When authors and publishers disagree

I’m a “big picture” type of person. That’s not to say I can’t do details, but my default position is to think “big”, set the scene, and be comfortable knowing that others are dealing with the detail.

Why am I telling you this at the start of a post about authors and publishers? Because it helps you, I hope, to understand my interpretation of the world when it comes to disagreements I have. From time to time, authors and publishers won’t agree on something, and it’s important to resolve it as calmly and rationally as possible; both sides have got a lot invested in the book, emotionally and financially.

Being able to disagree healthily stems from the relationship you have with each other; it’s got to be the right fit. Power has shifted from a command and control approach by publishers to a more collaborative approach; the publishers still have power, but the author has been embued with a new level of authority, due to the increased market for publishers. I belong to a small press myself – Inspired Quill – and there are hundreds out there, of variable size and quality. I’ve heard some horror stories, believe me, but I’m fortunate to not have had to deal with anything like that. I won’t give details, as I’ve often been told these in confidence, but some small presses see themselves as god’s gift to the creative world, and they believe that authors should be falling at their feet to do whatever they say.

Inspired Quill, very fortuitously, is nothing like that. They actively encourage critical thinking, and welcome differences of opinion. Sara, the managing director, recognises that all of her authors aren’t always going to agree with everything that’s decided, but if the process is transparent, then at least we know where we stand.

There aren’t many times when I will actively restrict my opinion; I will always try to speak my mind honestly and constructively, although I do pride myself on having enough tact to know when to hold back and enough awareness to know when speaking my mind will have absolutely no bearing on the situation to hand. Thankfully, I knew neither of those things would be a problem with Sara over the thing that I was concerned about, and that I wouldn’t be causing World Ward III, or risking the book not being published, by speaking my mind.

The preparation for any book is a long one. The book is beaten into shape by a clever editor asking concise questions; Why does this happen? Have you considered that? There’s a plot hole over there that needs fixing.

One of the stages we are currently going through for my next book is the cover art. This is very important, because this is what sets each book apart, and is what draws a lot of people to it in the first place. It’s got to be right. If you take a look at both editions of Fall From Grace (my first book) and Leap of Faith, you’ll immediately understand that a lot of passion, commitment, and energy went into the designs. The current covers of both were designed by a friend of mine, and I was glad Sara was happy to commission Lucy to do the work.

With this new title, it was a good opportunity for a new artist to come on board and hit the ground running. She is very talented, and I am very admiring; my own level of competence is zero. I can’t draw a stick man without it looking weak, flaccid, and somewhat sickly. The new artist (new to me, anyway) has a superb quality that Sara was rightly looking for to represent Inspired Quill.

I gave a broad brush view of what I was thinking about for the cover for my new book, and then didn’t think much more about it; there are experts in the field who I happily defer to, and I was confident that work was being done without me needing to get involved. However, there was one thing I didn’t consider; that actually, the cover I’d suggested was something of a trope, to a degree – a lot of science-fiction covers have done something similar. In truth, I only considered that when Sara emailed me to say that the draft had been done and was sharing it with me.

My first reaction was that it was – very genuinely – brilliant. The artwork completely fulfilled the brief, was beautifully rendered, and a genuinely excellent piece of work. It also made me realise that there were a number of other works out there along a similar vein, not because my cover had been copied from anywhere – far from it – but because planets are a fairly common theme on a front cover for sci-fi tomes.

I was immediately worried; not for the quality, but because I’d made a mistake in the treatment I’d specified. I should have given it more detailed thought. I wanted the cover to stand out – which the offered product certainly would have done in terms of quality – but I wanted it to be unique, although I hadn’t given it enough thought as to what that meant.

This left me in a quandary; how do I explain that to Sara without A) offending anyone, and B) explaining what I do envisage instead? Well, in answer to A), the answer was actually really simple; I just needed to be honest. Like I’ve said, I’m very fortunate that I’ve got a very good relationship with Sara and Inspired Quill; we are able to be very frank, very honest, and able to communicate effectively with each other by not being precious around lines of demarcation. If there’s something we want to talk about, then we talk about it, and we’ve never been discouraged by each others’ reactions; I would be doing our relationship a disservice if I wasn’t entirely frank.

So I pinged Sara an email and, after a quick to-and-fro, we agreed to jump on Skype. We had an hour-long chat and actually resolved the issue pretty quickly; we discussed my thoughts, and what Sara could do about it. We agreed that there were ways we could be more innovative with the cover, whilst also being respectful of the work already created. The only disagreements we had – on a couple of the examples I gave as suggestions for comparisons, and one suggested alternative for the cover – were things that we could deal with without getting stressed over.

It was actually a pleasure to disagree, because – by the end – we weren’t very far apart from each other, and could actually just compromise on those sections. I was glad that I’d been honest with Sara and explained my views, as it gave her the opportunity to understand where I was coming from and why I thought what I did; it also gave her the opportunity to explain what was and wasn’t possible, and then see how we could deal with it. We left each other, after an hour, resolved to made amendments, and aware of how to deal with this in the future.

Do you want to know the best bit, however? It was Sara herself who suggested that I blog about this. I’d considered it during the conversation, but I wasn’t going to do it unless I’d got Sara’s permission. We found a solution that worked for us and maintained the strength of our relationship. I’m proud of that just as much as I am proud of my books.

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