Until The Fat Lady Sings

Maybe you’ve heard the expression, it’s not over until the fat lady sings. It’s rarely discussed in publishing (at least from what I’ve read) but it’s true in book publishing as well.  A book isn’t a book until it’s actually published. Yes, you want to celebrate if you are offered a book contract from a traditional publishing house.  But if you carefully read the contract, there are benchmarks for the publisher and for the author. If something isn’t met along the way, then the book can be cancelled and not published. It’s why I’ve encouraged authors to celebrate when they actually hold the book in their hand. Yes, work hard to get exposure and market your book but also realize you’ve achieved a real milestone when your book appears in print. As an editor and as the author, I’ve been involved in some of these challenges and it’s not easy but it does happen. I’ll not be detailing them in these entries but I have had some unpleasant experiences in this area of publishing.

PumpkinsWhy am I introducing this topic? I was fascinated to see the detail in this article in the November 20th issue of Publishers Weekly titled, “Witch Scares Off S & S.”  It gives you a taste of this dynamic process of publishing and some of the discussions that authors and publishers have before a book releases into the marketplace. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers originally contracted to publish  Ken Robbins’ book, Pumpkins. The author/ illustrator of over 25 children’s books, Robbins had a disagreement with the publisher about an illustration in the book with a witch.  The Publishers Weekly article includes the illustration but I could not located it online to show you. The publisher was concerned the religious right would object to the witch illustration and asked for it to be removed. Robbins decided not to change the image and got his rights back from S & S, then took the book to another publisher, Roaring Brook Press, a part of Holzbrinck Publishers. If you carefully read this article, you will see some of the negotiations and the decisions made for this particular title. It’s not an isolated story but happens throughout publishing.

I call this article to your attention for several reasons. First, some authors are pretty combative with their editor in the editing process. I mean they almost fight every single part of the process. If you are one of these types of writers, I’d encourage you to loosen your stance in this area. The publisher wants to produce the best possible book product to sell into the marketplace (which they intimately understand). The work between the author and the editor is a cooperative venture with the goal of producing excellence. Just be aware that you have to pick and choose your battles carefully because some of these battles will be a deal breaker (cancel the book which is not a happy situation for anyone). The process isn’t over until it’s over. It’s a valuable call to excellence and cooperation in my view.

3 Responses to “Until The Fat Lady Sings”

  1. R.G. Says:

    A great point to bring to our attention, Terry. When I was an in-house editor, I went through an excruciating process of editing a writer who was very difficult to work with. Finally we were down to one issue that needed to be changed. It seemed fairly minor to me, but it turned out he had a huge axe to grind on this issue and he really wanted to “stick it to someone” by writing this particular thing in this book. Seriously, it was a matter of maybe three sentences. But it was a hill to die on. We pulled the contract and he never did end up selling it elsewhere.

  2. Rosemary Carstens Says:

    This is a good point to bring up, Terry. There is another side to it. An author needs to have a clear idea about his or her goals in their career. A close friend of mine once said, “If you aren’t holding a hand of cards and sitting at the table, you aren’t in the game.” Which is basically saying, do a lot of listening in the initial process of getting a book published. If there is a topic or issue that is important to you to discuss, remember that if your book doesn’t get published, none of your voice will be heard. As you get better known, you may have more opportunity to get your message out, to persuade people. But you must be in the “game” to do so. An author who genuinely thinks about the advice of their agent or editor will be listened to much more closely when it comes to issues of major importance or deep belief. Pick your battles. – Rosemary Carstens, http://www.thedreamrider.com/FEAST.html

  3. Richard Mabry Says:


    As always, relevant and enlightening. I suspect that a significant number of those writing Christian fiction have special causes, points they feel they’ve been called to drive home, material that constitutes a “deal-breaker” when it comes down to negotiations with the editor and publisher. But as you and Rachelle pointed out, the “deal-breaker” tag cuts both ways, and Rosemary says it very well: If your book doesn’t get published, your message won’t be heard.

    In my third of a century of medical practice, some of the best education I received came over cups of coffee in the surgeons’ lounge, listening to colleagues sharing their experience. Reading your blog is like those sessions for me, and I value the lessons I’ve learned from you and from a number of the folks who post comments.

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