Book orphans

About two months ago, one of my clients turned in the manuscript for her new novel after having worked on it for several years.   She was a bit nervous but also very excited as this was the first novel she was publishing with her new publisher.  About a week after she submitted the material, I had a note from her editor that she was leaving the publishing house and, in fact, leaving publishing altogether.  She said that she would be editing the book on a freelance basis, but that the shepherding of it through the publishing process would not be her responsibility.

Needless to say, this was pretty devastating news to my client.  As I mentioned, this was a new publisher for her.  She had published five novels with her previous publisher and during those years had been edited by at least five different editors—each leaving the house or the business.  Now she was experiencing being “orphaned” again.

I made a couple of phone calls and as it happens the publisher of this particular house has promised me that he will be looking after my client himself.  Though he will not be doing the actual editing, he will be guiding the novel’s publication and so we’ll keep our fingers crossed that, with his help, this book will be a huge success.

It’s true, though, that the saga of the orphaned book is a real one and, in this age of downsizing and publishing mergers, it could well become a more frequent phenomenon.  This makes the agent’s job all the more important as we have to ensure more than ever that our clients and their work are well looked after and that their books are published well.

Last summer, another one of my clients had his book published after it had been transferred during the writing process to five different editors.  That story did have a happy ending.  The book’s final editor was totally devoted to the work and, in my opinion, his editorial suggestions made it even better.  The reviews have been phenomenal and the sales have been solid.  Equally as important, I have an author who was well satisfied with his publishing experience in the end.

But this is a tricky road to follow and it is important for the agent to be vigilant and take special care.  I found this piece in GalleyCat, which covers the topic and which, interestingly, quoted yours truly

So, I wonder, if your book were orphaned, what would you do?

6 Responses to Book orphans

  1. Gah! I actually had a dream (rather a nightmare) that this happened to me. I dreamed that my editor who is working on my debut mystery to be published in June had left HarperCollins. I was devastated. Thank God it was just a dream.
    The only thing worse would be if Stacey Glick left DGLM!

  2. This happened with my first novel, RAPTURE, which was ophaned when my editor, his assistant, and the book’s publicist all moved on to other things within the first few months of its release, leaving it in the hands of a publisher who’d already dismissed the work as “too literary” while championing another novel that he’d acquired and edited. In the UK, where it hadn’t been orphaned, the mass market paperback went into a second printing. In the US, I wasn’t even notified when the hardcover was remaindered (despite what was stipulated in my contract). ‘Taint fun in the least, especially in an industry that judges you by your previous sales (without factoring in the job the publisher may or many not have done in terms of promotion). Being judged on previous sales also kind of irks me when one of my works gets pirated by multiple sources, the publisher does nothing to stop it, and then I get double-dinged because none of those pirated copies count toward my sales (which is an ongoing issue with my second novel, VAMPED). Life ain’t fair, as they say.

  3. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    Perhaps I’m missing the point here, but it seems a bit Rip Van Winkle-ish to labor on a novel for several years and expect everything to be intact when you reappear. I’ve heard that people were making cash bids on partials at Bologna, (which I’d never do unless I was sure the writer could bring the idea in for a landing) and if this is the kind of timetable we’re talking, somebody’s going to be turning out fine Damascus broadswords just in time for the D-Day landing if you’ll pardon my saying so. No more than a year on a project is my schedule, and if my skillset isn’t up to that, somebody else can have my escalator space…

  4. D. C. DaCosta says:

    Speaking entirely without experience here, but I figure my two cents are as good as anyone else’s:
    What would I do?
    – Suck it up. I can work with virtually anybody.
    – Make sure they are actually working, or walk.

    I’m flummoxed by how many stories I read that make it sound as though authors are all weepy, nervous types. Is that how we are perceived?

  5. Katie Newingham says:

    It beats being an actual orphan, but by the fifth time Id start thinking it was me, I’m sure, and need to be coached on staying focused with my head in the game.

    Kevin – I have the greatest respect for you, and your vast knowledge of the publishing industry, and obvious talent, but many of the greatest books in history have taken much longer than a year to write. I won’t even ask you if you’ve got young children at home, and if you’re their primary caretaker, cause then I’d be taking what you said personally.

    d.C – yes, there is that stereotype, and it’s probably for good reason. The sensitivity it takes to write compelling stories and characters is the same trait that can make writers too sensitive to stimuli. There was an interesting twitter discussion that suggested most writers are INFJ (introvert-intuitive-feeling-judgment) personality types.
    Not many males participated in the discussion. I wonder how this would have changed the discussion?

    This would make a good DGLM blog – personality types and writing.

    • Kevin A. Lewis says:

      Good point, Katie; I’m a YA writer, where brevity is the soul of wit (and mercy,AAA…CHOOOCRISPAULINI!!!) and it’s admittedly easy to work quickly when you basically just run onstage, play the Star Spangled Banner on a Stratocaster with your teeth and then flee before the tomatoes begin to fly. If I was writing Gone With The Wind, I’d take longer. I guess that I see enough epic magnum opus literary mavins like Donna Tartt (back me up, here, Miriam) who labor mightily and then leave everyone to wonder what all the hammering was about. But when somebody gets it right it’s worth the wait, and if your stars are aligned the right set of circumstances will always crystalize. Or so we tell ourselves while whistling past the graveyard……….

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