Monday, November 06, 2006

blow by blow

How to become an instant hit: take a stave of solid pine, hand it to a friend and ask him to splinter it across your stomach. Or your arm, or even your head. It helps to know just how to brace yourself for the blow. It helps to know how to pack a punch as well as ride one.
Kung fu monks show off their technique
By Guardian Unlimited © Copyright Guardian Newspapers 2006

I probably shouldn't post this.

I'll probably regret it.

I want to preface this post by saying it has absolutely nothing to do with my current situation. My publishing house did a fantastic job getting my latest book in stores, so this is not about them and it's not about me. Last week's big stink about a certain author got me stirred up. I'm not even going to link to it, but people were in an uproar because in a response to a point blank interview question this writer admitted she hasn't always gotten the publisher backing and support she would have liked to have had in her career. Gasp! How dare she?

Before this incident I've taken note of a lot of condemnation toward "outspoken" authors. Personally I experienced an attempted assault on my ass by someone who will remain unnamed because of things I said about the biz, and I've gotten into some arguments with people who say writers aren't supposed to talk about the unfortunate stuff that's happened to them in their careers. That it's equivalent to bad-mouthing your employer. I disagree. People are reducing publishing to a romanticized cozy office business rather than what it is -- a tightly structured corporation with the logical goal of staying in business and making a profit.

You create a product; they buy the product.

Now I'm not talking about someone personalizing a situation and taking out his or her frustration on a blog. Bad idea. Very bad idea. I'm in no way endorsing talking shit, so please don't think that's what this is about. But I do find it hard to understand why people are against writers commenting on stages of their careers and trying to let unpublished writers see that it's not all rosy in here and that different kinds of rejections can occur after a book has been purchased.

Here's how I see it:

1) Your publishing house is not your employer. Writers are self-employed.

2) Your publishing house is not your partner.

If you're lucky you'll have a good working relationship with your editor, but you aren't partners. You could idealistically say you are partners on a project, but there's a certain danger in that kind of thinking because you're creating a false footing. It's a little like saying you and your doctor are partners. It's warm and fuzzy ad-speak. You can like the person. You can enjoy that person's company, but you aren't partners. I've had the same agent for 15 years, but it would be presumptuous of me to say he and I are partners.

Here's something that's way oversimplified, but let's say you just spent three years inventing and created a cool gel pen. You sell the design to a pen factory. You have your money and they can do whatever they want with your pen. So maybe they only do one run and they put it in a few stores around the country, but nobody knows it exists and that's pretty much the end of your pen. You may have had a fantastic relationship with the person who bought your pen, and she will feel sick about what happened, but she was just the buyer in a long process of decisions. And now you're contracted to send this company your next gel pen. I think most people would feel compelled to gripe at least a little. Maybe not even gripe, but share important information. It's all about being prepared for the blow.


Kelly Parra said...

I think writers should know about other writers' experiences, and the net makes this happen. When I first started writing, I thought everything went smoothly for writers. lol. I know different. Yeah, there's a fine line about what to say and what not, but I use my own judgement instead of others. =D

M. G. Tarquini said...

I'm with Kelly. It's been an enormous help reading how agented and published writers fare in the day to day work of this business. Griping is best done from a distant perspective, however. There are ways to put things that get the point across but won't come back to bite one's posterior.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I don't think we help anyone by generating illusions about the business. When I've seen things I want to comment on, I always try to generalize enough so that nobody would know who I'm talking about - still I've found myself leveled with accusations that "this was about me" from people I 100% seriously wasn't writing about. Whole separate issue - if people are so paranoid, thinking everything's about them, you really aren't safe saying anything...

But here's an example that might work for what you're saying Anne. When I was a program director at a school center, I oversaw a dozen staff (mostly part-time, never all at once) working with 50+ kids. A lot of these kids had issues and were on case files. One child was autistic and had an assigned staff worker. Another had been removed from the family home because of sexual abuse. Another child had asperger's.

As a result, I regularly met with case workers from social services who had specific responsibilities towards my high needs children. We shared information. We both had specific interests in these children. We discussed strategies, kept each other informed of any major developments.

But we weren't partners. One of the things I was trying to do was force the board who oversaw my role and the program to clean up our buildings, which weren't up to code. It was definitely something the social services staff commented on. But were they willing to file a written statement addressing the lack of bathrooms in one building? No, because their child(ren) spent 90% of their time in the building with working bathrooms.

That's what I mean. We worked together, yet we weren't partners. Ultimately, as an author, your book means everything to you. You don't care about the other books your publisher is putting out, really. But your publisher does. Your world is your book and that's your business, their business is a lot of books and a lot of authors.

The one thing I'd say is, you should have a business relationship. Be careful about getting too chummy and making it personal. Your publisher won't keep you on the list because you're a nice person... They'll keep you on the list because you meet their sales expectations.

I think that's where a lot of people can go astray. I met a guy here recently who wants to publish his memoirs. (Don't ask me who he is, I haven't a clue.) So he says to me, "I'm almost done. You'll help me get a publisher?" Which is when I say, "No."

And then I explain to him that different publishers handle different material and that what he does next depends on what he wants - just to be published or world domination - and he's looking at me cluelessly.

If you want to be published, learn about the business. Something people talk out of both sides of their mouth on. Publishers (and magazine editors!) want people to follow the guidelines. They want people to play by the rules and will throw you aside for not.

Part of what helps us newbies figure it all out is hearing from those with experience willing to share.

anne frasier said...

kelly, i agree about using your own judgement. it's a choice a writer makes about how much she wants to reveal.

mindy, yeah, a bite on the ass isn't fun. i've a a few mild munches myself. oh, that seems a little dirty. i think the thing that bothers me most is this underlying fear that any negative comment will get a writer blacklisted. it would really be interesting to get a level-headed editor's perspective on that. does an editor think it's blacklist material for an author to say she wished her publisher had backed her more? or would an editor just say she wished they had too? now that i think about it, i've heard editors make that comment.

anne frasier said...

sandra, wow. i could write a ten-page reply here. you made so many good points.

yeah, i worried about this post and my reference to the person who tried to kick my ass. :D that was a long time ago. some will know who i'm talking about; some won't. and as far as the recently flogged author -- i didn't want to perpetuate the nonsense so i didn't mention her name.

and you are also so right about keeping it a business relationship. i know writers who were crushed when dumped because they thought it was best friends forever and they never heard from the editor again. one writer sent lavish wedding and baby shower gifts to her editor over the years. i remember this writer pulling out an expensive baby outfit to show me. i'm not sure the WTF showed on my face or not.

and i also have people ask if i'll find an agent and publisher for them when they write things like non-fiction self help. they don't get it when i say i haven't a clue!! and some get pissed off and think i'm lying. i just went through that a couple of weeks ago.

JA Konrath said...

I've been on the road, so I have no idea what this relates to.

So going by what's here, I agree with much and disagree with some.

Sugar coating never did anyone any good. Telling it like it is isn't sour grapes--it's reality. Authors can only help each other by being honest.

I don't consider my publisher my employer, but I do consider them a partner. We both have the same goals, and we both make money when those goals are reached.

Let's look at the latest real estate trend--flipping houses.

A do-it-yourself handyperson gets an investor, and with the investor's money buys a crummy house, remodels it, and sells it at a profit that they split.

I consider that a partnership, and similar to the publishing industry. They put up the money, you do the work, profit is divvied up.

Liking your partner isn't necessary. And there is ample opportunity to get screwed by your partner, on both sides of the partnership.

I agree that there is a danger of false footing--you aren't equal partners with your publisher. They put up the money, they have the most financial risk, they get to make the major decisions.

But working together is encouraged, understanding each other is helpful, and communication is essential.

If you feel that the partnership didn't work out, you have a right to gripe about it and search for a new partner. Anyone who tells you otherwise is an idiot.

anne frasier said...

joe, quit messing with my head!!

no, you make a really good point with a strong example. i'm going to have to think about this.... i think of partners as being equals, and that's probably where our viewpoint differs. if i accept that we aren't equal then i can probably accept your argument.

Anonymous said...

I have nothing to add.

Except that I'm glad you say what you say.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Going to what Joe is saying, I agree to some degree, but like you Anne I think my problem is the thinking that partners are equal.

If you look at the example I cited re: kids and social services, what's significant that I left out is that social services in some cases paid for these kids to be in my program. Yet they had no more right to tell me to serve cheese and crackers on Tuesday or bananas and apples on Friday than anyone else who. If they were looking to place a child they might call me, but if I didn't have space it wasn't taken personally. There was no, "we have five kids with you and you have to take another." Why? Because we weren't truly partners.

You have a contractual relationship with your publisher. When I fulfill my contract obligations, I might decide to stay put but I could start shopping work elsewhere. My publisher (as if) could say, "I thought we were partners." But we weren't, not really. We had a shared commitment to a certain product that meant them fulfilling certain obligations and me fulfilling certain obligations.

I've heard of agents who've passed on work by their authors, authors who already have books published. The author wants to try something new. The agent isn't as keen on it. They tell the author they still want their other stuff, but this isn't for them. The author sells it independently.

They have a business relationship on some things, but they aren't partners. It's splitting hairs a bit, but that's how I see the distinction.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Maybe it's like the different between limited partners and full partners?

anne frasier said...

thanks, jason!

sandra and joe:
after thinking this over, i'd still have to say it's not a partnership although i could see where a few writers might have something that could fall into that category. for me to call it that i would have to be in on plans for the book. discussions about cover art, how it will be marketed, target audience and genre focus, will it be romance, horror, thriller? shelf space, promotion, ARCs, reviews, etc. as it is now i'm 100% in the dark about all of that. i've sold them a product and they can do whatever they want with it. i can't call that a partnership.

Daniel Hatadi said...

All this not-naming Cloak & Dagger stuff absolutely must lead to a blow-by-blow account of major fisticuffs.

We want blood!

Seriously though, I find it strange that people want to keep the operation of a business totally under wraps, and get feisty if details are 'leaked'. It's all a little too Sun-Tzu for me.

Bailey Stewart said...

As an unpub I really appreciate it when an author gives it to me straight. Why should the publishing world exist as a secret society? Actors talk about studios not backing a movie all of the time and they don't get blacklisted.

And I've heard marriage called a partnership - even when they aren't equal partners. I think it does all boil down to symantics.

Just my little 2 cents worth. *gg*

anne frasier said...

daniel, i want blood too!! yeah!! girl fight!!

i have to say i've never heard anybody in a publishing house say writers shouldn't talk openly about their careers. it's other writers who are saying it -- which seems especially odd to me.

bailey, did you say marriage isn't an equal partnership?

i'm guessing you're talking about the guy who never cleans house, changes diapers, or cooks. he's claiming a partnership, but it's an unequal one.

Shesawriter said...


I agree with you a hundred percent. Excellent points.


anne frasier said...

thanks! we do seem to think alike when it comes to some of the more emotionally charged issues. book trailer comes to mind. :D

Jeff said...

I agree with Tanya. These are excellent points coming from an experienced writer. Thanks!

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Speaking from my vantage point of not having had to deal with this, yet, I can't see how it serves anyone to keep quiet. I think knowing the realities of the business, the struggles that authors go through don't discourage new writers, it just gives them a good dose of reality.

The only people who benefit from a lack of disclosure are the people who make money by taking advantage of people's ignorance.

I'm not going to say anything about partnerships, because I think all of you are right.

anne frasier said...

thanks, jeff!

stephen, joe made some really good points, and i can see the partnership issue from his POV too.

one thing about the realities of the business -- every person will have a different story which is another reason people shouldn't be discouraged from speaking up.

JA Konrath said...

...for me to call it that i would have to be in on plans for the book. discussions about cover art, how it will be marketed, target audience and genre focus, will it be romance, horror, thriller? shelf space, promotion, ARCs, reviews, etc.

I discuss all of that with my publisher, along with promotional plans, advertising, cover and catalog copy, press releases, and coop. Hence my feeling it's a partnership.

But I know I'm not the norm. Not every publisher is open to this input from authors.

Bill Cameron said...

I'm always for learning more myself, so bring it on, Anne! I tend to feel like the author/publisher relation is not really a partnership, though I suppose it depends on how much voice the author has. And by voice I mean not just an opportunity to talk, but a chance to influence decisions and strategy.

angie said...

I was a bit surprised by the response to the whole dealio. So an author isn't over-the-moon thrilled with her publisher and shared her thoughts/feelings on the matter, big whoop. I don't get the trauma drama about sharing those thoughts/feelings and found the outrage to bit a little out of proportion with the alleged crime. I was just about ready to believe that the Homeland Security Dept. was gonna get involved, mebbe set up a special interrogation camp for disgruntled writers...WitMo, maybe?

People bitch about their jobs all the time. Why should the writing profession be different? It's a damn job. The only folks who are shiny happy people about their work situations all the time scare the bejeezus/beelzebubba out of me.

Though I do love a good girl fight!

anne frasier said...

wow, joe. that's amazing and jaw dropping. now i'm wondering if the paperback world is completely different from the hardcover world. i know the paperback world moves much faster and i think mass market writers tend to be treated more like pulp writers. we're expected to write a book in 3 or 4 months, and most mass market writers don't seem to have a problem with that.

anne frasier said...

bill, i agree. the only thing i can recall ever being involved in was the cover for hush. i suggested cemetery gates, so i was really surprised when the cover had cemetery gates. i think some people in the house thought it looked too much like a horror novel. since then i just receive the cover in the mail with a note that says hope you like it. sometimes it's an email with the jpeg file. i think that's how it usually works for most writers, but maybe i'm wrong.

anne frasier said...

angie, well isn't that the damn truth!

"People bitch about their jobs all the time."

"The only folks who are shiny happy people about their work situations all the time scare the bejeezus/beelzebubba out of me." LOL!!! yes!!

Heather Harper said...

"it's other writers who are saying it -- which seems especially odd to me."

If these are the same ilk of people who are moved to purchase elaborate gifts for their editor "friends", then that might explain the why to your question. Maybe they think it will gain them publishing brownie points?

Or what you said. ;)

Dee said...

We ARE suppose to still be entitled to free speech...right?!? Or is that another thing that Bush has decided to over-ride and screw with as he damn well pleases?? Just checking...

Anonymous said...

Of course I agree with your post, Anne! That some writers don't support other writers speaking out against publishers is what bothers me the most because I think a divided front is a weak front. I normally can't stand groupings and group-think and -speak, but on this one issue I do think writers should stick together more--they'd likely get more than being stuck on the bottom of the publishing hierarchy.

Getting many writers to work together does often seem particularly difficult--maybe it's the "writing personality" in part, like that most writers seem solitary and introverted so don't wanna be bothered as much with others. I'm not sure. A bunch of things are probably going on...and some of them ain't pretty.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

If I were married to my publisher could I say she's my partner?

anne frasier said...

heather, i've wondered about that because i have seen a lot of people saying they'd be glad to have her contract and wouldn't complain about anything.

dee, um, you aren't supposed to talk about the shrub here.

just kidding!!

anne frasier said...

fran, i so agree about the writers against writers being the most disturbing.


rob, you could also tell everybody that you're sleeping with your publisher. :D

Helen Brenna said...

I often feel as if we, as authors, don't share enough.

Jealously, envy, crappy stuff like that all lead to writers not wanting to share contract details, etc... Shooting off our own feetsies. Too bad.

anne frasier said...

helen, i could be wrong, but i think this kind of damaging jealousy is more prevalent among romance writers. :( i've seen both extremes in RWA. the really supportive sisterhood, and the i'll-climb-right-over-your-dying-body thing!

bekbek said...

Well now all these writers are commenting and I'm just--

oh hell no, you know I'm going to comment anyway. *grin*

Re partners: Look at any business partnerships. They're equal or unequal. A partnership does not require equality. It only requires commitment.

Why writers are not partners with publishers is that writers do not have a commitment. They're like... faculty pre-tenure. They may have a very solid expectation of a contract renewal, but realistically they can't know for sure about the fall semester until maybe June.

And with that, we are all sure I've worked too long in academia, thank you.

Re bitching, now, this is a different matter. Someone up there in the comments I just read said, "everybody bitches about their job" (and I paraphrase because I'm sure it was much more eloquent). And no, no, they don't. Members of the military, for instance, can be court-martialed about bitching about their jobs in certain ways. Many people have as part of their contract the requirement that they publicly support the company. Certainly in my job, I have been given a mandate that I always speak posivitely about my employer. We're supposed to all represent a product, and that product is to be represented in glowing terms. That's not unusual.

Several other people said, "I like the real information about being a writer." That's wonderful. But that's not the publisher's business. Actually, it IS the publisher's business in a lot of cases. You'll find many "how to write" and "how to get published" books in the bookstore, and Anne here is treading on that territory. Bad Anne, no biscuit!

But here's where I think they're wrong (so you don't all loathe me after all). I used to work at a bookstore. One of the ways we distinguished ourselves was that if we didn't have a book, we frequently called around to the other bookstores and then gave the address to the customer. The point, ALWAYS, was what the reader wanted. At least until the owner finally figured out what was happening. Contrary to our solid reputation, our large customer base, the fact that the average customer would buy something at our store just BECAUSE we'd told them where that other store could be found... escaped him. They had to shop here and only here.

It's equivalent to that annoying thing web designers can do to the Back button of your browser. I mean, come on, if I can't back up, do you honestly think that's going to lead me to BUY? Aaaaaagh!

But that's a very long-standing sales mentality. And publishers have it in droves.

The author doesn't talk about the biz, and certainly doesn't present it in less than glowing terms. Because buyers are NEVER to be educated. They are to be captured and held until they purchase. Period.

People think publishers are somehow about freedom, because words are about freedom. But publishers are just salespeople with money and a lot of paper.

anne frasier said...

bekbek, what a fantastic comment. i might have to give it a blog post of its own so people are sure to read it. i loved it all the way through, but i'm particularly fond of the last two sentences.

bekbek said...

Tch. I was just bloggin'. You know how it is.

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