My post last Wednesday, When Publishing Dreams Become a Nightmare, sparked quite of bit of debate and outrage, including several people writing responses on their own blogs. I want to reiterate (as I did several times in my post) that the scenario I described is unusual—generally my clients are happy with their publishing experiences. We enjoy terrific, mutually respectful working relationships with most publishers. The scenario was also necessarily incomplete—I did not go into all the details of the situation, so there’s no way readers had enough information to say that my client should jump ship and cancel the contract. That’s a decision that must be carefully made, taking all the variables into consideration.
But the most interesting thing that came to light for me in the responses was the number of people who were outraged at the idea of a publisher changing the title and designing the cover, and being able to do so without full approval from the author. Of course I understand this. It’s your book—your idea, your blood, sweat and tears on the page. It’s your creation. I get that. My post was meant to point out a scenario that could happen, so that writers could imagine themselves in that situation and think about how they’d deal with it. I think many of you were able to identify something important about yourself—that is, to what degree are you comfortable with the collaborative nature of traditional publishing?
(I know the scenario I described featured a publisher who didn’t seem all that interested in collaboration but rather wanted things their own way. In general, publishers and authors work collaboratively together.)
We all have our own comfort level when it comes to outside influences on our intellectual property or work of artistic genius. Some writers hold their work loosely and welcome outside input; others become quite tense when outsiders want to change their words or book titles, or make decisions about jacket design.
I often say “it takes a village to publish a book” and indeed, it’s true in traditional publishing. Since many of you like to refer to your books as your “babies,” we can see how the “village” metaphor applies neatly here.
Some parents subscribe to the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. Others reject the notion and instead, believe that it takes a family to raise a child, or a parent to raise a child. They want the “village” to keep their hands to themselves—they don’t want too many outside influences corrupting their children. They want to control the input in order to raise their children with their own values.
You can see this dynamic in action with the choices people make about the education of their children. There are many options—boarding schools, private schools, public schools, charter schools, homeschooling. They offer different levels of parental involvement, from total control (homeschool) to totally hands-off (boarding schools).
Some parents are fine entrusting their babies to others for their education, other parents prefer to hold their babies close and educate them themselves. Many choose different options for different children, or different seasons of their lives.
And the great thing is that here in America, we are free to choose.
So it is with publishing. You can entrust your “baby” to a publisher and realize you may not agree with every decision they make, but that you both have the same goal which is to sell books. Or you can go it alone, declining to take advantage of publishers’ expertise yet retaining full control.
So, back to my post on Wednesday… those people who found themselves in a rage over it are clearly not in the “it takes a village” camp, and perhaps less likely to be happy in a collaborative situation. Which is fine.
You can choose to self-publish from the outset and retain control. And if you decide to go with a traditional publisher, you can choose to back out if the contract language doesn’t suit you, or if the publisher isn’t putting forth a good-faith collaborative effort and is instead disrespecting you.
What you really shouldn’t do is judge someone else’s situation without all the facts… but you certainly can look at a situation such as Allison’s and consider how you think you’d behave if it were you. Which was why I wrote the post.
So… what do you think? Does it take a village to raise your baby?
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