A Publisher's Conversation with Authors: The Difficult Author


(photograph by Frank Perez)

It is Tuesday. Time to tall turkey. Monday's madness is over, and Wednesday will take us over the hump, so Tuesday it is--for some serious discussion with authors. Tuesday talks mean to address authors in waiting and self-published authors who would like to go a more traditional route or who would at least like to take their steps with a publisher by their side.

Today's topic addresses difficult authors. No publisher likes a difficult author. All publishers get them at times. All difficult authors are difficult in different ways but here are some that we have seen (not necessarily within MSI Press, where we have a wonderful consortium of authors supportive of each other and the press itself but with sister presses, for the most part): 

  • They want to have control over every aspect of production, e.g., the time schedule, the cover design, the marketing plan, color vs B&W; this can be particularly the case for first-time authors.
    • There is a good reason that nearly all publishing contracts give final control over design and substance to publishers; publishers have a better understanding of what makes a good impression, what is considered normal practice, what sells.
    • Timelines are affected by more than an author's preferences or plans for book launch (be conservative about planning a book launch and have a plan B just in case). Production of a book involves multiple experts and even contractors, and things happen in the lives of people and businesses that can throw off that schedule. To wit, our primary typesetter died unexpectedly in August, throwing the August production schedule way out of line. Stuff happens...just saying...
    • Most publishers will be delighted to have authors participate in marketing activities, and, in fact, they expect authors to participate. However, there are some things that can undermine the sales of a book; authors need to learn to listen to those who have more experience and then find ways to provide support.
    • Color books are very expensive; if a book is to be in color, that should not be left to the production timeframe but negotiated in advance.
  • They have a deep desire for a particular photograph (of themselves, family member, pet, friend, etc.) to grace the cover of their book and sulk when that cannot be done. 
    • Typically, what makes a good photograph makes a poor book cover. It is important to have space for author and title on the picture. Authors generally do not have an eye for that.
    • Often, an author will want a horizontal picture on the cover of a vertical book; there are ways to handle this, but generally it is hard to design a cover that will accommodate the author's desire and be a professional design. This is why it is rare that a publisher will include an author's artwork or photography on the cover.
    • If the publisher agrees, the quality (resolution of the reproduction) must be appropriately sharp. Again, authors are dilettantes in this area; publishers are professionals.
    • hey have a deep desire for a particular photograph (of themselves, family member, pet, friend, etc.) to grace the cover of their book and sulk when that cannot be done. 
  • They overestimate their prowess as authors and argue with the results of copyediting.
    • Copyeditors know the style sheets, they know they grammar rules, and they know what is considered literate writing and what is not.
    • Editors have a better understanding than authors of what pulls a reader into reading and continuing to read a book and what does not--and that is important to the success of a book.

How does the relationship between a publisher and a difficult author end? Very typically in a divorce. It can be a messy divorce or an amicable one. Some kinds of actions I have seen include:

  • Early return of rights to authors (this  publisheroccurs after a book has been published and the author continues or begins to be difficult). Generally, there is a clause in the contract that permits this, but if not, a publisher might suggest it and an author might agree if the relationship is caustic. (In such a case, it would behoove the author to have another publisher lined up or be prepared to self-publish. In my experience, self-publication is the most typical choice.)
  • Selling of the galleys to authors (this is rare, but it does occur, and for the author, it is a very good option, setting the author up for an easy transition to self-publication).
  • Cancellation of the contract prior to publication. Most contracts do contain a clause allowing for this.

The bottom line is that there is no really good outcome where an author is demanding, expects things done his or her way, does not understand the publishing process and is unwilling to learn, and is otherwise difficult to work with. To avoid major delays in publication and/or contract cancellations, those authors who know themselves to be "fussy" (they know exactly what they want for their "baby") would be better off hiring consultants and specialists like copyeditors and self-publishing; that way, they can have everything their own way and have a chance of actually producing a professional product in the process. There is a lot of frustration, disappointment, and just bad feelings and bad karma when difficult authors run crosswise of publishers' standard practices. A little self-evaluation in advance can save a lot of angst and time in the long run.

Want to read more about how publishers react to difficult authors? Click HERE.

Lesson for today's Tuesday talk: Know yourself. If you think you might be unable to let go of your "baby" and are concerned that you might be a difficult author, think about going it alone. The last thing you want is to get a "reputation" among publishers as an author who is hard to work with.

Read more posts about publishing HERE.

The Tuesday talks reflect real discussions between the management of MSI Press LLC and our own authors or those would-be authors who come through our doors but don't make the cut--yet. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed, leave the question in the comment section. Chances are, in our 17 years of publishing first-time and experiences authors, we have had a conversation with one of our authors that we can share with you.


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