The other day, I followed a viral twitter thread over to a discussion about a NYT’s best selling author’s latest book. For the most part, the thread was exactly what I expected. Fans talking about the book and letting the author know how much they appreciated the story. Then along came Debra (whose name really should be Karen) to throw a wrench in the works. She just loved the book but how dare the author release it without having the other books in the trilogy written and ready to be released all within a year! Bad author and bad publisher. She wanted the other books NOW! And, because the customer is always right, everything should be changed to fit her demands.
Now, that only kind of oversimplifies her arguments. You can see the thread here. I recommend if you go over there, you have a cup of coffee and time on your hands. Once the story hit twitter, readers of all genres, including a number who never read a Nora Roberts book in their lives, came over to support Ms. Roberts. They came in such numbers I understand the site crashed for a time.
Debra’s complaint boiled down to basically this: if an author is writing a trilogy (and I assume any sort of series), she should have all of it written and ready to go before the first book comes out. The publisher should then schedule the trilogy so that all books come out within a year or so of the first book.
On the surface, this doesn’t seem like such an unreasonable “request”. In fact, when I read Debra’s first few omments, I found myself wondering if she wasn’t someone who reads a lot of indie books. Why? Because we can put out books more often than trad published authors can. After all, we are in control of our own publishing schedule. We don’t have to worry about other titles written by other authors also needing to be slotted into the schedule.
But then she dug in, even after Ms. Roberts responded.
So here’s the thing. Like it or not, traditional publishers are in the business of making money. They are concerned first and foremost with making money for the house and for the corporation that owns it. Authors fall well down the ladder. They also operate under the business model that if you release books by an author too close together, you dilute the brand and that will negatively impact the bottom dollar.
They are also having the juggle the publishing schedule of dozens, even hundreds, of authors. And, folks, there are only so many slots they can fill each month. Part of this is because they don’t want to release their best sellers too close to one another. Better to space them out so they don’t compete with one another. That’s especailly true right now when disposable dollars are limited for many of us.
Then there’s the fact trad publishers are still holding onto the fiction that bookstores are where most people buy books. Bookstores have only so much shelf space. They can only stock so many books at any one time. They also want to know they have those best sellers coming in on a regular basis throughout the year instead of all coming in at one time.
And here is my question for Debra, one of many: what books do you want the publisher pushing back on the schedule and removing from bookstore shelves in order to get your choices when you want them? What author are you willing to take money away from just so you get your reading fix? Why should they consider your choice over that of another reader? (Okay, more than one question but all related)
Then there’s the creative side she didn’t take into account. She assumed Ms. Roberts had already written the second, and possibly the third, book of the trilogy and turned them into the her publlisher. That meant, in Debra’s world, the books could come out pretty much immediately. Apparently, she doesn’t think any real time is needed for a book to go through the editorial process, covers to be created, marketing to be done, etc. Oh, she also seems to be operating under the illusion that Ms. Roberts can dictate to her publisher when to release the books.
Yes, by this point, I was beating my head against my desk. Ms. Roberts once again came into the fray and explained–again–that publishing doesn’t work that way. You could read her frustration, but she remained professional as she addressed Debra’s complaints. Even when Debra pulled out “the customer is always right”, Ms. Roberts didn’t rip her a new one (which I would have been sorely tempted to do).
What she did admit was that Debra’s attacks not only took time away from her family and her writing but it made her regret ever having written the book. (I’m paraphrasing here.) I get that. What I hope Ms. Roberts took away from the thread isn’t the vitriol from Debra but the respect, and even love, shown by her other commenters. That’s especially true when it comes to those who came over from Twitter to support her even though they’d never read any of her books.
Like most of us here, there are authors I’d love to read new material from more often than I get to. There are series I wish they’d go back to or, you know, finish. But I also understand not only the creative process but publishing. You can’t rush the creative end of it, not if you want to get a quality product. I’d rather an author take years between a book to give me the best book possible than to rush it out and not be personally invested in the book. I can almost always tell when a book has been phoned in.
From the business standpoint, I don’t want one author trying to pull strings with their publisher to get their books published before originally scheduled. Why? Because doing so means they are pushing another author out of a slot already given to them. I’ve seen it happen before. Usually, when it does, the book being pushed isn’t nearly as good as the author thinks and the book being pushed back is damaged sales-wise because pre-orders were canceled and promo was dropped.
So, Debra, grow up. Learn to read the cover. If it is book one of a trilogy and you want to read all the books at one time, sit on your impatience and wait for the last book to be published. In the meantime, go out and read something else. Who knows, you might find another author you love as much as Ms. Roberts. Just don’t expect them to be as patient as she was if you start your bitching and moaning over there.
Ms. Roberts, thank you. Thank you for writing books your readers enjoy. thank you for dealing with folks like Debra and doing so with grace and style. Most of all, thank you for taking the time to explain the process so your fans and everyone who came over to see the thread understand what goes into the traditional publishing route.