Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Look who dropped in

What’s the most important thing a publisher can do for an author?

Well, look who I found! Our very own Rachel (RM) Greenaway and Robin Spano. I really miss having them here, so it’s a special treat to have them both make a guest appearance and answer this week’s question. 

Robin is the talent behind the Clare Vengel Undercover novels, and she’s currently working on her fourth novel, only she claims to be doing it extremely slowly.

And Rachel’s the author of the awesome B.C. Blues crime series. The fourth one is Flights and Falls, which was just released on March 16th. Congratulations, Rachel.

Thanks, Dietrich, and thanks for inviting me back to Criminal Minds! I've missed the challenge. This week's question was more troublesome than I expected, and my answer is also a confession.

But here goes:  

What is the most important thing a publisher can do for (this) writer?

A fat advance? No. I'd rather get one I can pay out fast.

Send me on world tours? Would be nice, but I've heard those days are over. So I count myself lucky that I got sent to the NY BEA (was fab!). Any further travels are likely on my own dime. 

Provide more honest feedback? No. That's great on the upswing, but otherwise ignorance is just fine with me.

Cooperate on cover art and other visuals? Very important, but not the most ...

So what is my answer? It finally pinged this morning: My publisher should LOVE MY PUBLISHED BOOKS.

What kind of a stupid answer is that? In my case not so much, because I have this condition -- and I'm sure I'm not alone -- unofficially called finishtabookaphobia.

Strange to fear my own finished books, because the WIP is all joy and light. From conception to ISBN I love that thing to death. I edit it a billion times. I lie awake considering its width and breadth, its cadence and credibility, what pitfall to place before my hero next, et cetera.

But as soon as it's done and out of my control, this cold feeling clamps over my heart. Doubt. Even dread. It's like the child I've nurtured has become a slightly menacing stranger. 

I know that's wrong, and a bad attitude, something to do with fear of failure, and it's something I need to fix. But in the meantime, until I get some psychological help, I need my partner in creativity, my publisher, to take custody of that freshly published work and give it the unconditional love it needs to hit the market.

So in a nutshell that's my answer: Cherish and promote is the most important thing a publisher can do for its authors, at least when the author is not so great at doing it on their own. — R.M.

And here’s Robin:

Q – What is the most important thing a publisher can do for an author?

A – Help the author write a better book.

Promotional help is great too, but books sell through word of mouth. If a great book gets read by three initial readers, and two of those readers eagerly thrust the book into the hands of three more people, eventually that book will become a bestseller. If an okay book is blasted onto prime position on airport shelves and finds a thousand initial readers, but only one out of ten readers is excited enough to tell a few friends, that book's sales will fizzle and eventually die.

My goal for each book I write is simple: to take the idea I have, the character and themes and premise that are milling around in my head, and turn all that into a story that readers are excited to read.

Making that happen is not quite so simple. By the time I'm finished working those characters and themes and premise through their first draft, multiple revisions, and final edits, I'm so close to the story that I can't possibly see the forest for the trees.

A good editor will clean up the messy parts, help tighten and polish the book on a sentence level, and  identify the loose ends the writer should tie up in the plot. A great editor will see what the author is trying to say and help them say it better, more clearly, more compellingly. They will help the author nail the big picture and fine tune the microtension to make sure the book will have emotional resonance for the reader.

Yes, it's the writer's job to write a great book—both in the plotting stage and in the revision. But a writer's career is a lifelong trajectory of learning. I don't know a single writer who doesn't push their limits and try to make each book better and different from the last. (If we were looking for a career where we could do the same thing over and over again for easy money, we would have become brain surgeons.) 

The best gift a publisher can give an author is an editor who is also a great writing teacher, who challenges the author to get better at her craft from one book to the next, who can take those ideas that are milling around in her head and turn it into a book that readers are excited to thrust into the hands of ten friends. — Robin 


A big thanks to both R.M. Greenaway and Robin Spano for dropping in and answering this week's question.

And if you're attending Left Coast Crime you can catch all three of us on the Vancouver Noir panel, Friday morning at 9:00 AM in Regency A. Drop in and say hello. 

And you can also find R.M. online here, and Robin here


Unknown said...

Thanks Dieter! I'm about halfway to Vancouver - see you soon in the big city :) Rachel

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Looking forward to seeing you, Rachel.

Paul D. Marks said...

Good to see RM and Robin back. I miss them too. And all good points from both of you.

7 Criminal Minds said...

Some great reflections by you both!