Years ago, when I started my writing career, I signed contracts for a number of romance novels. None of those early contracts discussed e-books because e-books were in the future.
When asked my publisher graciously agreed I had the right to publish these books as e-books myself, and so far I’ve re-edited, revised and put up five. But they have not given me the rights to publish those books in other ways. Until they do, those reissued novels will remain e-books only.
It’s important to understand that sometimes when your favorite author isn’t doing everything the way you wish he/she would, that they may be bound by contracts to do things another way.
Last week I talked about covers, and how much control an author has over what appears there. Today I’m talking about control over content–what’s inside the book–and publication–how the book is produced and marketed.
So what does an author control?
- Authors choose ideas they want to pursue. Publishers choose what books they want to publish, and they choose, most often, by numbers sold and sold quickly. A series that doesn’t meet their expectations may be cancelled, or an entire genre will fall out of favor.
- Authors submit the best ideas and manuscripts that they can. Publishers have the right to ask for changes even before a book is written.
- Authors turn in their cleanest manuscript. Editors edit it, at which time they can ask for everything from a total rewrite to a few minor changes.
- Most of the time publishers want the rights to publish a book in all possible formats: hardcover, softcover and digitally (ebooks) as well as foreign language, the film rights, the audio rights etc. These rights are all negotiable, but clout makes all the difference.
- Within reason (depending on contract) publishers can choose the date to publish a novel according to who else they are publishing and the best/worst times to market a book.
- Publishers can and do choose which books and authors to promote, and how many copies they print and distribute.
- Authors can publicize their books by doing signings, newsletters and social media.
This is just the tip of the publishing iceberg, but I know you get the point. In order to make a book available to readers, an author has to sign away many rights and hope that the publisher publishes their novels well and in great enough numbers that they can be found by readers.
Technology has now made it possible for authors to publish their own books, controlling every step themselves, and many are doing just that. As you can imagine, this is an earthquake in the publishing universe.
Is it always a good thing to be in complete control? No. Publishers not only print and distribute books, they safeguard the process every step of the way, from creating covers they believe will sell a story, to making certain the content is fresh, well-written and well-edited. They also have access to huge distribution channels that independent authors may not be able to tap.
Are publishers always right? No. Are they always fair? No. But as times change and the publishing process changes with it, publishers must adapt, as well. I believe, in the long run, after more changes are in place, we’ll see more and better books in the future, both from independent authors and from traditional publishers.
What do you think about the changes in the way books are marketed to you? Do you own an e-reader? Do you refuse to buy one? Do you mourn the loss of Borders and many smaller independent bookstores? Please comment and let us know.