My Way

Written By: DonnaKeeley - Apr• 03•13

No blog post for March. Lucky you.

Actually, I had the good fortune to sit in on a panel by author Dean Koontz at WonderCon in Anaheim, CA this past weekend. Mr. Koontz was relating some of the funnier things that have happened during his long and distinguished career. One of his stories really hit home as to why self-publishing is becoming an viable option for many writers.

Mr. Koontz was telling us about a publisher he left because of massive interference with his work. He was already a well-known and well-regarded writer at the time, but this publisher decided he needed more help. In addition to a text editor, the publisher assigned Mr. Koontz a story editor because the manuscript was “too long” (600 pages) and there were “too many characters.” The publisher wanted to lop off 300 pages and reduce the number of characters by half.

Mr. Koontz tried to explain that all the characters were integral to the story and trying to remove some of them would be difficult. This advice was ignored and low and behold after about 3 months the story editor realized that all the characters were integral to the story and trying to remove some of them would be difficult. Imagine that.

Another problem the story editor had was the fact that there was a furnace in the garage of a house in the story and one the characters used this as a place to hide. The story editor told Mr. Koontz that the furnace had to be put in the basement because that’s where furnaces belong. Mr. Koontz tried to explain to the story editor that the furnace had to be in the garage because the house was in Southern California where they don’t have basements. The story editor then spent many days reading real estate ads for Southern California to confirm that houses don’t have basements and that furnaces can, in fact, be in the garage. No wonder Mr. Koontz left this publisher.

While I am not saying that editors aren’t important to the publishing process, this was going a bit too far. They were second-guessing the creator of the work and interfering with his creation. Publishers, like movie producers, like to think they know what people want but they don’t. When something becomes popular, like Harry Potter and Twilight, just look at how many similar books there are on the topic. Suddenly publishers are pouring out volumes of vampire romances and magical kid books. JRR Tolkien is responsible for almost every fantasy quest story out there, and there are a ton of those.

This is the imaginary conversation I would have had with a publisher if my book had gone the traditional publishing route:

PUB: So your book is really great but there are few things we need to change.

ME: Oh?

PUB: Yeah. First of all, it’s too short. You need to pump it up to at least 300 pages; more if you can.

ME: Why 300 pages?

PUB: Well people aren’t going to buy a small book. It’s about volume. And speaking of volume, you need to break the story into 3 to 5 different books.

ME: But there isn’t enough material for…

PUB: Sure there is. Anyone can pad a book. Just write 10 pages on what your character ate for breakfast. And make sure you have a cliff-hanger at the end of each book so we can count on people buying the next one.

ME: Why can’t I just write a complete book in one volume?

PUB: Are you nuts? How can we sell books if there’s only one volume for each story?

And then it goes downhill from there.

It really comes down to what our individual goals are. A publisher’s goal is to sell books. The more books they sell the more money they make (technically, although many, many books end up being sold to bargain outlets and the publisher takes the loss as a tax write-off). The writer’s goal is to craft a story they are proud of. Sometimes the goals are the same, but many times they are not.

The current publishing business model is built like the old music industry model with agents, producers, and lots of other people in between the creator and their audience. Digital downloading changed the music business drastically in the 1990s, and it is my firm belief that self-publishing will do the same to the book industry.

Although like most things on the internet, you’ll sift through a lot of coal before you find a diamond but those diamonds will shine brightly so that writer and reader can share the wealth. Just keep digging.


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