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About Writing Right: The Blog


A question arose the other day as to how much "say" an author has in choosing the design elements and marketing opportunities for his or her book. Interesting question--one whose answer depends upon what your definition of the word "is" is. (Thank you very much, Bill Clinton, for your hours spent before the House impeachment investigating committee.)


Now, if we're talking about how much input an author has with a publisher, that depends. In my dealings with more than two dozen conventional, advance-paying publishers with whom I've worked over the years, an author has no input on marketing whatsoever above and beyond what he or she decides to do individually. But he does have some input on design and title. By "input" here, I mean just that. The author "puts in" his two cents' worth, and he hopes for the best. Nearly always, though, once a publisher considers that input, he will proceed with the initial suggestions of his in-house prognosticators (marketing, sales, and promotion folks). That sounds unfair, I know. After all, it is your book.


But, considering the fact that conventional publishers put up all the production costs and take all the risks in publishing your opus, you have to realistically assume they're going to follow the advice of their own professional staff and personnel who supposedly know what's best for the company. Best design, best title, best typesetting, best editing, best layout, and so forth. In this case, "best" translates to "greatest potential sales." (Read your publishing contract for specifics.)


Primarily, publishers request input from their authors as a courtesy in the hopes that the authors might coincidentally stumble upon a more marketable title, design, etc. than the publisher's crew has come up with. They know that's not likely, and experience has proven them correct.


The one notable exception to author input is in editing. While a house's editor can contribute immensely to a book's ultimate success, he can also go overboard, inadvertently (or even intentionally on rare occasion) changing an author's meaning, emphasis, and so forth. When that happens, any good editor will back off and allow the author to STET the editor's proposed change—that is, to leave the copy as it was originally submitted. Occasionally, an editor will fight for what he thinks is an absolutely necessary change, and then it's up to the author to convince the editor otherwise—or to capitulate.


Outside of that give-and-take, there's very little that a conventionally published author can do to affect the look and title of a book being prepared for publication. A publisher who gives in to an editor's desires in this area stands to lose tens of thousands of dollars in revenue by trying to appease the author at the expense of its own bottom line. And the bottom line, sad to say, is what publishing is all about today.


Cover art by D. J. Herda.




Now, I'm talking here about "normal" authors and everyday books. I'm not talking about James Patterson-type mega-authors. Someone like him, with a record of making millions of dollars for his publisher per book, can wield a lot more influence on the finished product than you or I can. A big-name author's book will sell like hotcakes with his loyal book-buying fans even if it's printed on toilet paper and wrapped in cellophane. Another example of industry bias and unfairness to the little guy on the street? Well, yes ... and no. Except for those big-name authors keeping the publishers afloat and open for submissions from new talent, we'd all be the worse for wear. At least by using this publishing model, we have a chance, no matter how small, of hitting the "bigs" and moving up to the top of the food chain.


Until that happens ...


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new e-Book series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. His Website is at www.djherda.org. You can also check out his column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack. It's free, it's entertaining, it's informative, and it runs weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he does his best!) 

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