Saturday 1 December 2012

Publishers’ nightmares

Writers often think that publishers are big bad wolves, out to make writers’ lives difficult. But we’re in the business of making and selling beautiful books and other  texts and we’re as committed to that process as the writers. Occasionally as a publisher I have to bite my tongue. Here are a few things that make me cringe:

Incorrectly formatted texts
We like a straightforward double-spaced, ragged right text, with all but first paragraphs indented. We like you to use the version of this provided by Word. Not all publishers, do, mind, but we do and we specify this. It’s really annoying when people put all sorts of other types of formatting in that we can’t easily get rid of.  And what we ask for is not hard to do.

Manually added footers and headers
As both you and we edit, these end up all over the place. Sometimes we might miss them and they appear in the camera-reader copy just at the time we are about work out page numbers to inform book-sellers about our books. It is so easy to create an automatic header and footer.

Writers who change their email address and don’t tell us    
If you change your contact details, please let your publisher know. There are various stages of editing you need to go through and there are proofs you need to sign off. If we have to chase you, your book’s production can be seriously held up.

Writers who take a long time to get back with their edits, proofs or up to date bio  
Yes, we know, we always send them just as you are about to go on holiday or at the same time as another publisher sends you something. A couple of weeks’ delay is fine. I’m talking here about the ones who keep us waiting for months or don’t reply to our emails or phone calls. For multi-author collections we have a special clause in our contracts to cover that. If it’s a single author book it’s not so bad but we have set your window for publicity and production. If you delay we won’t have so much time to spend on that as by then we’ll be working on the next book.    

Writers who can’t respond to editorial suggestions
I’m talking here about more than just accepting changes in Track Changes. Generally, authors are happy to do this because it is usually to do with typos, grammatical mistakes or house style. I’m talking more about when something isn’t working. It may be generally not working or it may be that it doesn’t suit this imprint. It is a tough call. We know that. You’ve done your best and you’ve polished it like mad and now we’re asking for even more changes. Hopefully, though, you now have enough distance from the work to get a new perspective on it. Often what we suggest as a fix isn’t all that good and usually the writer will come up with a brilliant alternative. Sometimes it is so brilliant that it makes the rest of the text look a little dull and so a new cycle for work begins.
We don’t finish work. We abandon it. But this is all about the professionalism of the writer and the publisher.   

Writers who constantly ask when the book will be ready
The answer is always “as soon as possible”. Whatever reason would we have to hold it back? In our case it is never financial, by the way, as we always keep enough in reserve to produce the next book. See all of the above for why your book may be held up. Of course, this may not be your fault if your work is in a multi-author collection. It’s a little worrying too for as a writer you ought really to be so busy with the next thing that you don’t notice any delay.               

But it’s actually great working with writers
Most of the time, at least.  Which is why when any of the above happen I bite my tongue, take a deep breath and explain patiently what is required. Anyway, these are the exceptions rather than the rules.   

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