wWriters talk to writers. Pretty much all the time. They share what each step of the publishing experience is like for them. Other writers listen. And the more renowned an author, the closer newer writers lean in. I’m sure newbies are thankful for words of wisdom from the “oldies” (!?). But one clear truth I’ve seen play out over the years of these interactions is something writers, regardless how long they’ve been at this game, don’t seem to take into account: Your publishing experience is not everyone’s experience.
The good publishing experience news
The good news is that a veteran author can help a newer writer understand:
- what it’s like to work with a genius editor
- or a cover designer who totally “gets” the author’s voice and translates that into the cover
- a free-thinking marketer who infuses a marketing plan with ideas that amplify the author’s brand and makes the plan unique to each release
- a sales team infused with enthusiasm and confidence that they can move significant numbers of copies of the author’s newest release.
Imagine how encouraged an author going down the publishing trail for the first time would be, setting aside her fears about the rumors she’s heard of how bad an experience this can be.
The reality of others’ publishing experiences
The problem with hearing all this good news from a happily-published author is that it does not necessarily reflect what will happen to the writer hearing this litany of goodness.
What you experience with one publisher does not mean every author will have that same experience. Actually, I can pretty much guarantee that will not be the case.
Why we’re surprised
Why does this take us by surprise?
- One person’s experience in giving birth could vary vastly from another’s.
- Or an individual’s first job–working on a construction site–bears little resemblance to a cushy but boring office job of the next person.
- A person’s ten-year wait to achieve a publishing contract stands in sharp contrast to the writer who has five publishers seeking their first offering.
- One individual has only negative things to say about publishing traditionally and advocates everyone self-pub. But another person has neither the personality nor the time to turn himself into a self-publishing machine–traditional publishing suits him.
You can, looking at these examples, see that we can’t draw a clean line between what happens to us and the next person. Life–and God–don’t work that way. Each of us has a unique journey.
Of course there are parallels. The challenge is figuring out what is likely to be true for both writers. I’d say, not much.
What insights should you hold lightly
Here are some scenarios you might not want to hold too closely.
- An author had to do a massive rewrite
- The editor took over the writing of a manuscript from the author
- A writer’s cover process was the thing nightmares are made of
- A nonfiction writer didn’t have any publicity to speak of at release time
Why these experiences won’t necessarily be yours
Considerable revisions or an aggressive editor are unlikely to be a direct translation to what you should beware of. Why? Because editors can’t put that kind of time into directing a major manuscript overhaul or to undertake that overhaul herself. Publishing schedules are tight. If an editor spends too much time on every manuscript he is responsible for, he’ll regularly miss his deadlines. Not to mention that authors will complain–and not necessarily directly to that editor. Nope, not seeing these two issues ones you should stare at the ceiling all night over.
The bad cover
The cover process truly is a “your mileage might vary” situation. Sometimes the marketing/design team hits on a stupendous idea right out of the gate. Other times, developing that final cover is a step-by-step moving forward. It can be painful for everyone, but working as a team can get you to the ending everyone agrees on. You can’t predict what your experience will be like. Here’s the bottomline: Few publishers can survive an array of bad covers.
The lack of publicity
Truth: Some publishers extend only lightweight support for the books they produce. That’s often true for smaller publishers. But once you are published by a medium-to- large publishing house, many more resources (including budget) are available to the marketing/promo team.
If a title doesn’t find much traction with podcasters, TV shows, or radio programmers, it could be the publicist’s fault. Maybe he didn’t “get” the hook that would cause interviews to be scheduled. Or he was focused on so many “big” titles releasing the same season as yours that he could only skim the surface of what’s truly available.
But the more likely reality is that the book’s approach to a topic doesn’t strike those who schedule interviews as an engaging conversation. That doesn’t mean the book is doomed; interviews aren’t the only way to alert potential readers to the book’s existence. Lack of interviews often occurs when a book reaches a very specific audience, such as the military. Usually if that’s the case, the author has the ability to reach that audience, and it’s the publisher’s job to offer resources to do so.
How to ferret out what’s likely to be true for you
I’d suggest you not put too much weight on what one author tells you. Keep in mind that person is speaking from their personal experience, not realizing the same issues are no problem for other writers. They were traumatized by their publishing experience and want to spare others, not realizing they’re actually spreading fear rather than being helpful.
Your agent to the rescue
Here’s where having an agent is a major asset. Talk to your agent about what you’ve heard. Convey why that stresses you or makes you fearful.
The good news: Your agent will have a much larger context for your concerns. She might know that the traumatized author experienced a worst-case scenario. For example, one of my author’s books released at a time that the marketing vice president was experimenting with a hefty reduction in marketing budgets. Little money was available for the book’s release. Or the agent might know that the marketing team changed three times in the crucial period just before a book’s release. Once these issues are resolved, the reality for authors switched to a much more positive experience. But the authors experiencing those disappointments don’t know the issues are resolved.
If you don’t have an agent, remember not to translate what happened to one author into an inevitability for you. Nope, that’s unlikely to be the case.
What are rumors you’ve heard that proved not to be true for you? What sources do you turn to when you’re concerned about a particular part of the publishing process? Ho can you do to prevent believing everything you hear about publishing–even before you have a contract?