In venturing into the publishing world, I’ve had to learn when to accept advice and when to discard it, when to compromise, when to fold, and when to defend my decisions. Most often in the early stages of a novel being accepted, I try to establish my line, especially when I’m asked to change certain aspects. Sometimes that line is harder to defend than other times.
There is nothing wrong or bad about publishing companies telling you what works and what doesn’t on a marketability level. That’s their job, to sell books. They might take a risk now and then, but more often than not, they’re going to do what a business does and try to make money. So they’re going to approach your book from a money-making standpoint. As they should.
Your job as a writer is to decide whether compromising on your story in order to make your story more profitable is going to negatively affect the story or turn it into something it isn’t. Some people are okay with this and make it work, writing to the market. With me, not so much, maybe because I write atypical kinds of erotic romance to begin with, so I’m already walking a tightrope. And most of the really popular stuff doesn’t interest me, in part because I feel I have nothing to add.
I have made compromises. I’ve also had to walk a novel or two away because I wasn’t willing to make certain changes that I felt altered the spirit of the novel, and it was experience that gave me the courage to do so.
I’ve found my line: I am willing to make drastic changes to a book, but only to make it better, not more marketable. If someone tells me that the writing or the characterization is bad and to change it, I’ll consider it, because I can’t make split decisions on important things…but I’ll probably do it. However, when it comes to changing things that aren’t redeeming to the novel, I make the hard decision to walk away.
I will write books regardless of how much money they make and how many people read them. If I’m lucky, what I want and what the publisher wants overlaps. If not, it’s not the publisher’s fault or my fault. It just wasn’t a fit.
The way I decide to write stories is not business-like. Most of what I do is fringe writing at best, and I try so hard to straddle the line between the things that interest me and the things that might catch another person’s interest. More specifically, a lot of people‘s interest. But I’ve never been very good at it, and I doubt I’m going to get much better in the future, although a few of my plot ideas might qualify.
I’ve fought for things. Sometimes I won. Sometimes I lost. Sometimes I compromised and ended up happy with that result. Sometimes I walked away. The publishers did their job as a business. I did mine as an author. I don’t regret that.
I don’t want you to compromise on something that will make you miserable. I remember early in my publishing career not wanting to make any waves, willing to do just about anything to get that coveted debut. I was fortunate that the capitulations I made were to an editor who understood me and made the stories better in the process. But I was in a place where I could have been taken advantage of, and that would have made me profoundly unhappy.
You don’t have to give in to every demand. You have another card to play. There are more options now than you had in the past. Publishing companies are not the only gateway to exposure now. Self-publishing has opened so many doors.
(Of course, some gate-keeping would probably be useful – self-pubbing also means there’s no one to tell you no when they probably should. But that’s for the public to decide, in the end. And more publishing companies could use some more intensive gate-keeping as well. If I’m included in that group, so be it. That’s fair.)
If no one else wants what you have to offer, you’re not doomed to ever keep your story in its trunk. You may not get instant fame and fortune writing for the fringe. Trust me, do not expect it. But if you’re telling the stories that you want told, and you haven’t compromised your integrity in the process of bring it to the reading public, you’re doing the author thing right.