Problem with editor
February 12, 2007 5:29 PM   Subscribe

Unprofessional behavior and bad PR in the book world... am I better off taking my book back from this publisher or sucking up their bad behavior and just being done with it?

I've written several books in a particular nonfiction genre and have a good reputation overall. The books have sold well, gotten great reviews, and even won some awards. I have worked with more than one publisher. The publisher in question here has played some serious musical chairs, editor-wise since we signed the contract -- I've had more than one and less than 5 since last summer!

The book has been running late because current editor refused to do her job and actually edit. I practically had to BEG her to edit/give feedback, and have a long and sordid trail of emails to prove it. After she finally edited the manuscript, we agreed that my revisions and new illustrations, etc would be to her by a certain date. I told them I would not provide new illustrations until they signed off on the list, because I didn't want to redo things 5 more times and delay things further.

Of course, she didn't stick to her side of the agreement. Of note -- when at a related trade conference, I heard some pretty nasty things from one of the publisher's national sales accounts which sound as if editor has been lying about me to cover her own you-know-what.

Another author (with different editor) bought her book back from the publisher recently after encountering similar difficulties.

My question boils down to this: will my reputation suffer more if I let them publish the book and then ignore it, PR- and promotion-wise, or if I buy the book back and take it elsewhere / self-publish it? I've really bent over backwards until now, trying to be professional and accommodating, but I've reached my breaking point.

Also of note: the publications that would be reviewing this book are stacked full of personal friends of mine... so I don't have to worry about explaining the publisher change if it happens.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know how things work in the publishing world, but here is my outsider's perspective: you come off looking better if you buy the book back than if you don't participate in promotion. I mean, either way you won't be working with these people again, right?

Do you think you'll have trouble finding another publisher?
posted by taliaferro at 5:48 PM on February 12, 2007

I personally regret not having taken the cautious route when I worked on my first book. someone on the project seemed a bad fit and proceeded to damage it with his outside activities. I wondered whether I should walk away and now, a year later, I realize I should have in fact done so. not much is happening here anymore and it's probably me who is bothered the most by this but I feel the association with said person alone has proven harmful to my reputation.

thus my advise has to be: if you are unhappy with how the project is progressing, walk away and take the hit. a book has the potential to be around for a very long time and you have a lot of signs listed in your original post.
posted by krautland at 5:53 PM on February 12, 2007

It's too bad you asked this anonymously, because there really isn't enough information to comment on the problem itself.

For instance I'm not sure exactly what you mean by this part: "I told them I would not provide new illustrations until they signed off on the list." Who are "they," what do you mean by "sign off on" and list of what?

But based on what info you have provided, and assuming this is an otherwise legitimate publisher, I'd probably stick it out for this one project and just never ever work with that publisher again. Since we don't know any details about your books, it's hard to say, but in general it seems unlikely that you'd get enough extra PR oomph from another house that it would be worth the time, money and stress to buy the project back. And self-publishing doesn't seem like a very good idea at all (again, depending on what your book is). Honestly, the vast majority of authors aren't happy with their publishers' promotion of their books. And it's unfortunate that you don't have a good relationship with your editor--that must really suck for all involved. But maybe it would be best to take that time, money and energy you would spend on buying back the book and shopping it around again and/or self-pubbing, and use it to crank out the self-promotion once the book comes out. That'll look really good to future perspective publishers.

On preview: the commenter before me seems more concerned with how the book itself turns out, meanwhile based on your question you seem more concerned with the promotion. If you think that this publisher is screwing up the book itself (as opposed to its potential in the marketplace) then that's another story, and really not something we can comment on, since book-making is so subjective--the only thing I know for sure is that a book takes both an editor and an author, (and a gazillion other people too) and neither one is right all the time.
posted by lampoil at 6:06 PM on February 12, 2007

This is about money. Yours. You need to decide if the money advanced (if there is any) and the amount you will make from sales is worth any short-term or long-term hit to your reputation and earnings power. Will this publisher put out the word you are difficult to work with and prevent you from getting another contract? Will this just be a poorly selling book that happens to be well written? Just ask yourself how over time this will affect your earnings power. Consider the short term versus the long term and your decision will be obvious. The fact that you have worked with more than one publisher and are concerned about the amount of work you need to do to get the book finished and published and your heavy reliance on the editor says to me that this is about money in the short run.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:27 PM on February 12, 2007

From the OP:

Sorry -- I was a little unclear in my initial post.

The list I asked them to sign off on was a list of photos/art for the book. I didn't want to waste several days doing work on things they would then decide they didn't want to use. So my solution was to ask them to read the proposed list of items, sign off on it (i.e. give approval, and also give them the chance to add others if needed), THEN do them.

In that second to last paragraph, I didn't mean I wouldn't participate in promotion for the book I meant that I don't think they're going to make much of an effort to promote the book. If they're saying bad things about me to their own staff... well.

(I know that authors supposedly never think their publishers do enough for their superspecial book, PR-wise, but actually, I've been pretty satisfied with the others I've worked with in that regard).

I'm actually more concerned about how the book is going to turn out than about the PR, to clear that up. My editor is in over her head, and I don't think she's done a good job of editing the book. So I'm concerned that her poor work will reflect badly on me, and in turn affect my (really good) reputation as a writer.
posted by jessamyn at 8:35 PM on February 12, 2007

Honestly? If you're that worried about how your book is going to turn out, I would suggest buying it back. It's your baby, and you shouldn't stick with a shitty publisher/editor just because you've already gone this far with them. I would buy back your book, and make it very clear that you're leaving because of their lack of professional editors. If you've worked with other publishers before and have a good relationship with them, it shouldn't be *too* hard to find a new publisher, should it?
posted by antifuse at 2:22 AM on February 13, 2007

Hmm...well, I think an important distinction is in what sense you feel you're being bad-mouthed in-house. If it's "this author is difficult to work with/late with stuff/etc." then honestly I don't think it'll change the marketing and publicity plans. It may make them hestitant to work with you again, but they're already doing this book--they still want to make money off it, regardless of whether they like you or not. Many, many authors have a reputation for being difficult to work with, at varying degrees, and some of them are the authors with the most marketing money behind them. It's more about the book. If, on the other hand, they're saying "this books sucks, it's not going to sell at all!" that could affect expectations, obviously. It also depends on whether they were ever planning to give you much promotion in the first place.

I would just make sure to really carefully consider this before making a decision. As a multi-book author who's been happy at other publishers before now, really think about the hit your reputation will take by pulling out of a deal so late in the game, as opposed to the consequences of having a book that sells less than you'd hoped. Especially when you do still have the option to get out there and hoof it for your book yourself, outside of the publisher's plans, no matter where the book ends up published.
posted by lampoil at 8:14 AM on February 13, 2007

considering your jessamyned repost: I think you already know what you want to do. you're just looking for encouragement.

well, here it is: stop working with them.
posted by krautland at 10:50 AM on February 13, 2007

Are you talking about your copyeditor? Your acquisitions editor? Your developmental editor? The production editor?

It SEEMS like you're talking about either the CE or the DE.

You should be allowed to sign off on any changes they make at the proofs stage. That should have been in your contract or otherwise agreed upon. Was it?

It sounds like whatever editor you're working with is not doing her job. Unfortunately, it's like that at a lot of publishing places these days. So the onus is on the author to make sure the job is done right. Pester her until she does what you want her to or until she explains why she can't.

You want to have the best book/product possible and I completely understand that. You may not be able to but the book back depending on what the contract says. But maybe the publisher is so frustrated with you they'd be willing to cancel the contract.

Take the steps that will give you a great final product that you can be proud of.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:51 AM on February 13, 2007

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