GENREALITY


April 17th, 2009 by LViehl
The Reality of a Times Bestseller

A few years ago I made a promise to my writer friends that if I ever had a novel hit the top twenty of the New York Times mass market bestseller list that I would share all the information I was given about the book so writers could really see what it takes to get there. Today I’m going to keep that promise and give you the stats on my sixth Darkyn novel, Twilight Fall.

We’ve all been told a lot of myths about what it takes to reach the top twenty list of the NYT BSL. What I was told: you have to have an initial print run of 100-150K, you have to go to all the writer and reader conferences to pimp the book, you can’t make it unless you go to certain bookstores during release week and have a mass signing or somehow arrange for a lot of copies to be sold there; the list is fixed, etc.

I’ve never had a 100K first print run. I don’t do book signings and I don’t order massive amounts of my own books from certain bookstores (I don’t even know which bookstores are the magic ones from whom the Times gets their sales data.) I do very little in the way of promotions for my books; for this one I gave away some ARCs, sent some author copies to readers and reviewers, and that was about it. I haven’t attended any conference since 2003. To my knowledge there was no marketing campaign for this book; I was never informed of what the publisher was going to do for it (as a high midlist author I probably don’t rate a marketing campaign yet.) I know they did some blog ads for the previous book in the series, but I never saw anything online about this particular book. No one offered to get me on the Times list, either, but then I was never told who to bribe, beg or otherwise convince to fix the list (I don’t think there is anyone who really does that, but you never know.)

Despite my lack of secret handshakes and massive first print runs, in July 2008 my novel Twilight Fall debuted on the Times mm list at #19. I’ll tell you exactly why it got there: my readers put it there. But it wasn’t until last week that I received the first royalty statement (Publishing is unbelievably slow in this department) so I just now put together all the actual figures on how well the book did.

To give you some background info, Twilight Fall had an initial print run of 88.5K, and an initial ship of 69K. Most readers, retailers and buyers that I keep in touch with e-mailed me to let me know that the book shipped late because of the July 4th holiday weekend. Another 4K was shipped out two to four weeks after the lay-down date, for a total of 73K, which means there were 15.5K held in reserve in the warehouse in July 2008.

Here is the first royalty statement for Twilight Fall, on which I’ve only blanked out Penguin Group’s address. Everything else is exactly as I’ve listed it. To give you a condensed version of what all those figures mean, for the sale period of July through November 30, 2008. my publisher reports sales of 64,925 books, for which my royalties were $40,484.00. I didn’t get credit for all those sales, as 21,140 book credits were held back as a reserve against possible future returns, for which they subtracted $13,512.69 (these are not lost sales; I’m simply not given credit for them until the publisher decides to release them, which takes anywhere from one to three years.)

My net earnings on this statement was $27,721.31, which was deducted from my advance. My actual earnings from this statement was $0.

My advance for Twilight Fall was $50,000.00, a third of which I did not get paid until the book physically hit the shelf — this is now a common practice by publishers, to withhold a portion of the advance until date of publication. Of that $50K, my agent received $7,500.00 as her 15% (which she earns, believe me) the goverment received roughly $15,000.00, and $1594.27 went to cover my expenses (office supplies, blog giveaways, shipping, promotion, etc.) After expenses and everyone else was paid, I netted about $26K of my $50K advance for this book, which is believe it or not very good — most authors are lucky if they can make 10% profit on any book. This should also shut up everyone who says all bestselling authors make millions — most of us don’t.

My next royalty statement for Twilight Fall probably won’t come until October or November 2009, but when it does I’ll post copies of it so you can see what a top twenty Times bestseller does in the first year after it’s released.

In Publishing telling the truth about earnings smashes the illusions publishers and writers want you to believe and, like breaking mirrors, it never brings you good luck. Thing is, when I was a rookie I wanted to know exactly what it took to have a top twenty Times bestselling novel, because that was such a big deal to writers. Everyone I asked gave me a different answer, told me a bunch of nonsense, or couldn’t/wouldn’t tell me at all. For that reason I want you to see the hard figures, and know the reality, and the next time someone asks you what it takes, you can tell them the truth.

Just a Heads up: the comments for the post will be turned off on Monday Night (April 27) Thank you so much for all the interest, information and feedback – and keep an eye out for more straight up truth on the reality of this business here at Genreality.

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300 comments to “The Reality of a Times Bestseller”

  1. Lynn
    Comment
    251
     · April 22nd, 2009 at 11:15 pm · Link

    Jonis, I admire your enthusiasm and determination. I sincerely hope all your dreams do come true. In this business, someone’s should.



  2. Rick Daley
    Comment
    252
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 7:04 am · Link

    Thank you for posting this. As an aspiring writer with a decent day job, this makes me appreciate the stability of said day job a lot more. I’m still going to get published one day, and hopefully make the NT Times bestseller list, but I have a realistic perspective for what happens when I get there.

    I guess I need to return that boat.



  3. David Jones
    Comment
    253
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 8:35 am · Link

    Great post! Do the sales figures reflect the selling price to the bookstores or the selling price from the bookstores to the consumer?



  4. Sandip Sen
    Comment
    254
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 10:17 am · Link

    Thx for sharing the info

    Pls try Amazon for publishing next time.
    They are excellent, quick & professional
    and paying a very high ( Royalty of
    USD 7.09 on a list price of USD 16.90 )
    which is 42% to a newcomer author like me
    for my first Book ISBN 1440493332
    “The Project Management Time Cycle”
    which is neither a fiction nor a NY
    bestseller. Only problem is that they
    don’t have the distribution set up that
    the big publishers do. However established
    authors like you don’t need the publisher
    push and I feel you must try them out.
    Also they pay on time. Though I am living
    in India & not in US I have already recieved
    the cheque for Feb sales.

    Incidentally I have been offered only 10 %
    on net price after discount by the top most traditional publishers which works to approx
    5 % after deducting the distributors discount.

    However there is a big relationship between
    publishers and the media, which you will find
    if you go direct. I have had LA Times turn down
    my request to get the book reviewed as it is not
    published through a publisher on their list.
    However as you are a best selling author today
    perhaps they will bend the rules for you

    So I hope you try out Amazon next time for
    publishing your next bestseller and give
    boost to the “author to retailer” channel.

    Thx & Regards

    Sandip Sen



  5. Gillian
    Comment
    255
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 12:14 pm · Link

    God bless you for sharing this information, just so that we can understand! It’s probably hard for those who don’t love writing to understand how you could possibly work so hard for so little (monetary) return.



  6. Lara
    Comment
    256
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 2:55 pm · Link

    Wow, you are wonderful for sharing this. Thank you!!



  7. refriedgringo
    Comment
    257
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 3:09 pm · Link

    Unbelievable. A writer that not only shares information about their publishing, but a writer that actually responds to comments in a blog! Thank you for both things, for sharing and for responding to people here, I have no idea what you write but I am not surprised that you have a following based on nothing more than your generosity and willingness to interact. If you’re a good writer, may it pay off tenfold in the future.

    All hopeful writers reading this should take notes on this in my opinion.



  8. sally apokedak
    Comment
    258
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 3:10 pm · Link

    May your books sell by the millions and your readers rise up and pronounce blessings upon your name each morning. You’re a gem.



  9. Holly
    Comment
    259
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 5:12 pm · Link

    First of all, congratulations on your writing achievements.

    Thank you for the articulate way you shared this information. There is a perception out there that NY BS authors make millions upon millions, and that authors who don’t reach that status still make a ton of money.

    I think this craft is similar to very good hockey players or football players actually making it in the big league. There are very few Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich and Stephen King type writers who do make a ton of money, but they still have to work hard to stay on top.

    A lot of blogs and internet discussions emphasize the Stephanie Meyer phenomena, who has rocketed up to NY BS lists and other lists, products with her series on them, CD’s, DVD’s, Tshirts, etc. etc. Again, this is not the norm and I don’t know much about Ms Meyer, but I would venture to guess she put a lot of work and effort into promotion.

    I love a quote from Elmore Leondard’s quote when I read his bio.

    “It took me 30 years to become an overnight success.”

    Good luck to you and I wish you many more best selling novels and much success. You’re an inspiration and a true gem to share your experience with us all.



  10. jennifer
    Comment
    260
     · April 23rd, 2009 at 5:33 pm · Link

    Thanks so much for sharing, congrats on your success, and may your positive karma knock your socks off.

    People with your generosity and openness make the world (especially the small part of it writers occupy) a better place. Thanks.



  11. Lynn
    Comment
    261
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:37 am · Link

    My guy would love to have a boat, too, Rick, but we decided to save and invest most of my writing income to put it toward our home and the kids’ college tuition. We don’t live in a mansion, but we paid off our mortgage nine years early, and our kids won’t have to take out student loans when they go to college.



  12. Lynn
    Comment
    262
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:38 am · Link

    Good question, David. The prices listed are retail, which would be the selling price from the bookstore to the consumer.



  13. Lynn
    Comment
    263
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:40 am · Link

    Thanks for sharing your numbers, Sandip. I appreciate the advice, too.



  14. Lynn
    Comment
    264
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:50 am · Link

    For those of us who aren’t in it solely for the money (which is just about every working writer out there, I think) it’s a combination of dream and reality. Whether writing chooses you or you choose writing, it’s a privilege to have a job doing something you love and the opportunity to share it with others. The industry is tough, highly competitive and unforgiving, so there’s little to no job security, but if you develop the right attitude I think that can make you a better writer.

    It would help if writers were better-paid, but I think that’s true in every industry.



  15. Lynn
    Comment
    265
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:50 am · Link

    You’re welcome, ma’am. :)



  16. Lynn
    Comment
    266
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:52 am · Link

    I’m a little late responding to these last comments (I had a deadline to slay this week) but I’m always happy to talk shop. :)



  17. Lynn
    Comment
    267
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:52 am · Link

    I’ll settle for earning back all my advances, Sally. :) Thanks.



  18. Lynn
    Comment
    268
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:54 am · Link

    I’ve seen what the Stephen Kings and Stephenie Meyers have to do to stay on top of the lists, and to be honest I wouldn’t want to trade places. The millions must be very nice, but they come with a hefty price tag of their own.



  19. Lynn
    Comment
    269
     · April 24th, 2009 at 7:55 am · Link

    Anytime, Jennifer. :)



  20. Beth Miller
    Comment
    270
     · April 24th, 2009 at 9:36 am · Link

    Hiya, Lynn–
    Came across this, and I just wanted to let you know how fascinating it is, and how much I learned from your post. Wanna come do a tutorial here? LOL.
    Beth :)



  21. Mandy
    Comment
    271
     · April 24th, 2009 at 12:05 pm · Link

    Wow. I am SO impressed by this. My debut novel comes out in June, so I’ve never seen a royalty statement. This is wonderful to see!

    It’s maddening that there isn’t more information out there like this, so we know what we’re getting into.

    When I got my deal, i went back into my blog and unlocked dozens of entries dealing with rejection, becuase I think its wondeful when people open up on their blogs about ALL sides of their path to publication.

    Thank you so much for sharing!



  22. Regina Richards
    Comment
    272
     · April 24th, 2009 at 2:48 pm · Link

    Could you expand on this? What is it these top of the food chain writers must do that is onerous?



  23. LViehl
    Comment
    273
     · April 24th, 2009 at 3:26 pm · Link

    Oh, you’re funny.
    (The lovely Beth is the lady who sends me my royalty statements, btw. She also listens to my babbling, puts up with my nonsense, and finds my agent for me whenever things go boom.)



  24. LViehl
    Comment
    274
     · April 24th, 2009 at 3:53 pm · Link

    I think when you reach the top of the food chain you cease being regarded as an author and become instead public property. You’re a walking target for the stalkers, gawkers and malcontents out there who are looking to make you their fame vehicle.

    You also become a money-maker, and the people who want to ally themselves with someone with that kind of influence start seriously kissing your ass. You gather an entire army of camp followers and fangirls, and we’ve seen how destructive they can be online. You no longer have friends (or most of your friendships don’t survive your superstardom), and I imagine you can no longer trust anyone new who offers friendship. It must look like everyone has a hidden agenda or wants to use you.

    On the professional side, you don’t get feedback from your editors, you get carte blanche. Think of all the big name writers who no longer permit their books to be edited. I’m not going to point fingers, but I can think of two whom I loved when they were nobodies and subsequently lost interest in after they became superstars because the quality of their work went south. And it went south because they stopped allowing the editorial process to happen. While some people think this is a great thing, I think it ruins a writer.

    Finally, no one stays at the top forever. There is always someone younger, prettier, faster, more talented and with fresher material waiting to take your place. And they will do whatever they must to take it while you do whatever you have to in order to defend it. I was a witness to one of these clash of the titans type situations at a national conference once, and it was utterly appalling. It destroyed any desire I might have had to go into that stratosphere.



  25. LViehl
    Comment
    275
     · April 24th, 2009 at 3:58 pm · Link

    It’s good to discuss rejection with other writers because it is such a tough subject to be public about, and I applaud you for making the bumps along your journey accessible. I got bounced four times last week, so it never ends, no matter where you are in your career.

    Good luck with the debut — may it end up in every teenage girl’s backpack. :)



  26. Brenda Hiatt
    Comment
    276
     · April 24th, 2009 at 4:40 pm · Link

    Mandy, I’ve been collecting anonymous figures from romance (mostly) authors for several years now and have the results at my website (the Money link). Not nearly as detailed as what Lynn’s royalty statement shows, of course. I warn you, it’s rather sobering stuff.



  27. Mandy
    Comment
    277
     · April 24th, 2009 at 5:02 pm · Link

    Brenda, i’ve been a fan of your “show me the money” survey for years!! I’m so glad you were able to get people to share the info…it’s really helpful.



  28. Holly
    Comment
    278
     · April 24th, 2009 at 5:08 pm · Link

    That is interesting, because I’ve been wondering if some authors get published without any editing on their books. I won’t name names either, but there are four authors that I’ve read for over 10 years, and have stopped reading once they reached superstardom status, as I found their writing was lacking. I thought perhaps, they had ghost writers now that they have reached that level, because their writing wasn’t tight any longer, sloppy and definitely not fresh.

    My attitude has been that I would write these stories whether or not they ever got published. I have an agent now, after numerous rejections and a lot of rewrites, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed, and reading these types of blogs is very helpful for writers like me just starting out.

    Thanks again.



  29. Debbi
    Comment
    279
     · April 24th, 2009 at 5:44 pm · Link

    Your observations about bestselling author/celebrities are right on the mark. At some point, the author becomes a public figure, so they’ve essentially lost their privacy rights. Not a situation I’d be happy with.

    Plus, it’s true that a lot of bestselling authors’ work deteriorates as their careers proceed, due to lack of editorial guidance (and probably the fact that they’re “phoning it in” after a while).

    I think the clash of the titans scenario you presented is just sad. I never want to be a super-star for that very reason. It sounds like a dreadful way to live.

    I just want to write and would love to make a decent living at it. Not filthy rich–just decent! I don’t ask for much. :)



  30. LViehl
    Comment
    280
     · April 25th, 2009 at 7:13 am · Link

    I’ve had a couple of people ask me for links to Brenda’s survey, so here’s the URL:

    http://www.brendahiatt.com/id2.html



  31. LViehl
    Comment
    281
     · April 25th, 2009 at 7:19 am · Link

    The editorial process is important, and if you’re fortunate enough to be paired with an editor who “gets” you and is a good match, it will make you a better writer.

    A writer who is no longer allowing their books to be edited has cheated themselves and their readers, but I guess all that lovely money makes them forget how necessary good editing is.



  32. LViehl
    Comment
    282
     · April 25th, 2009 at 7:25 am · Link

    Debbi, your goals are realistic and attainable; after watching how the titans fight for the top spots I decided it wasn’t for me. This is assuming I could even make it to that level.

    Fcusing on the work and having a quality writing life versus getting into the top of the food chain will make you a lot happier in the long term. I speak from happy experience. :)



  33. Michelle Reynoso
    Comment
    283
     · April 25th, 2009 at 9:45 am · Link

    I wanted to let you know that I referenced your blog in my blog.

    http://michellereynoso.blogspot.com/2009/04/reality-of-writing-as-business.html

    Michelle Reynoso

    writing and photography
    http://www.MichelleReynoso.com
    http://www.michellereynoso.blogstpot.com



  34. cindie
    Comment
    284
     · April 25th, 2009 at 1:00 pm · Link

    Thanks for your generosity in sharing this! It takes some of the butterflies out of my stomach.



  35. Thomas Pellechia
    Comment
    285
     · April 25th, 2009 at 9:45 pm · Link

    Lynn,

    Great stuff and a good service to writers, especially new to the business.

    The thing in your story that rubs me the wrong way is the publisher holding that reserve on potential returns. The returns policy rubs me the wrong way. I know its origin, but it no longer applies as it did then.

    Publishing may be the only business that sells something at wholesale and then reduces the incentive for the retailer to sell the product by guaranteeing there is no need to sell it at all.

    I put that policy right up there with the publishers’ policy of selling books through distributors that go only to bookstores. For a nonfiction writer, like I, the subject usually exceeds an audience at bookstores–for a publisher, that’s an alien possibility.



  36. D. Kay
    Comment
    286
     · April 26th, 2009 at 6:25 am · Link

    The music business also has the same hold back for returns. I honestly do not know if other businesses do this with their products. I suppose they do. Distributors likely take back returns on anything that doesn’t sell through. For instance, if Home Depot doesn’t sell off the 100,000 new wonder hammer, they likely return the excess stock to whence it came.

    It would be way worse if they paid you a royalty as if the sales happened and then had to come back to you months later and demand the money back.



  37. Lynn
    Comment
    287
     · April 26th, 2009 at 7:45 am · Link

    No problem, Cindi.



  38. Lynn
    Comment
    288
     · April 26th, 2009 at 8:07 am · Link

    Reserves against returns is not one of my favorite publisher policies, Thomas, but I could live with it if reserves were held only until the first year after publication. I think holding them for two or three years is a little unreasonable, especially for a genre like mine where a novel’s average shelf life is six months at best. I also don’t think a book that has earned out and is generating royalties for me should have second reserves taken because the publisher has decided demand for it justifies a massive reprint. But they don’t let me run publishing, or things would be different.

    I’d like to see publishers overhaul the distribution and sales systems currently in place to address today’s market. I don’t think they can continue the way they’re doing business across the board, not if they want to survive.



  39. Pawyi Lee Montgomer
    Comment
    289
     · April 26th, 2009 at 10:57 am · Link

    Wikipedia says that Piers Anthony has sued publishers for accounting malfeasance and won judgments in his favor.



  40. James A. Ritchie
    Comment
    290
     · April 26th, 2009 at 11:28 am · Link

    From my experience as an editor, it’s a complete myth that the superstars of writing no longer allow editors to touch their work. Big name writers always get big name editors, the best the publisher has, and these editor have big names because they’re good at what they do.

    I know of only one big name writer who doesn’t allow her work to be touched by an editor, but she never allowed her work to be edited, even when she was an unknown, struggling writer.

    When someone does fall down on the job, it’s almost always the editor, rather than the superstar writer. Editors are extremely busy, and sometimes one will get the idea that the superstar writer doesn’t need his help. Superstar writers generally believe the opposite, and I’ve known several editors to be fired, and others more or less demoted, because the superstar writer realized the editor was no longer doing his job and demanded a change.

    Even Stephen King asked for and received a new editor a few years back, solely because he realized the editor hadn’t touched his latest novel.

    Nor do I think many superstars ever “phone it in.” Most are trying harder than ever to be good, to do the best possible work. What usually happens is not that the writer has gone downhill, but that the long term reader’s taste has changed. The writer’s books and style no longer excite him, and he blames it on the writer.

    New fans of this writer usually love him just as much as the old fan did back in the beginning.

    Though I would also add that it’s not an editor’s job to rewrite, revise, or change a writer’s style. We can ask the writer for a revision, for a rewrite, but the truth is that we’re often wrong, and the writer was right.

    And in reality, when hundreds of thousands to millions of readers are still buying a writer’s books, it’s real hard to argue that he’s doing much wrong.



  41. Holly
    Comment
    291
     · April 26th, 2009 at 11:45 am · Link

    James, thank you for clearing some misconceptions up.

    I have a question, if you don’t mind.

    If you are contracted with a large NY publisher and assigned an editor, and a debut author. If the editor suggests a major revision in the plot, or a scene, does the author have to do it? Or can she discuss it and say it doesn’t feel right to make a huge change? I think many of us just beginning are intimidated by editors at first. We also feel we have to do EXACTLY what they suggest?

    I also feel that way with agents, when one is a beginner and forget, the agent works for the author not the other way around.

    It is a confusing and intimidating business when one is starting out, because there are so many misconceptions, misinformation out there on the net.

    I feel that one can only write the very best story one can write, and hope the professionals behind the work know what they are doing.

    Also, how does a book get to be a NY Times Best seller? Do you have an insight how a book gets to that level?

    Thanks in advance for any light you can shed on these questions.

    I also want to thank everyone for sharing their opinions and experiences. Wonderful blog!



  42. Lynn
    Comment
    292
     · April 26th, 2009 at 8:31 pm · Link

    I’ll have to disagree with you, James. Both authors I mentioned have been public about their refusal to allow their work to be edited, so that’s not any big secret or myth there. As for blaming the editors for the majority of the problems, I think that’s like a bunch of editors getting together and blaming authors for everything — unrealistic and unfair to place all the burden on one side of the equation.

    I think the match of editor to writer is what makes the process work or not. I’ve worked with about a dozen editors now, and I know that an editor who is a good match is going to help me a lot. A bad match isn’t, but I tend to police myself a little more when I’m working with an editor who doesn’t fit me. But to point the finger at all editors and say it’s their fault 99% of the time is excluding the responsibility of the writer to be one-half of an important partnership.

    As for “phoning it in”, when a quality author begins producing lacklustre books that are rushed out to take advantage of a surge in popularity, such as putting into print that which basically consists of the contents of their web site and message boards, and expecting readers to pay top dollar for it, what else can you really call it?



  43. Lynn
    Comment
    293
     · April 26th, 2009 at 8:41 pm · Link

    James, I also meant to ask, where have you worked as an editor? All the info I’ve found about you online is a blog and some entries on a mystery discussion board, and I’m not even sure that’s you.



  44. Alison Kent
    Comment
    294
     · April 26th, 2009 at 9:40 pm · Link

    From my experience as an editor, it’s a complete myth that the superstars of writing no longer allow editors to touch their work.

    You may not be familiar with many romance authors, James, but there is a particular NYT author who is well known by many authors for refusing to be edited.



  45. Maya
    Comment
    295
     · April 27th, 2009 at 5:26 am · Link

    This makes me kind of glad I have such a low-paying job right now, because the prospect of earning $26,000 still sounds pretty good to me!! Hmm. Or maybe this means I need a better job. At any rate, thanks SO much for sharing this, and congratulations for hitting this milestone. I have to confess that I’m more likely to buy books that say “NY Times Bestseller” on the cover (partly because I know I have something to learn from them as a writer), so I hope this continues to reap dividends for you in the future!



  46. Holly
    Comment
    296
     · April 27th, 2009 at 8:41 am · Link

    Interesting, after I posted my questions to James I also used Google to see which house he edited for, but didn’t find anything except for some blogs.

    Whoever James is, I found his response gave another dimension to this discussion, but like everything else, everyone will have their own perception of their own experiences.

    Lynn, I find your answers and information enlightening, knowledgable and refreshing as you are shooting straight from the hip and you have an awesome attitude when it comes to your writing.

    I totally agree with you, that a writer has to find that happy place and stick to writing the best she can instead of aiming for lists or trying to topple over the stars.

    I can’t even imagine the pressure some of the top authors must be under to not only keep producing, but to stay on top of the lists. I also appreciate you expelling a lot of myths about the financial picture when it comes to writing.

    I still don’t know how some top writers do it. They turn out best sellers every year, they maintain facebook, myspace, blogs, interviews, interact with readers, have families, etc. I admire their energy! It takes a lot of energy to focus just on writing well, the promotion side of things daunts me and sounds like a lot of work, but I guess it’s necessary work.



  47. Lynn
    Comment
    297
     · April 27th, 2009 at 11:09 am · Link

    My pleasure, Maya. Btw, I really enjoyed visiting your blog, and I’m going to try your recipe for homemade hummus — I don’t like the storebought variety, which has way too much salt and preservatives in it. Thanks!



  48. James A. Ritchie
    Comment
    298
     · April 27th, 2009 at 11:16 am · Link

    Yes, there’s always one or two or five in any large group that give all the others a bad name. The problem is that we find one or two big name writers who refuse to be edited, and we then apply this to the group as a whole. There have been thousands of bestselling writers over the years, and almost all work as hard as they can, try as hard as they can, accept all the help they can get.

    And refusing editing is not always a bad thing. An editor offers suggestions, which may be right or wrong, an editor tightens a bit, does his best to get the grammar and punctuation right, etc., but it’s the writer’s book, and any writer, new, mid-list, bestselling, etc., must do whatever he thinks is best for that book.

    I’ve been told by one of her editors that Anne Rice has never allowed any editing on her books. Ever. Now, it may well be that some editing would have helped, but it’s awfully difficult to argue with the success of her novels, in sales numbers, and in how incredibly enthusiastic her fans are about those books.

    When writers blindly follow an editor, well, it doesn’t always work. Editors can make books worse, just as they can make books better. Darned few editors have any special insight above and beyond what the bestselling writer has.

    New writers usually have to make whatever changes an editor wants or the book won’t sell, but bestselling writers have, and deserve, more power to say no. This isn’t a bad thing. When an editor harms a book, the writer gets the blame, not the editor, so when a writer believes his way is best, he’d be a fool to make changes.

    Readers ultimately make the decision, and most complaints come not from readers, but from other writers and critics.

    Anyway, my suggestion is to visit the websites/blogs of bestselling writers and ask about editors. Most will tell you they love their editors, value the editor’s input, and take advice readily.



  49. Debbi
    Comment
    299
     · April 27th, 2009 at 12:14 pm · Link

    I think you’re right, James . . . about not painting all bestselling authors with the same broad brush. (I feel the same way about self-published authors and self-publishing in general, but that’s a whole ‘nuther topic . . . and let’s not go there, please . . .)

    A few (or even several) bad apples doesn’t spoil the whole bunch. I know there are multi-published bestselling authors who are still working hard to keep their series’ fresh. (I’d say Sue Grafton is one of them.) It’s just a drag when you see certain people who used to be great doing less than stellar work, simply because they can get away with it. If anything, it makes me wonder about the taste of the people reading their books. I can only assume it’s simply because that author’s name is on the cover.



  50. Lynn
    Comment
    300
     · April 27th, 2009 at 3:31 pm · Link

    Your comments had me rereading back over all the comments your statements could be applied to, and I don’t see where anyone has applied the generalization you keep mentioning. I cited two authors who have been public about their refusal to be edited, which I don’t consider a sweeping condemnation of all bestselling authors. Possibly you’ve misinterpreted my meaning; I’m not sure, but I apologize for an offense I may have inadvertantly caused.

    I’m sorry you didn’t respond to my question about where you’ve worked as an editor, too. You speak like someone with a lot of experience, and commenters who are professionals (past or present) always contribute a great deal of validity to any discussion.

    In any case, thanks for your observations.



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