Abridgement

Question: I'm reading the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing, and I have to say I'm torn in two over it. Traditional publishing seems appealing in plenty of ways, one of the biggest being you don't have to spend so much money on it (Hey, I write because I love it, but let's face it: Money makes the world go 'round). But on the other hand, I'm really tempted by the potential freedom of publishing my own work, which leads me to my question:


If I go through the traditional publishing process and, by some miracle, get published, how much control do I REALLY have over what is or isn't done with my work? I would love to make money from my writing, but there would be no satisfaction for me if the editor (or whoever else) ends up publishing butchered remains of my book instead of what I gave them. Don't get me wrong, I fully understand and am grateful for the correction of any grammatical errors or plot holes I may have missed (P.S. if they find plot holes, do they have me correct them, or gloss over it themselves?), but I don't want ANY of my material altered/abridged/cut/replaced/censored... Well, you get my point. So, how much control does the author really have over the content of his/her work should a publisher pick it up? I admit I'm one of the fanatic authors who views their art as their "children", or an extension of themselves, and for whom the word "abridged" is synonymous with "ruined".

All input greatly appreciated!

Answer: Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, a good editor will help you make your book better. As writers, we often have a hard time seeing our work objectively and an objective expert can be invaluable.

So I wouldn't shy from taking an editor's help. I think you should want it very much. Almost every book requires revision. If you're not willing to accept that help, it will probably be your loss (sorry to say).

That said, a publisher's marketing team has the last word on things like the title, cover copy, and cover design. With an editor, you have a little more give and take. For instance, the editor may point out a problem but you are free to find your own way to solve it. You can take their suggestions, or you may find a better way to address their concerns. You can pick your battles and win your fair share, but don't look at it as a battle. Look at it as collaboration with an expert who's also your strongest ally. Editors want the best, most successful book possible, just like you do. (Not that there aren't a few bad publishers/editors out there. I'm speaking of the good ones.)

Regarding self-publishing, if you're writing fiction it's no cakewalk. The hard thing with traditional is getting the contract. With self-publishing, the hard thing is the marketing because you don't have a publisher opening doors and helping in other ways. There are more than a few barriers against self-published books, including public perception. Many of the most successful self-publishers in fiction move to traditional afterwards because of the advantages.

True, a few traditionally published writers turn to self-publishing, but that's usually after they have already built an audience or as a way to put out-of-print books back in print.

Most traditionally published books lose money, but that's okay because at least you get an advance. A much higher percentage of self-published books lose money, and you have to pay the costs.

So, if you have reason to believe you have a great book (such as great critiques), you may want to make traditional publishing your first choice. (The exception would be if you are writing nonfiction and already have a huge following.)

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