Does it Take a Village to Raise a Book?

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?

© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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  • Raquel Byrnes

    >I cannot get over how many times I saw your blogpost or a mention of its content tweeted or reposted. Wow! You touched a nerve with that scenario. I think writers tend to enjoy complete control in our own little universe that we create and the idea that some of that might slip away can be frightening.

    It made me think of how I might handle that situation. How much confidence do I have that I know everything I need to know about marketing or cover design?

    In the end, someone has to step in and give direction…so yeah, I guess it does take a village. At least for my baby. =)
    Edge of Your Seat Romance

  • mt si dad

    >I'm not too excited by the idea that a publisher might want to change the title or cover that I dreamed about.

    But I think the publisher has more insight into what will sell as a title (and what will sell as a cover) than I do, as I'm the writer and developer of the story. I mean, the publisher has (I hope) been in business for decades or even more than a century (can you hear me, New York City publishers? I will be more than happy to let you pick my book title!), wants to make money, and will do what it takes to get my ugly duckling to become a beautiful swan.

    I realize that I might have a title in mind, and I might feel very, very strongly what it should be. But I have to say that I need to see this as a collaborative effort.

    And, if I am going to work with the publisher, I think I'd work very, very hard to negotiate what the title should be, and if I absolutely hate it, I should be free to take my cookies back and go home.

    So I'm OK with saying the publisher can select a different title, I can have input, and ultimately if I don't like the new title, I can choose not to let the publisher print the book.

    YMMV, of course.

  • Transparent Mama

    >First, I love the picture you selected with this post. It makes it feel like a friendly, loving, trustworthy village. That is the kind I would entrust my real children to.

    When it comes to my writing, I am much more loose and understand that it is a business and in that sense, I certainly need the village of experts that is the publishing industry.

  • Kaci

    >Well, you're right; we don't know the situation. Personally, for the most part, especially as a newbie, I'd be okay. Might not like it, but overall, you do whatcha gotta do. Where my hackles raised was the mention of someone not having read it. You're right; I don't know what happened; but, honestly, at that point I'd have to walk away from my laptop for awhile, cool off, and think of a courteous way to reply.

    At any rate, yes, it takes a village. There's a reason the Acknowledgments section gets so long. 0=)

  • Carol Riggs

    >Well, publishers are in the business of producing books, and they DO have more experience about what sells than I do. So I would probably listen to their wisdom regarding the title and cover. I'd be more clingy on the title, however. LOL

    I always mock up my own covers for fun since I'm also an artist, but someone who does that for a living is likely MUCH better at it than I am. ;o)

  • Aimee L Salter

    >Of course it takes a village – and any writer that wasn't first a top editor would be shooting themselves in the foot to blanket-ly declare otherwise.

    But….

    It isn't comparing apples with apples is it? If say, one of the Big Six grabbed my book and told me in no uncertain terms what the title should be and cover, I'd say "Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir" and be fine with it.

    If a hack independent who wanted me to pay half the design costs and sell the book out of the back of my car said the same… well… I doubt I would respond with such restraint.

    So surely each situation must be taken on it's merits?

    I'm just glad agents like yourself and Chip MacGregor are so open with your input and advice to new writers. A couple of years back when i was just starting out it was you guys who showed me if I was ever going to be a success at traditional publishing, I needed to accept that most of the time, someone else was going to know better than me – at least for the first few books.

    So, yes. It takes a village. But I suspect the more successful 'children' you've had, the more other people are ready to listen to you, rather than putting you in your corner. At least, I'd hope so.

  • A3Writer

    >I guess I've been poking around in the publishing world long enough that I wasn't really shocked over the title and cover stipulations. It's unfortunate it went to that degree, but I knew that was outside of the norm.

    I'm fine with the village or whatever metaphor of choice. I'm not a marketing expert. I'm a writer. And while I may think my title is pretty good and clever, that doesn't mean it will catch people's attention to the point it will sell. The same holds true with the cover. I'm not a graphic artist, and don't know what will grab people's attention most.

    Even the writing process itself is collaborative. We all have alpha readers who look things over and give us help with a manuscript. We go over the thing again and again before it even gets off to an agent (who will go over it) and then the editors at the publishing house (who will do likewise). It's all in an effort to make the book more marketable, which keeps us all fed and working.

    Maybe, just maybe, if one of us is lucky enough to reach the fame of Stephen King or J.K. Rowling we can have enough leverage to stipulate control over title and cover, but we have to slog through the bottom until we get to the top of the dog pile.

  • Yevgeny

    >I say, the upside of this debate is the enlightenment. You were seeking to give information to prospective authors. I can commend that.

    I would rather go into publishing knowing the worst-case scenario. I've been looking into the publishing world for some time now, and it is not news to me that a department at the publishing house chooses the cover/title.

    I hope that hopeful future-authors will take it in stride and won't let something like a cover get them down too much! The book still has plenty of potential once people start reading and recommending it.

  • Joanne@ Blessed…

    >Rachelle,

    For me, this is clearly a heart vs. a head situation.

    You hit a nerve with your blog-audience because we're writers and our hearts are entangled within the pages of our books.

    As the creator of my ideas and my book, my heart bleeds over my words. I dream in titles and enticing book covers.

    I heard once at a conference that the average paperback 200 page book costs $40,000 to publish. Which means a publishing house must think with a clear head.

    For this reason a writer should concede to the professionals, especially when they are beginners.

    If Allison is right and the title and cover are damaging, she must hope her words in her book become a heartbeat that resonates loud enough for her readers to hear.

  • Keli Gwyn

    >Having worked as an assistant editor at a small publishing company, I saw for myself how much the publisher has vested in a book's success. There's team of experts ready to do everything in their power to produce the best product possible. Knowing that makes it easier for me to embrace the "village" philosophy. I'm not a graphic artist who can design awesome covers or a marketing whiz who can single-handedly promote my book. I'm a writer–one who wants a team of talented publishing pros working on my behalf.

  • Anonymous

    >I'm not a prima donna who insists things be done MY way or the highway, but the scenario you described showed such a lack of respect to BOTH of you that it seemed totally unprofessional.
    I can't imagine a major publisher treating an agent with such disregard for her opinions and advice. You'd think they'd at least consider your ideas if they really wanted to work with you again, you think? We hear horror stories about writers being mistreated, but we expect our agents to protect and direct us. This publisher seems like a bully and a jerk!

    Of course I don't mind a *friendly* village working on my book, but not one that wants to ignore and abuse me and my work. Anyway, good luck and thanks for the eye-opener.

  • Lila Swann

    >I would be open to publishers changing my book title and/or cover ideas. My first draft was complete in September, and I still haven't decided on a title or cover idea. I personally find it silly to get so attached to what I consider frivolous details, and I'm sure that's why I would be open to publishers fiddling with them. Now, if a publisher wanted to change my characters' names/appearances, then I'd get snippy.

  • Nicolette

    >Whilst I'm writing, the book depends on me alone, yet when it gets sent to the publisher, I understand that lots of other people get to chuck in their ideas. Sometimes it will have a goood outcome, sometimes (maybe) not. But it becomes a collaborative effort from then on in. All of us working together to make the book a success.

  • Rosemary Gemmell

    >I'm having a great first experience being published by a small independent, royalty-paying publisher. But, yes, I understand that the bigger advance-paying publishers work with more of a village scenario. And that's fine. I'd always appreciate collaboration but trust that experienced companies know what they're talking about – and what sells books.

    One of my well-published friends hated the cover of her most recent hardback novel, but it wasn't changed and it still sold well.

    The rather racy, but appropriate, title of her non-fiction book was accepted, but the publisher wanted to change it at the last minute. She absolutely refused and they backed down in the end as they wanted the book.

    Personally, I think I'd be quite happy to let a major publisher take control, if I had a good agent!

  • Katie Ganshert

    >Yep. For sure. Or you could say it takes a team of trained professionals to deliver the baby….err, book. I've grown it in my belly. You're like my dula – getting me in the right position, trying to make this as comfortable as possible. Talking with the doctors. And I don't care how well I've grown this baby in my belly, I need the doctor to pull the dang thing out and make sure its breathing and healthy when it arrives.

  • Jody Hedlund

    >Now that I've had one book published and am working on the next, I can honestly say, that even though the process IS painful at times, I'm really glad to have HARD in-house editors who have pushed me to make my stories better. They want my books to suceed and are doing everything they can to make that possible. So while I may not always agree or like all of their choices, I'm glad to have a team of people pushing me and my books to be the best they can possibly be.

  • S.P. Bowers

    >It absolutely takes a village. I don't know of a single writer who does it alone. From the info and tips we receive from blogs and websites, writer's group, crits and feedback, agents, publishers, even your mom who, of course, says she loves it. A lot of writing is solitary and the writer doesn't have to take the advice offered, but it is offered.

    This is a village business.

  • Em-Musing

    >It does take a village. Just hope I don't get the village idiot with my baby.

  • Sue Harrison

    >Village, definitely. I'm so close to my book by the time it's complete, I'm looking at it cross-eyed. Praise God for people with clear vision who are willing to invest energy and ability into making my books so much better than I ever could my own.

  • B.E. Sanderson

    >I like to think that when my time comes, I'll be fine with whatever superficial changes a publisher wants to make. As long as they don't mess with the heart of the story – which is the baby I raised – then whatever clothes they dress her up in is their choice. Of course, I'm still hanging out in the unpublished wing of the sanitarium, so we'll have to wait and see if I can hold to that should I ever make it to the other side.

  • Mike Duran

    >Writers who cannot collaborate, at some level, should check themselves. The bigger any project gets — whether it be a film, a concert, an album, an exhibit, a show, or a book — the more you simply have to trust others. Unless an author has enough money to front a big project, the determination do it entirely their way, the talent to fill every role, and the time to oversee every detail, at some point they're going to have to defer to someone. Artists who don't trust "the village" are usually better off in a hermitage or a desert island.

  • Wendy Paine Miller

    >It cracks me up how often we are on the same wave. I’ve been waiting for the day I can write a status like this on my FB wall.
    When my book is nearing its release date I thought it would be fun to write, I’m having a baby and you know what they say, it takes a village.

    And then I read this!

    If I’m in trusted business relationships, I’ll look forward to the collaboration required to publish my book and bring it to its full potential.

    ~ Wendy

  • Kristy Bryan

    >As someone who has recently had her first child, my husband and I often comment a village of support is ideal to raise a baby. Of course, the village must be comprised of people who respect you and the baby, and share common goals. The village also works best when the strengths of each contributing member are utilized. I think the same is true for our written babies. We've got to find the publisher who loves and respects the initial product we submit but ultimately helps us strengthen the book and persuade others to open its pages.

  • Crystal Jigsaw

    >I think right now, I'd rather receive input and advice when it comes to publishing my book. Unless I was a well-respected and well-established author, I would imagine having full say in the cover and publishing issues would be far from reality.

    If someone isn't prepared to take critism and suggestions on ways to improve, then how do they expect to improve in the first place?!

    CJ xx

  • Terri Tiffany

    >Ok.Something must be wrong with me. I never ever think of what my cover will look like when I'm writing my book–I'm not creative in that area. And I'm writing my fifth book now and don't even have a working title! I let the people who are good at what they do, do it!

  • Richard Mabry

    >Speaking from my own experience, I thought I had a great title for my debut novel, only to be told that it didn't reflect the medical nature of my "medical thriller." The publisher suggested another title, which I didn't really like but agreed to. That title, Code Blue, apparently was a good choice, judging by the sales record of the book. And in choosing working titles for subsequent books, I relied on what I learned during that experience.
    It just goes to prove what I've always said: You don't buy a dog and bark yourself. I guess the stipulation there is that the dog is experienced at barking and you trust it to do its job.

  • Timothy Fish

    >You can’t have it both ways. I think most of your readers have an expectation that the publisher will have input into the final product and the writer may not be completely satisfied with the result. The problem is that you told the story of a publisher that fought hard to change the cover and title, but didn’t even know what the book was about. I don’t know of any author who thinks a village is qualified to tell him what’s wrong with his book if the village hasn’t even read the book. If you want us to stand behind the publisher, give us a publisher we can stand behind, but none of us want to put our lot with a publisher as incompetent as the picture you painted.

  • B.E.T.

    >I would love for more people to be involved in raising my 'baby.' I acknowledge that I don't know how to advertise myself and need some assistance, I acknowledge that I need outside eyes to look at my stuff and spot mistakes I probably missed. I acknowledge that if I want my book to be successful, then a publisher will probably have just as much incentive as me to want to make that happen, if not more. So I'd have to say yes to that question. Though I'm also one of those 'mothers' who still wants a say in my baby's life! If I get cut out entirely, goodbye village, we're moving to somewhere warmer.

  • Shelby

    >no man is an island.. most folks are aware of that fact.

    I would add.. no [relatively sane mentally adjusted somewhat mostly happy with same aforetomentioned attributed children] man is an island.

    It doesn't have to take a village, but the villagers can help quite a lot if allowed in.

    Community – relationships .. good things.

  • Susan

    >What a great comparison. It takes a village. In my opinion, it also takes a village to raise children.

    We must be open to outside expertise. It's as simple as that in most cases. Our work may be our baby but in order for that baby to be at its best and flourish, we must face the fact that there may be areas of weaknesses that need work.

    Just like our children, it hurts when this happens but ignoring the weaknesses or choosing to ignore expert opinions, does not make the situation go away or get better.

    Whether it's your child or your book, it's best to be open to criticism in order to strenghthen areas of weakness.

    That's what good parents do.

    That's what great authors do.

  • emmasota

    >I have worked for a traditional publisher in the past and am currently collaborating with my co-authors and publisher (Berrett-Koehler) on a business book. I can say wholeheartedly that it takes a village, and I absolutely love being involved in the process. When I finish my memoir, I will definitely be interested in working with a whole book team (agent, publisher, etc.). With the right people involved, the book will be all the richer!

  • Julie Jarnagin

    >I've learned so much working with the publisher on my first book. They deal with issues every day that I'd never even considered. I'm striving to soak in as much of their experience and knowledge as possible.

  • Jillian Kent

    >I'd have to say it does take a village.I've just completed the process of finishing my first book for publication. I was delighted when my title, Secrets of the Heart, The Ravensmoore Chronicles, Book One, was accepted without any changes. I was also surprised. I thought it might have a totally different title. And the cover art is wonderful and they agreed to some minor tweaking that I requested. I'm currently waiting to see that.

    But also when one takes the traditional publishing route there will be many other things that may need to change. Many of your words may need to be thrown out, you may have to rewrite different scenes that you loved, a number of times, and you need to be flexible with this. It's been a huge learning curve for me and I've got so much more to learn. But hey, this is a new experience and there's always something to learn. Just think of it as your publishing house caring enough to teach you and help you grow.

    Everyone is going to have a different experience and we all hope it's a good one, but as Rachelle explained, it doesn't always go well. Hopefully it will get better for Allison.

  • Jeanne Veillette Bowerman

    >Great post, Rachelle. I say the same thing about it taking a village to make a film. It's actually even more true in a screenwriter's world. The finished product on screen often barely resembles the original script. For me, the idea of how few people it takes in a novelist's world is appealing :)

    Fundamentally, I believe it helps all writers to be open to opinions and suggestions. Even in freelance, I never submit an article without an editor coming back with notes. You need to learn to divorce yourself from the sting of criticism and just get the job done.

    I look forward to the day a publisher, agent, editor, or even the garbage man, gives me advice to make my novel stronger and more marketable.

    Dear Village: bring it on!

  • Tracey Solomon

    >Village? I vote for a Continent… I love collaboration and welcome input and the expertise of others. I'm hip deep in an exciting project right now- and can't wait to see how a publisher may want to tweak it.

    Of course- there are a few core things that I feel passionate about and that would take a lot of convincing to change- however- my job is to write what I'm passionate about- theirs is to create something that is sellable out of it…

    That's not my area of expertise- so I'll defer to the publisher for that piece.

    It just makes sense- ;)

  • Anne Mateer

    >When I signed my first contract with a traditional publisher last year, I did it with full knowledge that they would come to this book with their own ideas of titles and covers. And I was okay with that. Why? Because their books sell well. They don't approach titles or book covers flippantly, but with many years of experience and expertise behind them. Experience and expertise that I don't possess as a writer, though I might have an emotional attachment to a title or a book cover idea. What I have studied and worked at is writing a good story. What they have studied and worked at is how best to package a good story so that readers find it. I guess for me it comes down to that point: Am I willing to admit someone else might have more knowledge/information in an area concerning my book than I do? You bet! No one can be an expert in everything.

  • Heidiopia

    >I'm nowhere close to having to worry about this, but I so appreciate that you've put it on my radar. I AM someone who likes control to a certain extent, so this will clearly be something I will need to think through. Thanks for sparking an enlightening conversation!

  • Mindy

    >I know personally I would have a hard time if the publisher tried to change my title as I choose titles for specific reasons. However, I don't mind collaborating as long as I am working with people who are considerate to how I feel about my "baby". I have learned a lot about myself and my writing through collaborating but again with the right people. If I had to work with that publisher "Allison" worked with, oy oy oy you would have to give me a sedative to calm me down.

  • A.C. Townsend

    >Certainly outside, expert input is required to strengthen and tighten a novel. I am so blessed to have a college professor emeritus of English who has worked with writers for years as my editor and friend. The first book in my trilogy underwent considerable, numerous rewrites under her guidance, and the revisions turned a nice story into a dynamic story (in my opinion, of course). We went through the same process with books 2 and 3.

    I have been doing graphic design for years as a paid professional, so for me, designing and creating a cover is a natural extension of writing the book. (Much like dressing your own child in clothing of your choice.) But I would welcome suggestions from a publisher who had read the book and conceived cover ideas from the story.

    Ultimately, I agree with Kristy Bryan: it does take a village to raise a child / publish a book, but the village should be comprised of people who share our values, who respect us as parents / authors, and in whom we can trust.

    Thanks, Rachelle. Have a blessed and beautiful day! ~ Angela

  • Cindy R. Wilson

    >Yes, I believe it takes a village–and that's even before it gets contracted. Not all writers have others read their work before submitting to agents or publishers–or even before getting contracted–but most of us do. Critique partners or beta readers or even friends. And all that input helps in creating a book that better serves its purpose.

    When it gets to the publishing level, having a village (at least for me) is worth it. There are people that know better about certain aspect of it all (covers, titles, etc.) and I'd rather have their advice and experience than relying on my own.

  • Jill

    >It really depends on what you mean by "it takes a village". I don't think it takes a village to raise a child, and I'm not going to put up with villagers, who aren't related to me, telling me what I should and shouldn't do for educating and medicating my children. Part of my resistance comes from taking a lot of abuse over the years for being a home-school mom. Almost everybody has an opinion on medicine and education, it seems, regardless of whether their opinions are based on extensive research, as mine are. But I'm not going to say no to people who contribute to my children's well-being in a way that I deem appropriate. Everybody needs help, including me. I don't feel as strongly about publishing because my books aren't my children. In a very small way, it's the same, though. There are some moral issues I wouldn't compromise on. In general, I'm ready to take advice and contributions and I'm ALWAYS willing to edit/polish my MSs at others' advice (if it's good advice!). So, like I said, it depends on what you mean by "it takes a village".

  • T. Anne

    >I don't mind if a village, city, or planet helps raise my paper-child. All that matters is that it evolves to be the lovely being I always new it would be. And if it just so happened to land on the NYT bestseller list, well, it would do this mom's heart proud. ;)

  • D.J. Hughes

    >I thought the earlier post offered fantastic insight into what could potentially happen. Sure, that may not be the norm, but it was helpful to read, nonetheless, and spend some thoughtful time considering how I would respond in such a situation. It's posts like these that help to prepare us would-be authors. Thanks for writing.

  • Kristin Laughtin

    >It might take a village to raise a child, and there's probably a different answer depending on each village and child in question. Your post had the right effect on me, I guess, because I did start thinking about what I would do if a publisher wanted to change one of my titles I'm more attached to. And as long as I was being treated respectfully, I'd probably try to go along with it in the hopes of seeing my book published (as long as I didn't think the title was so generic it might hurt the book). If the village gives the child a better chance, why would I fight it? But I'll still try to be the best parent I can before the village steps in, and then hope they don't need to do too much.

  • Kay Day

    >I was surprised at how surprised people were by Wednesday's post.
    I had heard similar stories before, so I already knew it was a possibility that not everything will go my way.
    I have a lot of opinions about things, but I also realize that I don't know everything about publishing and the market. So I want the village put their hand in.
    I do hope to work with people who will value my input, though. At least listen, even if they don't agree in the end. It's a matter of respect.
    It's insulting as well as frightening to have your baby ripped from your arms by people who say, "You delivered this baby, but we'll take it from here."

  • Timothy Fish

    >With all of this “it takes a village” talk, I’m getting images in my head of Hillary Clinton baking cookies and offering writing advice.

  • Carol J. Garvin

    >From conversations with other writers I already knew that publishers expect to have the final say on covers and titles. What disturbed me about Allison's situation was that the publishing staff hadn't read her story before making those decisions. Surely that's an exception?

    I don't have a lot of experience yet so I'll be happy to lean on the expertise of agent, editors and publisher when the time comes. After I've proved myself perhaps I'll feel differently. For now, my part of the collaboration will be to provide a well written story, and do what I can to develop a platform to assist with its marketing.

  • Laura Lorek

    >"Editors and publishers will come and go, but you’re stuck with your values forever.” William Zinsser

  • Sharon A. Lavy

    >I have no problem with those who have turned against traditional publishing. If you don't want to learn the system and work with the system . . .

  • Sharon A. Lavy

    >Some people don't mind letting agents and editors that they will be a pain to work with. =)

  • Heather Webb

    >It certainly takes a village to complete a well-developed, marketable book. It's important to trust your agent and the people with whom they work to make the best choices for your work TO SELL. It seems inconsequential to have a title or cover changed in the grand scheme of things. Some writers appear to be too thin-skinned and should probably rethink their chosen field. This is very much a business, not just an artform. Embrace what you can and brace yourself for the rest- or look into self-publishing.

  • Judy

    >Except in extreme cases involving parents who are either incompetent or indifferent, most good boarding schools are not "totally hands off" when it comes to parental involvement. My son is in his third year of boarding school, and while I miss him very much at home, I remain purposefully involved in his life in all kinds of ways. Many of his teachers are good friends. We communicate on a regular basis. I attend athletic and performance events often. Will's school is a "village," to be sure, a community that prides itself upon providing a home away from home, a quality way of life, not just a classroom experience. Parents are warmly welcomed on campus, and the bridge between school and home often feels seamless; in fact, the school couldn't survive without the supportive and loving presence of moms and dads.

    I cannot begin to count or describe the many ways in which the two worlds – home and boarding school – have intimately enhanced each other, in ways that have enriched my children's lives. We remain a close family, and my kids are well educated, not just academically but also in terms of authentic human connections.

    http://www.watchingthegame.typepad.com/

  • sarahanneloudinthomas

    >I try to subscribe to the reader response school when it comes to anything I've written (and all the details surrounding it). Once I put it out there, it's open to interpretation and that includes the title, the cover, formatting, reviews, etc. I've only published poetry and articles to this point, but I know that editors have a great deal of input into what I've given them. Generally, I'm just pleased to be in print and have been blessed to work with editors who make good suggestions. The difference between a book and a baby is that you WANT the whole world to hold, handle and yes, OWN, your book. And that means letting it go . . .

  • Kerri M.

    >I definitely agree that it takes a village to raise my lil' book baby. Sure I may have 'birthed' the idea, then revised the crap out of the little devil, but I can't do everything. Like I wouldn't be able to be a ballet instructor, math expert or college professor to my (as of yet non-existant) real children.

    As long as there is professional respect on both sides, I think collaboration can be a really amazing tool for both author and publisher.

    Great food for thought Rachelle!

  • Andrea Costantine

    >I couldn't agree with you more. I can only imagine how many more books would be complete and out in the world if authors enlisted the village. Finishing two of my own books in 2010, it takes a tremendous amount of effort and energy. Now I'm mentoring other who are going through that process, and I'm amazed at the speed one can progress with a little support.

  • Beth

    >Good points, Rachelle. Here's my two cents:

    I'm a writer, but I've also worked in a publishing house, and there are some things that everyone needs to remember:

    • Most writers are not artists or designers and they don't have an eye for what will look good as far as a cover. They also generally don't know what's current along those lines. Trust the people who do. Most of the time they won't let you down.

    • The publishing house is going to a tremendous amount of effort and expense on behalf of the writer to get the book published. They have a bigger vested interest since they're putting up all the money to do it, and I think they have the right to a substantial input if not all of it. If you want to call all the shots, self-publish, but you'll pay a high price to do it. Most of us aren't equipped with the knowledge to print, distribute, and market a book. If you can do these things, good for you. If you don't want to or simply can't, decide to be flexible. It's possible.

    • Allison's story was WEIRD. It looks like a case of terrible miscommunication mixed with some incompetence gone bad. It's definitely not the norm. Why would any lucid publisher with a financial investment in your book do this? It's very rare! You and the publisher are both on the same side.

    Great book to help people understand the WHOLE publishing process is Harold Underdown's 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books.' It's practically a complete education that you won't regret, and you'll go in with your eyes open, even if you don't write kids' books.

  • Katherine Hyde

    >I'm definitely in the "it takes a village" camp. But the crucial thing is to choose your village wisely. Just as I do not send my children out to be raised by the world at large, but rather solicit the help of my trusted church community, I would not send my written "babies" to just any publisher. I would want a publisher I could rely on to edit sensitively, choose a title and cover that reflect the essence of the book while appealing to its target market, and get the book out to that target market most effectively. Those are all (well, maybe except the titling) things I don't feel confident that I could do myself as well as the trained professionals at a publishing company could do them for me.

    Of course, even if you manage to find a publisher that you think will respect your work and your voice, things can go wrong, and you have to be prepared to flow with that to a certain extent. At some point we have to let go of our written babies just as we do our human ones, and trust that they will not depart too far from the paths in which we have reared them.

  • Martin Rose

    >There's a lot of varied and interesting viewpoints involved in the post, but the impressions I got wasn't that the cover and the title were what made the situation so volatile — rather, to go through all that, and discover that no one had read the book in the first place. For me, that's a straw to break any camel's back, but everybody has a different and heated opinion. Which makes it a great post, really.

  • Jeremy Myers

    >In my various published works, I welcomed all collaborative efforts and editorial input. There were only a few that I rejected.

    I think the input of others made my ideas stronger.

  • Tabitha Maine

    >I don't think of my manuscripts as babies.

    At some point after my initial creative surge, it becomes the reader's. I'm always questioning: Will the reader like this?

    I've come to the conclusion that I'll need to trust people (the village) in the industry to do what they think is best. Nobody wants to sabotage anyone on purpose–it would be a waste of money.

  • friendtoyourself.com

    >You and I think a lot alike although we have different platforms. Self-care. Starting with yourself. Being a friend to yourself before doing anything else always leads to the best results for everyone. Self-care does not imply selfishness. It is not a disconnecting force from others. These things are often implied in your posts and I celebrate them!
    Loved this. Thanks.

  • Henriette Power

    >I've found that the collaborative aspect if publishing and many artistic endeavors is one of the pleasures of writing. In fact, I wrote about exactly that just last week for my post on Beyond The Margins. I realize, as rachelle points out, that collaborative brainstorming isn't for everyone–and it didn't always used to be for me. But I guess I've been converted, to the extent that I think it's human nature to want to share, to draw energy from working together. http://beyondthemargins.com/2010/12/brainstorming-give-the-people-what-they-want/

  • modicumoftalent.com

    >Thing is, indies can have a village, too–book designers, attorneys, freelance editors, beta readers, etc. who all have input into the finished product. And that's fine. It's just that the indie is the chieftain(ess) of the village and gets the final say rather than calling in the shaman (publisher) who has the power to veto anything he/she doesn't like.

    It may have seemed from MY response that I'm not in the "village" camp, but I'm happy to admit I can't do everything myself. I have no artistic skills. My amazing cover for my forthcoming novel was done by a freelance designer. I also have a CPA from my freelance commercial writing work, and a friend is drawing a map freehand for me. I'm totally in the "village" camp. I just want to be the chieftainess. :)

    And as far as education, I've chosen to send my kids to a charter school for elementary, public for middle and high, but I have friends who homeschool and I have friends who do private school. None of us see our education choices as an excuse not to parent. When you sign a contract with a publisher, you are, in some ways, giving your "child" (book) up for adoption — or at least sending it to military or boarding school, where your influence is greatly reduced. I choose not to give up that amount of creative control, because I don't want to risk the scenario you described last week.

    Thank you again for being so gracious about sharing the story and engaging in the dialogue around the post. You give agents a *good* name. :)

    Amy

  • Donna Perugini

    >Since I've already been published I'm looking at this from another viewpoint.

    I'd definitely go with a publisher and work with them on the manuscript. Having an agent also is a super-plus, so I'd be looking for one.

    I have just re-issued my four children's books and some people see my books as self-published (even though they were previously published). Having a publisher and an agent can be heavenly compared to re-issued or self published, working by myself digging up reviews, marketing opportunities, paying for services, book trailers, blog building, etc.

    It's a small incovenience to have a title changed or book cover problem. The way I see it, those things can be worked on in unison within the agent, publisher and author triangle.

    I'll bet on Rachelle's abilities to negotiate for Allison's requests!

  • Jil

    >I would certainly want to have such a trusting and friendly relationship with my agent that I could depend on her leading me safely through that village. I know I could not do it alone.

  • Catherine

    >I wouldn't have any objections to the book cover being decided. I would have done the same as Allison did and try to negotiate for changes to the better cover. But like I said before, the title would be another matter. If I like the new title they suggest, great. If I think it has more marketability, great, but if I don't like it then it's out, period. If the publisher said there would be no more discussions on the title, I'd cancel my contract and go elsewhere if I felt that strongly about it. There's no sense spending years of time and energy writing a novel and then turning the other cheek while a publisher grenades that work into the ground. I might not be an expert, but I'm no fool.

    However, if those fears were unfounded, if that anxiety was for naught, then that's where my agent comes in and reassures me that the publisher has my best interests at heart and that the concept for the cover/title will work, despite my misgivings.

    -Cat

  • Paula Robinson Rossouw

    >In my experience, it definitely takes a village to raise a book… but with plenty of open fields nearby to go and scream in (unheard) and stomp your feet!! Once you've calmed down, it's easier to return to the campfire with a smile on your face and an open mind!

    When I first saw the cover of my book, my heart sank and I lost it for about five minutes. But I was lucky to have a great publisher, open to constructive suggestions. We ended up with a cover that everyone loved: a true village creation.

    Similarly with the editing: I swore like a trooper when I got the first batch of edited pages back. But once I'd stopped being precious about 'MY words', I saw that the editor's changes had improved the book. Sarah took on board my objections to certain changes and the editing process was fun – again the village principle in action!

    I think it's very easy as writers to get over possessive about our babies – for obvious reasons. But there's so much to be learned from the expertise of agents and publishers. They're not always right but, at the end of the day, we're all on the same side: trying to produce the best possible books for our readers.

  • Jennifer Fromke

    >This village concept makes me wonder how many authors out there really do everything all by themselves. I comb through my text many times before I'm even willing to send it to my crit partners. Then I incorporate many of their suggestions, which lead to more self-editing before I show anyone else what I've written. So before I submit anything to a contest, an agent or anyone, many eyes have given my writing the once-over, and oftentimes the twice-over, and the writing is better.

    Left on my own, in a hovel, writing all by myself in the wilderness, would produce writing that is less than my best. Far less-than. The village makes my work better, but it's still my work.

  • Andrea

    >I may not think it takes a village to raise my daughter, but I tend to view my writing a bit differently. I put my best into it, and then look for thoughtful critique that will help me polish and improve it further.

    As for covers, titles and jacket content, I welcome all the help I can get. I admit I stink at titles. I'm not a graphic artist. So, though I may have a particular vision, I go in with my mind open to better possibilities. It would be difficult to have a publisher disregard my wishes entirely; I'd have to consider all the variables before deciding whether to continue with such a partner. Collaboration is good; control without consideration not so much.

    So, you might say that I do think it takes a village to publish a book…simply not the village drunk!

  • Martin Rose

    >Thought: This analogy of "taking a village to raise a child" is interesting. Let's just hope the village isn't Salem, Massachusetts, circa 1692.

  • Jo Huddleston

    >Yes, for me it took a village. My 3 traditionally-published nonfiction books went through the hands of all departments at the publishers and we had no disagreements to work through. Thanks for the interesting and thought-provoking post.

  • Claude Forthomme

    >Your two posts were eye-openers for me…and let me say that I'm the sort of person who understands that a "village" is needed to publish a book and I can accept it. Particularly regarding cover art: after all, a publisher likes to have a certain brand image and one has to leave him free to select what he sees as appropriate.

    But that a publisher can change a title and without giving very strong arguments to do so? Wow! That came as a total surprise! Sometimes I have difficulties finding a title for what I write and welcome the help. But other times, the title is just RIGHT for the work and I can't imagine how a publisher could change it. He'd have to come up with damn good arguments – related to marketing issues that I don't know about to convince me.
    In Allison's case, it sounds like she had no choice in the end: either go along or not get published. A tough choice!

  • Kathleen’s Catholic

    >I've spent many years in traditional secular publishing, in nonfictional adult trade, both as a staff editor and a freelancer editor and author for major houses. The best bit of advice I give to all writers (but only if I'm asked) is that they should not be married to their work. In every way, a writer grows and stretches to new strengths if he/she is willing to consider, digest, and even "try on" what an editor is proposing. I've been blessed to be able to witness and live both sides of the coin, editor and author. I, too, know what it is like to hear that a piece of my work must be reworked or even re-conceived. And, like everyone else, I've received many rejections.

    Perhaps going back to the drawing board is more natural to me, since I began as an editor. I can also say that I've helped many, many writers see through a wall against which they might have written themselves. It is those writers who are commited to each and every word they wrote who find the process painful and frustrating. By far, it is best to be creative and open minded. (That doesn't mean relinquishing your vision.)

    If it takes a parent, a family, or a village to publisher a book, it really doesn't matter. It's the writer's willingness to be open-minded and to prayerfully consider suggestions that make the process not only one of publishing but one of growth and, in the end, of delight.

    P.S. I'm a homeschooling mom. Obviously, my firm educational choice as a parent does not reflect in any way my professional writing/publishing philosophies.

  • Kathleen’s Catholic

    >A post about writing:

    http://kathleenscatholic.blogspot.com/2010/02/rewrite-my-friend-rewrite.html

    Catholic author Susie Lloyd called it fun and well done and recommended it on Facebook. A nice comment from a terrific writer. Hope you can enjoy.

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