What Authors Have NO Control Over

Posted on Jul 30, 2014 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Hello dear readers! I hope you’re having a great summer. I’m currently awaiting a few projects to come back to me so I have that rare week with no deadline (in case you’re wondering why I’m doing something as crazy as writing a blog post!). 

I’ve noticed that, more often than not, my replies to questions from  readers have been a mixture of “I don’t know,” “It’s not up to me,” and “I have no control over that.” Mostly these are in relation to a question about when one of my books will be out in a foreign country, if I can do an event in a certain town/country, or if one of my books will be turned into a movie. This got me thinking about the many things authors have no control over that would surprise readers. When I do school events, I often hold up one of my books and peel away the pages until it reaches the dedication in the front and the acknowledgements in the back. I show this to the students and say, “THIS is what the author can control, the WORDS on these pages.” (Even those words have been combed through by an editor and copyeditor, which as you’ll probably notice the many grammatical mistakes in this blog, I’m grateful for.)

Yep. That’s pretty much it: the words. While there are some exceptions, the following is just a sampling of the surprisingly true things authors have NO control over.

THE BOOK ITSELF: Authors have NO control over the release date, price, cover design, title, flap copy, inside design, where it’s sold, where it’s shelved in bookstores, recommended age range

I’m very fortunate that I’ve been involved with the cover design on my books, but most authors are shown the cover once it’s done. I’ve also come up with all the titles of my books, except Better Off Friends (Scholastic editorial came up with it before I even started writing the book). The cover and title of a book are considered marketing tools since those two things will help sell the book to bookstore accounts. So sometimes the publisher will veto an author’s original title or have to pick a cover that an author might not like. I used to work in publishing, so this didn’t surprise me. I’m an author – I’m not a cover designer. There are a lot of people behind the book with a lot of experience and expertise that you need to trust your baby (aka your book) with. After all, if it wasn’t for my publisher, I… I actually don’t even want to think about what I’d be doing!

MARKETING/EVENTS/PROMOTION: Authors have NO control over their marketing and publicity plans, including how their book will be marketed, if they’ll do events, where they’ll have events, which reviewers get review copies or approved for Netgalley requests, if and where their book is submitted for award consideration

Events are  really expensive: there are costs for air travel, ground transportation, hotel, food, etc. Plus, there’s the little matter that authors need to be invited to attend a festival or book signing. If you really, REALLY want to meet an author, go to your local bookstore and ask them to request the author. If there’s enough interest, the store may ask the publisher, and the publisher may send the author. Of course, authors can pay for their own events, but again, it isn’t cheap. I did a week during the launch of Better Off Friends in Wisconsin and Chicago, which I did on my own (although my fabulous publicist at Scholastic set up the events). I was able to do this because I have family in the area so I drove my dad’s car and crashed at family member’s houses. I still had to pay for my flight, gas, and food. (It was totally worth it, though!)

Authors get only a handful of Advance Readers Copies and finished copies of their books. My mom housed me in her womb for nine months and put me through college, so she gets one of my coveted ARCs. I don’t have extras for reviewers. If you are a book reviewer or blogger, contact the publicity department for a review copy, not the author. But please note: ARCs are expensive and I’m positive publicity departments are inundated with requests for Netgalley approval. They have a marketing and publicity plan and budget that they are following (a plan that some authors don’t even see). [Since I used to work in publicity, I’m very sensitive to the demands of the marketing and publicity department. At the end of the day, the publisher does what they think is best for the book and their budget. If the author wants to do something different, it’ll have to come out of their pocket.]

MOVIE/TV/AUDIOBOOKS: Authors have NO control AT ALL. SERIOUSLY.

Here’s the thing: yes, I’ve thought about turning one of my books into a movie. Who hasn’t? There’s just one small problem: I don’t have tens of millions of dollars and a movie studio to do it. This is basically how a book gets turned into a movie: a movie studio/production company must be interested in a book, then they option your book which means they have the right to think about possibly someday making your book into a movie, maybe. If they actually buy the rights they can write the script and cast the movie without an author’s input, as well as make sequels without an author’s permission. When they buy the rights to your book, the movie studio generally buy the rights to your characters and can do whatever they want.

I once was fortunate enough to have an option on one of my novels (it has since expired, which is very common). The contract was 54 pages long. There was only one page of “reserved rights” for me, which essentially boiled down to this: I could write more books about the characters that I created.

So next time you want to ask an author if they’ve ever thought about making their book into a movie, remember: the author has NO control. AND next time you see a movie based on a book and think, “How on EARTH did an the author let this happen?” The answer (say it with me): The author had NO control.

[Yes, I realize there are some exceptions, but the above is pretty standard. Unless your name is JK Rowling or John Green, you don’t get much say.]

Same goes with Audiobooks. It’s only going to happen if a company wants to produce it.

FOREIGN EDITIONS: Authors have NO control over if their book will be translated into a foreign language, if it is they have NO control over when it will come out, what countries it’ll be available in, the cover, the title, and everything else that happens with a book release

The majority of questions I get are about foreign releases. To be honest, I usually find out one of my books is out in a specific country because someone tagged me on Twitter or Facebook (that’s also when I generally see the cover for the first time or find out if the title has changed). So if you’re in a foreign country and really want to know when an author’s book is coming out, ask your local bookseller. Believe me when I say that they’ll know more than the author!

SEQUELS/MORE BOOKS

I wanted to write a sequel to The Lonely Hearts Club since I finished writing the book. But I had to wait. Why? Because we needed to see how the first book would sell. My debut novel, while relatively successful, was not a huge #1 bestseller so the decision to do a sequel was not mine to make. Fortunately, I finally got the okay (We Can Work it Out comes out on January 27 in the US, and if you’ve learned anything from this blog post please be that I have absolutely NO IDEA about foreign countries).

You know who has the biggest control over if an author writes a sequel or if an author publishes another book? YOU! Yes, you! You vote for more books from an author when you buy their book (not illegally downloading, besides basically STEALING, it takes away your vote). And when you tell a friend, when you tumbl, tweet, etc. about a book. An author can only do our job if there are readers who want to read our books. So while authors can only control so much, and publishers have a lot of books to promote and limited resources, the reader will always be the most powerful person over all. You vote when you BUY a book.

I hope the above hasn’t made you think, “Gee, why would anybody want to be a published author? You don’t have control over anything. That’s scary!” I love my job. I’m very fortunate that I can do it. I’m also grateful that I have so many people at my US and foreign publishers who work to get my book out into the world. We all have our jobs to do. Mine is to write the best book that I can.

After all, that’s really the only thing that I can control.

XOXO, Elizabeth

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3 Comments

  1. Emily
    July 30, 2014

    Thanks so much for writing this. It clarified a lot. I want to be an author one day and this put everything in perspective. P.S. I’m writing three books right now. Farthest one has 56 pages.

  2. Pema
    August 7, 2014

    Loved this post. I’d say it’s a bit different for self-published/small-publisher authors, but still a good reminder that authors have so many other people behind them to create a novel. The cover part is still true for small-published though, the author’s input can be offered but at the end of the day we don’t get a final say. Then again, we need to worry about writing, not necessarily designing covers! (: