. Agents are experienced at negotiating these situations delicately toward a win-win solution, allowing you, the author, to retain your positive, warm and friendly relationships with your publishing team, which is of prime importance.
I wish I could say that was the end of the author’s problems with this highly reputable publisher, but it wasn’t. The author knew the galleys would be late since a freelance editor hired by the publisher had steered the book in a wrong direction early in the editorial process. She was finally replaced when the author asked the agent to intervene. Again, the right move by the author.
The author then went back to focusing on the aggressive marketing campaign. It didn’t dawn on the author that the publisher never did send galleys to review, but the realization hit hard when the author received the author copies of the printed book. Leafing through, the author quickly noticed several typos and formatting errors and contacted the agent right away. That was the right thing to do but sadly, after the fact. Staff reductions had occurred in the middle of the production schedule, and the editorial process for the author’s book had been neglected.
The agent notified the new acquisitions editor to request corrections in the next printing of the book. The one remaining, now-overloaded acquisitions editor promised to look into it and sent a copy of the book to the editorial department to determine if additional errors existed. Bottom line: the worst-case scenario that could happen happened. The editors found so many errors that the publisher decided their only recourse was to recall the entire first printing from all the distribution channels and shred the books. Of course, by that time some of the books already were in readers’ hands. In the time it took for the publisher to correct and print new books, marketing momentum had been lost, and was later reflected in poor sales.
The agent stepped in again to press the publisher to find a way to overcome the debacle. That chapter still is being written.
True story. I shudder just thinking about it. I want to emphasize this is an extreme example but one I think highlights the necessity for all authors—debut to published veterans—to adopt this motto: Be diligent and let your agent do the talking before a small problem becomes a big problem.
Do you have a publishing experience to share in which you had to enlist your agent to intervene? How does this example influence the way you will approach your future publishing experience?
Authors, be diligent and let your agent do the talking when a problem arises with your publisher. Click to Tweet.
Authors need to be enthusiastic, cooperative, and diligent throughout your book’s production process. Click to Tweet.
Yell, stomp, throw things . . .
. . . breathe, and call your agent.
Should I ever attain the good fortune to experience such bad fortune, I shall try to remember to breathe and call (up to now I thought platform was the hard part). Thank you, Mary, for the early morning reality check.
We’re all human. Put us into an environment of frequent upheaval in this changing industry and the combination is ripe for mishaps. A redeeming piece of the story is that the author responded with an amazing amount of Christian grace, and the publisher owned up to its mistakes and was sincerely sorry.
I’m with Shirlee–throw things. How scary–your book out in print with errors! This situation, although extreme, sounds like either overworked people or unqualified people were doing the job.
I am new to learning about the publishing world from this angle, so I admit, I had to look up what galleys meant. Oh so much to learn, but I am soaking it up. Thanks for an informative post, Mary.
You’re welcome, Melodie. It’s good to have you here, commenting on our blog. It helps to inform me if there is a topic I should try to cover in a future post.
Mary, thanks for sharing this nightmare of a scenario. After reading this, authors of books with minor flaws can be relieved that “it could have been worse.”
You make good worthy points. Thanks!
You’re welcome, Rick.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Yikes! That is horrendous. I’ve been writing since 2001, but am very new to the whole publishing part. Just started the second round of edits for my first book, but it is an e-book only series so I’m not sure how that will change the editorial process. But after reading this I will rejoice that no one will have to shred any copies of my book. You can’t shred an e-book right? This is good I think.
Kristen, you should receive an electronic proof of your ebook to review and approve. At the beginning of the publishing process, ask for an estimate of when you’ll receive that proof and mark your calendar. When it’s close to that time, send a query asking if the proof will be coming to you on schedule. That proof is your one opportunity to check closely for needed corrections.
What a great eye-opener for life on the other side of publishing, Mary. Of course we all have dreams of the perfect-case scenario with our publishers (or future publishers), but this is a good reminder to stay on top of things and involve extra help before the molehill turns into a mountain. 🙂
Yes indeed, Sarah.
Calls to mind an analogy –
In 1944 the Royal Air Force sent a number of new-model SPitfire aircraft, crated, to India, where they were to be assembled and used against the Japanese.
When they arrived, the assembly team found that the bolts that hold the wings on were just a shade too big. The aircraft were needed in service, and consultations would take longer than they felt they had.
So…someone hit on the idea of carefully using emery cloth to reduce the bolt diameters to the point that they would fit the holes provided.
And Voila! It worked.
Unfortunately, the airplanes in this group soon started losing their wings in flight.
Turns out the bolts had been designed to be oversize, and were to be placed in a freezer to shrink them down to the right size so that they could be inserted. As they warmed, they would swell, resulting in what engineers call an “interference fit” which absolutely prevents relative movement in the joint – because that’s what killed the incorrectly assembled airplanes. (And killed their pilots, but young men are considered expendable in wartime.)
“Common knowledge” jumped to the solution that the bolts were simply from a batch in which the production variances left them slightly oversize.
Diligence would have looked a bit further, and asked why this was happening, for would the bolts not have been checked for fit at the factory?
The moral for authors is that one’s agent has the experience to understand what may or may not have happened at the publishing house; the author is not likely to hold that level of specialized knowledge (at least at first), and would be well-advised to filter “common-knowledge diligence” through the agent’s Lens of Professionalism.
And for what it’s worth, it seems that publishers need to be diligent as well.
In the 1980s William Kimber published a WW2 memoir, “Whirlwind Squadron”, by Eric Thomason.
Unfortunately, the book was alleged to be largely fiction, and the bad publicity was so compelling that Kimber recalled the copies in the distribution chain. The cost was high, and this may have contributed to Kimber’s demise by the end of the decade.
Once the allegations were made, Kimber acted quickly to protect its reputation; thorough work by fact-checkers might have prevented the need.
And it is important to realize that they were allegations only; to my knowledge Thomason maintained that his memoir was accurate, with fictionalization made only to protect identities. He later recovered the rights, and self-published the book, so if you want to find a copy, it’s not hard.
My interpretation, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that publishers of history and memoir have to be like Caesar’s wife in the facts they publish – above reproach, or even any allegation of inaccuracy.
(As a postscript – Thomason gained some fame around 2000 for one of the few UFO photos that isn’t easily explainable as a natural phenomenon or a fake.)
Andrew, obviously your example refers to nonfiction works. I’m sure it was cases like the one you described that prompted publishers to include protective clauses in their contracts in which the Author declares that, to his or her knowledge, the facts contained in the Work are accurate. If inaccuracies are found, the publisher is free of liability. Part of the copyeditor’s job is fact-checking the manuscript, a further measure to protect the viability of the book as well as the financial investment.
Wow, what frustrations that author endured. Still being on the unpublished side of the publishing world, I definitely see the importance of keeping up with every step of the process. It’s got to be a challenge, as your story illustrates. This is yet another reason I hope to have an agent before signing with a publishing house.
True, Jeanne. While some in the industry view agents as a dying breed, the truth is they are needed more than ever before.
Andrea (Wood) Nell
This scenario just highlights the importance of a good agent! Thanks for another great post.
You’re welcome, Andrea.
Yikes, Mary! What an eye-opener! Just another reason to pay attention to detail and catch a problem before it gets out of hand.
Thank you for the reminder!
P.S. Today’s coffee flavor: Pumpkin Pie Spice. Cheers! *clink*
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
3 things we need to discuss here, darlin’.
1) pumpkin? EW!
2) pumpkin pie? DOUBLE EW!
3) pumpkin pie spice? More EW!!
Make that four…
4) coffee? Blech.
We need an Earl Grey intervention, you and I!!
Just for that, I shall pour another round. BUT, dear Jennifer, I’ll make yours Earl Grey. 🙂
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Thank you…I shall enjoy it immensely!
I’ll clink a pumpkin spice latté with you, Cynthia. 🙂
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Another one bites the …spicey dust.
Sounds deelish, Jeanne! Thank you!
You are so right, Cynthia. Too much coffee in the past few days. I’m tipping my jasmine green tea to you today.
Great antioxidants in green tea, too! 🙂
Reading this makes me cringe. My books feel like my babies, and to have them so poorly treated would make me really mad and perhaps a bit crazier than I already am.
However… you offer up a good reminder of a) the absolute necessity of a great agent (which I am blessed to have), and, b) our total reliance upon the providence of God (which I’m always working on).
Yes Bill, you are blessed. I have to say, had there been no upheaval and staff changes going on, I’m sure this string of mishaps leading to the disaster wouldn’t have happened at that publishing house. This unfortunate example highlights the necessity for authors to be alert and watchful and report small problems to their agent promptly. And as you said, rely on the providence of God.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Oh my word!
Wow. Just a whole lot of WOW!
I am very thankful to have you in my corner, Mary, VERY thankful!
That you know this story confirms that you know it could, and has, happened, therefore, you are armed and dangerous.
I do not have the knowledge you have, therefore, I know to trust your judgement.
I look at it this way, if you came on a radio distribution team to Bolivia with me, I’d know how to smooth the way for you. You could trust me entirely to get you there, do your job, and get you home.
I know very little about the microcosmic workings of the publishing world, what phrases mean what, and who sounds great, but is totally clueless.
I have no idea about all the little details, and I am sooooo glad you do!!
Jennifer, here is the winning formula:
The author who is diligent and watchful
+ the agent who is diligent to protect the author’s best interests = a highly-functioning team.
But I’m glad to know you, the author, would be looking out for my best interests on a trip to Bolivia.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
I’ll let you have the window seat in the jeep when we hit the unpaved, one lane switchbacks at 13,000 feet.
I’ll make sure no one puts lettuce in your lunch. And…I’ll spot you when we head to the ladies room late at night.
I gotcha covered. 😉
It’s the least I can do. YOU always have ME covered. (Starting to get all sniffy again…)
My goodness! That scenario makes me shudder, too. Thanks for sharing, Mary. It’s helpful to me as an aspiring author to be able to take a look behind the scenes every once in a while.
Jennifer, that’s why I shared this story. I think it’s always helpful to see the details in the context of the bigger picture. We can detect when one of the parts isn’t working as it should.
Just another example of the necessity of covering every venture in prayer. And not just for the whole thing to go as you wish, but to be granted the grace and patience to glorify the Lord through the process. Blessings to you, the agent, for standing in the ring for us writers!!
Very important prayer points, Jaime. Thanks for adding that to the formula.
My problem is that I’m too nice. And I am afraid of being labeled “difficult to work with.” I’ve had problems twice, with bad editing. Now, with one publisher, they’ve been great about getting a better editor and I really enjoy working with her (for my narrative biography series). The second is kind of fuzzy to me what can be done, so this is prompting me to ask my agent about it. It’s embarrassing but as a newer author, I’m learning that I do need to speak up. It’s just hard to know which battles to fight. In one instance I don’t like my cover but again, do I want to risk being labeled as difficult? And is it truly a bad cover when such things can be subjective? ARGH!
Karla, this post was meant for you. It’s your agent’s job to sort those things out with you. He or she can’t advise or intervene in situations he or she doesn’t know about. A good agent would prefer to hear more rather than fewer of your concerns, especially with regard to the cover, because the agent can then inform and guide clients and assess if there is a genuine problem at the publisher.
Having worked on the publishing side, it makes me cringe to think of the domino-like fallout from those publisher errors. And yet, as you pointed out, so many talented and diligent publishing folks are stretched thin for time, resources, and workload. Makes me doubly determined that, when my author-turn comes, I’ll work with my agent to spot and forestall any problems and, above all, to avoid being the cause of any new ones!
“Domino-like fallout”. Jenny, that’s a perfect word picture for how one or two mishaps can affect the rest of the process. With your awareness of the publishing side, you will be a dream author for a publisher to work with.
Thank you, Mary, for shining a light on a corner of the publishing world! As a reader, I’ve often wondered how typos/misspellings survived the editing/publishing process.
The last novel I read was a romance with a military thread and the one thing I’ll remember about it, unfortunately, is that “sergeant” was misspelled “sargeant” consistently throughout the entire book. The story was great, but the misspellings grated on me. Now I understand how it could happen.
So sorry this happened to your author. But thank you for sharing so that we can learn from your experience!
Kathy, your experience points to why such mistakes are not so little. They distract readers from the story or message, especially when repeated throughout the book. It isn’t what an author wants the book to be remembered for.
Manuscripts go through at least two rounds of editing and then proofreading at traditional publishers, and yet errors in spelling or a misplaced word are missed occasionally. I recently discovered an error in my Bible. Ugh.
This post is one more example of why I love reading this blog. It challenges me to keep both eyes open once my book makes it to the publishing stage, and how to work with my agent when the unexpected happens.
I’m not there yet, but I’ve been forewarned — and equipped. Thank you.
Joe, I’m glad you found the post helpful. Informing and equipping authors is our goal here.
Thank you, Mary. That’s all. Just thanks.
You’re so welcome, Heidi.
Anita Mae Draper
Although my story can’t compare to the one in your post, I faced a similar situation this past summer when words in my manuscript were changed ‘for the better’ without my knowledge until I saw it in its copyedited form.
The changes seemed subtle enough but were done in a way I wouldn’t use in my writing. Little things that seem too silly to mention here, but that irked me to no end. And then there were the changes that had my cowboy character doing things that my cowboy would never do – like “giving a courtly bow”. I mean, really… he’s a cowboy, not at knight.
What worries me the most is that readers will read my story and think I don’t know anything about cowboys. Ugh. For a western historical writer, that’s not good at all.
I don’t know your character, of course, but I personally wouldn’t be offended to read the ‘courtly bow’ bit. (But I certainly sympathize with the ‘better words’ comment…I’d have been furious.)
I wasn’t a 19th century cowboy, but I do have some experience with what might be considered the modern analogue, the mercenary.
These chaps, though generally a bit rough on the outside, often seemed to have an inner yearning to be better than they were, and certainly better than society saw them.
So, in the presence of women they considered as being above their station, they would try to at least ape what they considered upper-class manners.
The result was always awkward and sometimes hilarious, but there was a vein of sincerity there that was, in the end, touching.
And I should not say “they”, but “we”.
Anita Mae Draper
Yes, I see your point Andrew, but it all has to be in keeping with the character, his habits, and the circumstance.
Anita, I’m sorry to hear about your experience. It’s an example of a situation an author should talk to his or her agent about. The agent can look at the issues from a more objective angle and decide if they’re significant enough to address with the publisher.
But the old saw that “a bad agent is worse than no agent at all,” is more true than ever, or so it seems to me. Trade publishers are becoming more abusive in a general sense, not less, and it seems to me the good agents are vastly too busy to give any but the top bestselling author the attention such problems require.
Deb, your descriptions of trade publishers and agents may be accurate for the general market, but Christian publishers in general strive for win-win arrangements with authors. As for agents, I can speak for all the Books & Such agents that investing in our clients’ long-term careers is a hallmark of our agency and our approach to agenting in the Christian market. Clients, whether bestselling or not, receive our attention when such problems occur. I believe most CBA agents operate this way.
Wow! Now, I’m shaking. I’ll take Shirlee’s advice–Breathe and call your agent…
Now I have to get an agent. 😉