8/3/07

I'm Not Testy; I Have a Positive Self Image

Found in the comments section of yesterday's post. I moved it here because a lot of people do not read comments and he has a legit concern, complaint. A lot of first time authors ask these kinds of questions. (Although most of them do not call me "testy" or refer to my treatment of their ideas as bull-dozerish.)
Why is that editors get so testy when an author dares to tread upon their creative world and suggest a cover design or a title, but they drive their bulldozers all over the author's creative world like so much ado about nothing. I know. Covers are what they pay your for. Editing is what they pay you for. But for heaven's sakes, will there ever be an editor humble enough to recognize that an author just may have a good sense about a cover that will market their book well. Or that an author just may have a better title than the marketing guys across the hall. Probably not!

Anonymous

When I went back to the comments to copy and paste them, I discovered that Robison Wells had answered the question—and he is dead on. Here is Rob's reply.
Anonymous, I like to compare it to royalties. There's a reason that authors only get 5-15% of a book's cost: it's because the author is only one piece of a very large puzzle. It's a vital piece, certainly, but it's still only one piece.

If an author has as much good marketing sense as you stated--if they know that their title/cover/marketing ideas are great--then why not just self-publish? Richard Paul Evans is the perfect example: he was a professional marketer, and he's made gobs of money.

Besides, most publishers are very willing to discuss titles and covers (though they'll almost all maintain veto power), but they don't want to look at those ideas during the submission process. You, as the author, are asking them to make a very big investment in you; the least you could do is show a little professionalism and respect submission guidelines. There will be PLENTY of time to discuss titles and covers and illustrations once your book is accepted.

I would add a few things, based on my 26 years in the industry as a professional (I just love that word) editor and/or publisher:
  1. If you submit a good title, we will keep it! We kept the author's original titles on the last two books we published. Others titles I tweak by one or two words. Sometimes I'll reject the original title, but have the author send me a list of alternates. Usually I can blend that into something really good that the author is happy with. But creating titles that sell and writing a story are two entirely different skill sets and some are just really, really bad.

  2. I have never, in 26 years, seen a book cover created by an author and sent with the manuscript submission that was anywhere close to usable. They are usually way too dark, use clip art and dated fonts, and don't have an appropriate balance to the design. If you don't know what I'm talking about, or you don't know why these would be a problem, then don't try to make your own cover.

  3. I have, a couple of times, had an author who was also a graphic artist. After their books were accepted, they very professionally asked if I would take a look at their ideas. Of course I did. These two covers were wonderful. One we kept exactly as it was. The other we had to tweak a little to fit in the bar code. The point is, they approached me about it after acceptance.

  4. The publisher always retains veto rights. As Rob said, if I am going to invest thousands of dollars in you and your book, I need to control that investment in the way that my experience tells me works best. If title and cover art are deal breakers for you, then by all means, self-publish.

  5. You're assuming that the author will not like my title/cover art better than what they've created. Most of our authors love what we do with their books—even if we don't use any of their suggestions.

  6. I never, ever bulldoze my authors' creative world. I'm not investing in a one book deal. I want this to be an ongoing relationship. I want my authors to be happy. At the same time, I am not going to let an author sink a book due to personal preferences. We test our titles and book cover designs on our target market and run them past at least a dozen design, marketing and publishing professionals before we finalize something.

  7. And one last comment: You, as an author, have to invest a certain level of trust in your publisher. You have to believe they know what they're doing, that they will make decisions based on what is best for your book, that they are current on what is hot in the market, and that their years of experience are more valuable than yours. If you don't trust your publisher enough to title your book or design your cover, then you're with the wrong publisher.
Have I answered your questions?

8 comments:

Jeff Savage said...

Very well put, LDS pub. I've held senior marketing positions in several of the companies I worked for. Yet I still used advertising and graphic design agencies. What I looked for was an agency that would listen to my ideas, then deliver something even better than what I had imagined.

I want to give input on my covers (and I really hate it when I have a book that takes place entirely in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern CA, and yet I end with a cover that could only be located in the savannahs of Africa.) But ultimately I want a design professional to create something better than I could have imagined.

My job is to give you a good story. Your job is to package it so that people will read it. And honestly, in my experience, the people who complain the most know the least.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Another thing to keep in mind, too -- the publisher is looking at the book from a professional standpoint, while the author looks at it from a personal standpoint. The author has spent however many months/years on the project, and so they feel as though they've been bulldozed whereas the publisher merely wants to package the book differently for sales purposes. I think that when authors can understand that the publisher doesn't take things as personally as they do, they won't tend to feel as bulldozed but can hopefully learn to approach the process with less of a personal approach and more of a professional one.

Anonymous said...

Book covers aside...

The major drawback to market testing and feedback from focus groups is that they protect the publisher from loss rather than guiding them to the next big new cutting edge thing. Market-testing guides the publisher toward sameness. Data, metrics, statistatical analysis tell you waht happend in the past, what sold in the past and what was hot in the past, but it certainly doesn't guide you to what will be the breakout product of the future. They are descriptive, not prescriptive.

Isn't market tested another way of saying that we can do a look-a-like novel with a bit of a different twist and vwah-lah, we have another, well, look-a-like novel. Focus groups, readers, marketing deparments, use all sorts of data to tell us what we already know. This story is similar to the other stories, ideas, cover designs, projects, titles and art work that are currently selling very well.

What's good about marketing security? You likely will produce something that doesn't lose money. What's wrong with that kind of secure publishing strategy? You will likely never find the big new thing. The Harry Potter will escape you. You may fall on your face a few more times than the other publishing house, but you'll never invent the light bulb. Didn't Edison once say, "I know a thousand ways how not to make a light bulb"? What great about taking risks?

Take some publishing risks and you just may build an empire no one else dared to envision. The rest of you can stay within market-tested paramaters. I prefer the road less traveled and I hope to high heaven it will make all the difference.

RobisonWells said...

It's a good theory, Anonymous, but it doesn't seem to hold up in practice.

Take the example you gave: Harry Potter. The reason the first two books are shorter than the others is because the editors told JK Rowling that YA just can't be 700 pages long. Granted, the editors were wrong on that count--Rowling eventually proved that YA books CAN be 700 pages long. BUT: her first book is the second-best selling work of fiction in the history of the world. In other words, the book that started the entire Harry Potter revolution was heavily influenced by the marketing department.

Don't get me wrong--the cover of my second book was horrendous, and that book sold terribly. But I still recognize that, while my publisher's marketing/art departments made a mistake, I'm still better off cooperating with them than getting bitter and resentful and quitting publishing.

Keith Fisher said...

I have enjoyed this discussion and have learned much from the wiser heads in this business. I would like to add something that may have already been said. When my book comes out, I'm going to need all the help I can get in marketing it. Anything the publisher can do to give my book a leg up will be needed. I appreciate your saying you ask the author for suggestions. I also appreciate Jeff's remarks. Since he is one of the most successful marketers I know.
If I were a publisher, setting aside the investment, I would be more willing to help market a product I believe in. If I didn't believe it would sell I wouldn't give it the effort.
Of course of I didn't believe it would sell I wouldn't publish it.

Anonymous said...

Rob:

I never suggested being a meany or difficult. I'm just pointing out that if security is the goal---and that is the goal of marketing people: to insure that the publishing house makes a profit on their investment, then you are likely going to stay within proven parameters of money making and not take any risk, explore any new frontiers, or try something that's not been done before. Inventiveness is the anti-marketing ploy. It is risk without the gurantee of reward. And these kinds of disucssions are sadly lacking within many companies---not just LDS publishing. There are huge rewards for companies that promote a culture of inventiveness and risk-taking. There is also the potential for failure. If you take risks in publishing (or any business) you should be fairly acquainted with the difference between an obstacle and a pitfall.

Jeff Savage said...

Anon,

I think you have a point in certain segments of the LDS publishing market. It is key for the smaller publishers to not lose money on many books. And consequently many of the publishers are really hedging their bets, and aren't willing to take risks. This is especially obvious in the types of titles they are focusing on. But considering how tight their budgets are, that is no surprise.

But I have seen LDS publishers take significant risks. Shadow Mountain put a ton of money and time into Leven Thumps before any LDS publisher had made money on YA fantasy. In fact YA was selling very poorly. Yet look at the success that risk engendered.

Covenant is working with me to publish the first mainstream Mormon horror novel. Tell me that isn't a risk.

In the national market's larger publishers, risks are the name of the game. Out of ten new books, often only two will be profitable. They risk the losses, because they are looking for the big payoffs.

In my experience, marketing departments are constantly looking for something new to help their books stand out. But if I am going to risk the success of my book, I'd rather risk it with a professional than my own guesses.

Janette Rallison said...

It's true--the marketing dept usually knows what the trends are, and even the differences between genres. (A humor cover is going to be different than a romance cover, etc.)

That said, I've seen some pretty lousy covers. At that point, one has to wonder what the publisher was thinking.

Still, it's just part of the business that you've got to learn to accept.