One of the more interesting panels I attended at ThrillerFest was on the Writer-Publisher Partnership, and it included some of the best people in the business: Simon Lipskar (agent, Writers House), Mark Tavani (editor, Ballantine), Meryl Moss (publicist), Linda McFall (editor, Mira), Roger Cooper (publisher, Vanguard) and moderator M.J. Rose (author and marketing guru).
The discussion was fast and in-depth and I didn't have the chance to take great notes. But here are some of the things I scribbled down:
Simon Lipskar: It's dangerous to assume that authors must be genius self-promoters. It's important to be a partner in the process, but you don't need to overdo it. Obviously it's great if you have the ability to attract 10,000 fans on MySpace or you can get TV attention or you're a glib public speaker or whatever. But you don't have to be able to do those things in order to be successful. Listen to what your publisher asks of you and be open to their needs -- and make sure you do what they ask.
Linda McFall: Authors need to do their homework before their first novel is published (and continue doing it afterward). You need to learn as much as you can about the process and the timeline of how things work. You need to talk to your publisher, have open and honest conversations, ask questions and listen to what they have to say.
Mark Tavani: Authors need to talk to their agents and prospective publishers about how each of them sees the book. Sometimes an editor will see the book in a very different way from how the author sees it -- and that's a recipe for trouble. (If you see the book as a breakout bestseller and they see it landing solidly on the midlist, neither one of you is going to be happy.) You need to be honest and upfront about your expectations, hopes and plans. And the editor should do the same. Communication is the best way to avoid problems.
Simon Lipskar: It's the agent's job to serve as an ambassador and diplomat for the author. The agent is the one who can ask the really tough questions and say the difficult things. It's not always best for the author to do those things him/herself. So don't be afraid to talk to your agent and tell him/her about your expectations.
(This notion of expectations, both on the part of the author and the publisher, came up a lot. Some of the biggest problems and bad feelings arise when the publisher and the author have different expectations of what the other is going to do. In order to avoid this -- in order for the writer-publisher partnership to work -- it's essential to have as open and honest of communication as you can.)
Meryl Moss: Although it wasn't always the case, publishers now generally welcome the participation of an outside publicist in the publishing process. (One paid by the author.) You should decide early on if you believe you need the services of an outside publicist. Talk to your agent and other authors and your editor to decide if it's best for you (and also who to hire). If you decide to use a publicist, bring him/her onboard early in the process and make sure your publisher supports what you're doing. (Without the support of the publisher, it's very difficult for an outside publicist to do her job.)
Roger Cooper: His company works with a different business model than the typical publisher. They are very selective and only publish one or two books per month -- and those books get their full attention. They don't pay advances. They pay a higher royalty rate, and they pay those royalties monthly. They outsource both editing and publicity. It's certainly not a model that would work for every author. But the publishing industry should be more open to trying new things, especially given how poorly the current model works.
- It is the book that counts most of all. The author's number one responsibility is to write the best book s/he possibly can. All subsequent discussions continue from the point at which we assume that the author has done his/her job.
- Most people seem to agree that there are too many books being published.
- It's impossible for every book to receive ideal publication (marketing, co-op, tours, reviews, etc.).
- If the author and the publisher are on the same page, it's likely that the experience will be better for both parties.
- If the author doesn't feel that his/her book is getting the support from the publisher that it deserves -- and virtually every authors feels this way -- there's very little that you can do about it.
(Note that I'm paraphrasing what everyone said. None of these statements should be construed as being direct quotes. But I think I got the sense of it down accurately.)