I know most of our focus on this blog is about writing and querying, but I’m fast-forwarding just a smidge to talk about a little of what happens after that magical ‘yes’. Because the simple fact is that the work isn’t done just because you have an agent or a contract.
Your book is your child. You conceived of it. You brought it into this world, raised it, disciplined it when it tried to get out of hand. And now, even though it’s ready to sail on its own, it’s still your job to stick up for it and to advocate for it.
When a content-editor wants you to change the very heart of the book and destroys your entire vision for it. When a line-editor adds mistakes to your manuscript. When a blurb writer completely misinterprets your query letter and implies the book is about something vastly different from what it’s actually about. When the cover comes back and it’s awful.
In all of these cases, it might be time for you to step in. To put on your bravest, most fierce momma-bear face and say ‘no’.
Let me tell you from experience, it’s nerve-wracking as hell. You’ve waited years for the chance to publish a book – surely these professionals know better than you. Surely you should follow all of their suggestions. Surely you don’t want to jeopardize this amazing, fragile chance you’ve been given.
But it’s still your book. It reflects on you. When people do wrong by it, it’s time to take a deep, objective look at their suggestions and decide if it’s in the best interests of the book. And if it is, no matter the consequences…it’s time to stand up.
I’ve only worked with small presses at this point in my career, but I’ve found editors and cover designers and blurb writers to all be surprisingly easy to work with. The few times I’ve put my foot down and calmly explained the reasons I disagreed with what they wanted to do with my book, in general it’s gone very well. They’ve listened. They’ve discussed. And more than once, after consideration, they’ve said, “You’re right.”
Shocker of shockers, though, it’s not always time to stand up. Part of parenting a book is realizing when your book is being a stubborn brat and it’s time to take it over your knee. The people helping you shape it and package it are trying to do just that—help.
When a content-editor wants to change the very heart of your book and it makes the character arcs stronger and the theme more profound. When a line-editor calls you on your pretentious bullshit and wheedles that gorgeous thirty-seven-word sentence down to thirteen. When the blurb comes back and is a total one-eighty from what you envisioned but still encapsulates your story while making it accessible. When the cover isn’t quite what you had in mind but it’s eye-catching, damn it.
Sometimes, it’s time to stand up. And sometimes, it’s time to suck it up. Get off your high horse, swallow your pride, and realize that this collaborative effort is designed to make your book better, and that letting someone else’s work help shape your story is all part of the process of improving.
It’s a hard distinction to make sometimes, trying to decide which pieces of feedback you should take and which you shouldn’t. It requires a lot of introspection and a lot of thinking about what you want your book to be.
The moral of the story is that you are the advocate for your book, and no matter who tells you what to change about it, it’s still your job to take every single suggestion, give it a long hard look, and decide: Is this in the best interests of this book?
And then, depending on the answer, either stand up…or suck it up.