Claire King


How many heads would a publisher need?

Posted on: January 6th, 2011 by Claire - 23 Comments

Question for writers seeking publication: how many heads would a publisher need to have before you didn’t want them to publish your book?

Here’s the background:

Just before Christmas I went to meet a very reputable publisher. Yes, I know – exciting! I’ll blog about the circumstances leading to this, and the outcome of all my agent’s hard work, in due course. But the point of this post is that I went to those offices worrying mostly about what they would think of me and my novel. I hadn’t even considered that I was also looking at them; that potentially I would need to make a choice if I wanted to work with them…or not. Had I overlooked something important? How would you have been feeling in the same situation?

Perhaps it’s that as an aspiring author, publishing houses seem remote and the idea of ‘can we work well together?’ is a long way down the list of our concerns. But maybe it shouldn’t be? I’ve certainly found in my day job that the kind of people I’ve worked with, and the company culture, has made all the difference to how enjoyable I’ve found my working life: On leaving university I joined an amazing company. The people I worked with were clever and personable and ambitious and yet I always felt like a square peg in a round hole. Most of my colleagues seemed similar to each other and different to me. When I left that job I was lucky enough to land a job at a company where I felt right at home with the people. In ways hard to define, they were like me. I loved my time there, it was a privilege working with them. It was fun.

My meeting with these editors was very much like being interviewed for that second job: I met three people at different levels, all of who were lovely and engaging and passionate and – honestly – I realised how much I would love to work with them. Not just be published by them, but the working part as well.

I’d been mulling all this over whilst we all had a holiday, whilst publishing cogs turn and my agent does her thing, and then yesterday I read this blog post on Rachelle Gardners blog about her client who is having a nightmare publishing experience. To the extent that seemingly her editor insisted on a new title for the book and a cover the author was very unhappy with…without actually having read the manuscript.

This is not good. So, are we so driven by forging our writing careers and being published that sometimes due diligence is overlooked?

My questions for you – If you have an agent and/or a publisher, how did you decide to work with them? Did you meet them before you signed up? If you don’t have an agent and/or a publisher and you met with a reputable one with a view to working together, what would you be looking for and what, if anything, would be a deal breaker?

23 Responses

  1. I have to admit that not being at the stage of looking for an agent or a publisher, this isn’t something that I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about. However, I hope I get to work with a publisher who would be a good fit for me – people who I could work well with, have a rapport with and who also ‘got’ me and my book(s).

    • claire says:

      I’m still pretty ignorant about how much interaction an author has with a publisher, but I also hope for the exactly what you say – a good rapport and an editor who ‘gets’ my books.

  2. Nettie says:

    Ooh – this is a hard one, Claire. I do worry that I would be just so damned excited to be published that I’d agree to any old crap they asked for. I’d hope that they would understand what I was trying to do with my book, that they’d ‘get’ why I thought long and hard about characters with which I hoped my target market with identify… but really? I might just sign away the life of my first born.

  3. Pete says:

    Well, you were lovely to work with too! But to answer the question…

    I don’t have an agent / publisher but I’ve worked on both sides of the creative fence – commissioning people to be creative and being the creative person commissioned by somebody else. It always works best when the creative person is left to create as much as possible and the commissioner gently shapes the work to be commercially successful rather than squeezing the life out of it.

    I would always like to get on with anyone at a personal level as when you like and respect other people and you’re having fun, difficult things just seem to get done.

    If you don’t, then you at least want to have a relationship whereby their professional advice / expertise helped to make you a better writer and improve your chances of success. If that advice caused you to do things that didn’t match your inner voice and authenticity as a person or as a writer, then it’s difficult. Sometimes you just need to pay the bills but it would be a deal breaker for me.

    However, sadly, just like any human relationship, it’s difficult to tell whether it will really work until you get into it.

    • claire says:

      I think you’re right about how fun and respect can really smooth over hard tasks and decisions (and yes I was talking about Gemini!)
      I don’t know how prevalent it is to meet with a publisher when discussing working together, but I do think I’m a fan.

  4. Victoria says:

    I wish my agent would drive me a little more. I wish she would communicate more often. In the meantime, poetry is a reward in itself. With just a bit a encouragement I would continue my rewrite of novel #2. Maybe it’s time to move on.

    • claire says:

      I imagine it’s frustrating when all that momentum and excitement at signing with an agent loses steam, and I’ve heard a few stories. If agents and publishers are being cautious in embarking on new agreements these days, perhaps authors should too? Good luck!

  5. Jelica Gavrilovic says:

    I agree with Pete – I’ve been an arts projects manager for a long time and worked on a book festival in the last 3 years -the relationship between publisher and writer (and agent if present) has to be a supportive one.

    I feel quite strongly that an artist of any media should be allowed to be wholly creative with minimal interference. I come across many projects managers who interfere in the artistic process as editors/publishers do. However, a publisher is driven to sell aren’t they? Still if you’re not comfortable with a publisher, do you stick with them if they can ‘sell’ you and look for someone else in the meanwhile…same problem in the music recording business….

    • claire says:

      For sure a publisher is driven to sell, and that’s also in the interests of the author.
      I would hate to have an agent or editor who rode roughshod over all my visions for a book, but at the same time I would not be happy with a very hands off approach. Agents and editors have very valuable perspectives and feedback to add, I’d like to think in the end a real team approach would leave everyone happy. I hope that’s not too rose-tinted!
      I think the good form in the book industry is to leave one agent or publisher before trying to find another. A bit like in love… 😉

  6. Luke Raftl says:

    I’ve never been published. That fun for me is just beginning. However i have heard so many horror stories, that the odds of publication are so stacked against the unknown writer these days that I find it hard to believe I could turn anyone away, should the opportunity arise! It is unthinkable.

    I suspect the situation is very much as you said, Claire, like the first job out of university. You take what you can, what is offered, and once you begin to make your name your hand is strengthened in future dealings.

    In my situation, i’m sure the thrill of seeing my name on the shelf would supersede any lingering doubts about how i got there. Creative freedom, if need be, as unfortunate as it is to say, can come later!

    • claire says:

      The only worry I have about that scenario is that once you have published a first book, you have a reputation, for good or for bad.
      I was lucky that even though I was not in the right mould for my first job, it was a great company and I did well. If the story had been different perhaps I’d have found it hard to move on in the right direction.
      I don’t know!

  7. D.J.Kirkby says:

    My publisher found me online and we met in person before I signed our contract. He is lovely and I am very lucky. I am now considering looking for an agent. Eeeek! I hadn’t thought beyond subbing to one but I guess that I would like to have a ‘relationship’ (twitter, emails, meet in RL) with them prior to signing a contract.

  8. This is a really interesting post. I’ve done the submission rounds with a picture book which didn’t get accepted, and certainly by the time I sent the last round off I was ready to sign with anyone.

    On the other hand, my YA novel that’s currently in progress I feel a little differently about; I would really want it to go to a publisher that liked the book and saw it how I see it – not that I would get all diva-ish about editing or covers etc but I would like to think that it could be a joint process rather than a publisher decreeing changes and mr going along with them even if I didn’t agree with them. And that if they did see huge changes, that maybe the book isn’t right toe them? I don’t know. I do know that I’ve identified a publisher I want to send to as I’ve been interacting with them a bit via social media and I think they seem wonderful at what they do. With an agent, I would definitely want a good rapport, more than anything else; especially as I’m quite shy and not very assertive.

    • claire says:

      Thanks, Rebecca. I do think when you’ve spent a lot of time on a debut novel, and that the chances are that the remuneration will be slim compared to the hours of work, love and effort put into its creation, that the great benefit we ought to expect is our agents and editors to respect us and our masterpieces (!) and be collaborative in taking it to market.

  9. I was a long-time reader and fan of Ellora’s Cave books before I decided to try submitting to them. I think that helped me because I knew the sorts of stories they published, and I knew what I liked to read about. My second EC book came out 3 weeks ago (Ginger Snap) and I’ve got a third under contract with them, so I’m a happy camper. I have a short story in an upcoming Berkley Heat anthology, and since I know some Berkley authors I had already heard so many good things about them before I submitted there. I still don’t have a literary agent, though, lol! Maybe I should get on that.

  10. claire says:

    Congratulations on your publishing success to date, Shoshanna. I suspect with EC you were very clear about what was needed from you and what you could expect up front. Since you’ve not needed a literary agent to date, are you looking to expand to other publishers? If so, how do you plan to get to know them?

  11. Thanks Claire! One of my New Year’s resolutions is to find a literary agent this year for a book I just wrote, an erotic romance set in post-apocalyptic NYC. I’m hoping to be ready to query in another month or so, maybe sooner depending on what my beta-readers think of the ms, lol!

  12. […] This ‘How many heads would a publisher need’ is my post about meeting Bloomsbury for the first time and falling a little bit in love (in a very […]

  13. Elise Hart says:

    A friend has set up a meeting with me and publisher friend of her’s…my friend just said that I have a few book ideas and am looking for some guidance on how to go about navigating the book writing/publishing world. So I a real newbie and wondered if any of you have any advice on what exactly I should have prepared for her to look at when we meet?
    I have the briefest start to my memoir (actually written but more notes than writing at this point), an idea for a “10 Steps to Becoming Your Own Beloved,” and possibly a love story based on a true story. I also have some blog posts that I have been working on as I get ready to post with a site with a readership of 30,000 per month.
    So my goal is to have her see what my style is, suggest different angles regarding writing style, have her help me determine what the steps are once I get some of these more complete.
    Also, if I’m going to start blogging (under a pseudonym) with the idea of publishing a book later, is there anything I might want to keep in mind right now?
    Thanks so much,
    So if any of you have ideas for me on the above I would greatly appreciate it!

    • claire says:

      Hi Elise,
      Usually, a publisher won’t suggest different angles regarding your writing style. For that you would need either a writing group, an editor or a writing course like Arvon, for example. A publisher is usually looking to see a completed manuscript (fiction) or a very well developed idea from an expert (non-fiction). So if it were my meeting I’d be hoping to pick her brains about how she works, what she expects from submissions etc rather than looking to get feedback on my own work in progress. Also, make sure you know what kind of books this publisher friend publishes!

      My personal advice to you would be to network with other writers on Twitter, read some writing blogs, and to work hard on getting your book finished. I’d also suggest that you decide what to focus on first – a romantic novel, a memoir or a self-help book and put all your energies behind that. Finishing one book is already a mammoth task!

      As for blogging, is there any reason you would blog under a pseudonym? Personally I would suggest blogging under the name you intend to write under. Particularly if one of your aims in blogging is to ‘build a platform’.

      I hope this is of some help, let us know how your meeting goes!
      Best wishes, Claire

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