Behind the Book

What Authors Have NO Control Over

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.]


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!


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

Behind the Book, Part 4: Editing

I’d acquired a publisher, and now the majority of the work was done, right?  HA!  Nope.  Not even close.  Then came the editing of the book. But Elizabeth, didn’t you do a bunch of editing of the book prior to getting a publisher?

Yes, I did.  But now I had to work with my editor at Scholastic to get the manuscript in the best possible shape before it was released to the world.

I’m very fortunate to have one of the best editors in the business, David Levithan. (Who, for the few out there who don’t know, is a brilliant author in his own right. Check out: Love is the Higher Law, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Boys Meets Boy, How We Met…and about a dozen other books.  That guy is a writing machine. I don’t know how he does it.  Honestly, I’m starting to think he isn’t human.)

While the basics of The Lonely Hearts Club remained the same, David helped me dig deeper into the story and characters.  We especially worked on the beginning and he pushed me to expose Penny’s feelings a little bit more, which was originally hard to do.  I obviously love my characters, especially Penny, and making her suffer was really difficult for me.  But it was completely necessary to make the story better and believable. 

We worked in sections and he’d send me about 50 pages or so at a time.  He’d make notes about which sections to expand on, which to cut, what I should add to make a scene stronger, etc.  After working on the manuscript for four years, it was great to have a new perspective on the book.  I know that some authors don’t like editing, but I really enjoyed it.  I got to dive back into the story and characters. 

Both David and I realized at the same time that there was a continuity issue.  Early on, while I was still working with my agent, she had me tighten up the beginning so the Lonely Hearts Club formed earlier.  The problem was that I didn’t fix the timeline when I cut three weeks from the story.  So towards the end of editing, David and I discovered that Thanksgiving came about three weeks earlier than it should.  David made a ingenious suggestion (As I said, he's brilliant!), so I added a chapter and all was fixed!

As the ah… four of you who read this blog know, I worked on numerous drafts of this book.  So one would think when I finished editing, I’d be relieved.  Not exactly.  When David told me that the content edit was completed and only the line editing and copyediting remained, I freaked out.  [Line editing is exactly what it sounds like, we go through each line to tighten up areas or make small changes while copyediting is to check for grammar.  I ain’t got no need for copyediting though.  Just joking.  Obviously.]

I couldn't believe the process was complete and I kept questioning myself on what I could do to improve the book. I realized I had to let that go. It was done.  After five years of working on it, I was finished writing The Lonely Hearts Club.

Is The Lonely Hearts Club perfect?  Of course not.  I don’t think any book could be considered perfect… well, maybe The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  But The Lonely Hearts Club is my first book and I’m very, very proud of it.  And I’m very grateful to have an editor who enjoyed the characters as much as I did…and didn’t get offended when Penny said all guys with names beginning with D are the Devil.  (My father’s name is also David so I had a lot of apologizing to do for that one!)

So the final manuscript was finished.  All I had to do now was put my feet up, relax, and wait for the book to come out.

Yes, you know what’s coming next.  Not quite.  I had to get my author photo taken, website ready…all while Scholastic was prepping the Advance Readers Copy.  Details on that and more coming in the next installment of Behind the Book.

Behind the Book, Part 3: The Publisher

Now it's time to secure a publisher. I had an agent and a manuscript (MS) suitable for submission to publishing houses.  Now, we needed to find the best house to publish The Lonely Hearts Club.  The agent determines which editors at which houses would be the best fit for a MS.  For example, if an editor prefers picture books or non-fiction, they probably wouldn’t be receptive to a young adult novel about a girl who gives up dating boys.  My MS was then delivered to my agent's list of editors at various publishers. My agent told me that if I didn’t hear anything from her, it meant that there was no news.  There isn’t a standard amount of time in which you should expect a response from publishers.  So, I vowed that I wouldn’t get stressed out until three months had passed.  Luckily, I didn’t have to wait that long (although I freely admit to getting stressed after a couple of weeks).  Some publishers flat out declined the book (either it didn’t fit with their list or the publisher had too many similar books…or they thought it was crap, but they don’t really say that), and others would be interested if changes were made (like making it for a younger audience). Still, some liked it and were moving forward with it in-house. 

If an editor likes your MS, it doesn’t necessary mean that the publishing house will publish your book.  The editor must pitch the book to the other departments in-house: management, marketing, publicity, sales, etc.  Consequently, there are many different ways your book can be rejected (just like dating!).  However, you want a passionate publisher who will do the best job possible for your book. To get that, you need every department on board.  Sales will pitch your books to accounts - their enthusiasm will get the booksellers excited (VERY important!).  Marketing and publicity [who, by the way, are extremely good-looking people ;)] need to feel they can properly promote your book – is there a special angle to highlight or key demographic market for your book?  Sales gets the books into the bookstores while marketing and publicity informs the public, getting them eager to purchase your book.

My first official offer (meaning a publisher said, “We want to publish your book.”) occurred when I was in Wisconsin for my brother’s wedding last summer.  Much screaming and jumping up and down ensued.  The Lonely Hearts Club would be published!  My agent returned to the other houses who had yet to submit a response and then we chose to go with Scholastic.  It took about six weeks from when the MS was sent out to our first official offer.

Here's a funny story about when I got my offer.  At that point, I hadn’t told many people that I had been writing a book.  For the four of you who have read my previous Behind the Book blogs, you know that it took me years to write LHC because I had to take big breaks due to my job.  I felt certain it would be a long process, so I thought it would be best to wait until I knew whether it would be published before I told many people about it.

This meant that my parents didn’t know that I had written a book.  So, the day after my brother’s wedding, I sat down with my parents to share the news.  The conversation went something like this:

ME:  So, I have some news…  I wrote a book.


ME:  Yes, and my agent has been shopping it.


ME: Yes, and we just got an offer.


ME:  Yes, so I’m going to be a published author.


Needless to say, they were a little shocked.  I’m not known for being subtle (or quiet) so the fact that I could keep a secret like that was probably the bigger shock.

The Lonely Hearts Club now had a home with Scholastic.  After years of work, I bet you thought I was finally ready for publication.  Ha, slow down there, bub.  I was just getting started.  Next comes the editing, in Behind the Book, Part 4…coming soon!

Behind the Book, Part 2: The Agent

Once you have your manuscript in the best possible shape, it is time to find a literary agent.  I don’t think I can properly relate how important it is to have an agent.  First, many publishing houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts – these are manuscripts sent to publishers directly from authors.  Second, an agent will look out for your best interest as an author, from choosing the best publishing house/editor to making sure your book is getting the proper attention from your publisher. There are many wonderful resources online to help you find an agent: and are good places to start.  One of my favorite authors, Jennifer Weiner, has an amazing section on her website for writers that I also highly recommend.  One of the best pieces of advice she gives, which I borrowed from her, is to look at the acknowledgements in books that are similar to yours for the agent’s name.  If you are writing a non-fiction World War II book, agents that generally represent fiction writers might not be the best fit.  Once you have a list of agents, you can research the agent online and what type of submission process he/she requires.

Admittedly so, I had an easy time finding an agent (yes, you are allowed to hate me for that).  I was very fortunate to know several agents from my job as a publicist.  In fact, author Dav Pilkey (of the hilarious Captain Underpants series) is responsible for my agent.  Dav was one of the first people I told I was writing (since he was the one to encourage me to do it in the first place).  He let the cat out of the bag that I was writing a book to one of the agents, the fabulous Jodi Reamer, at his literary agency.  At first I was embarrassed because the fact that I was writing was my dirty little secret.  However, Jodi was interested in whatever craziness I was up to and asked to see my manuscript when I was ready, which was a huge honor and relief.  Still, Jodi needed to read my manuscript and decide whether to represent me, so I did have to earn my agent.

Jodi and I worked on a few edits of The Lonely Hearts Club together before I was officially signed as her author.  A really great agent will be able to help you get your manuscript in top form and this can take a lot of work.  For instance, at one point Jodi suggested that a secret that I revealed on page 100 should come out in the first chapter.  After nearly having a heart attack with that suggestion (I will admit there were tears), I tried it and realized how much better it made the story.  This also meant that I would have to rewrite the majority of the book, which I did.  Even though the suggestion scared the daylights out of me, it was really the turning point in getting the manuscript to a stage where it would be acceptable to publishers.

Because I have a very demanding job as a publicist, there would be months and months that would go by before I could work on editing.   It took nearly two years with Jodi to get The Lonely Hearts Club into a good enough place to send to publishers.  One of my favorite stories from this time has to do with a ritual I started while writing LHC.  I listened to nothing but the Beatles while writing.  And after I finished each draft, I would blast the electric version of “Revolution” and dance around my apartment like a lunatic.  One late night, I was having trouble finishing up the draft and I was stuck and frustrated.  I remember lying on my bed near tears (again with the crying!), and I thought, “I’m done.  I can’t do it.”  I finally snapped myself out of it and finished the draft.  I was too exhausted to celebrate and sent the manuscript to Jodi, thinking “Whatever.”  No excitement, no fanfare, nothing.  At that point, I didn’t think I had anything left in me.  I didn’t even know if I could do another draft.  A few days later, I got the call that basically said, “You did it!  It’s ready! We can send it out!”  OF COURSE.   This just proves that the agent is always right and the author knows nothing (I can only imagine the number of brownie points I’m going to get for that statement!).

But we still have a long ways to go – next up: the submission process in Behind the Book, Part 3 – coming soon!