Friday, January 30, 2009

Writing Journey: Part IV

Part I
Part II
Part III

After that February phone call, my editor Angela and I began the editing process pretty quickly because I had an unusually early release date. At first they waffled on two different ones: July or January.

With the typical publishing pipeline process, January would have made much more sense. I don't know why they ended up picking July, but I've always guessed they had an unexpected open slot or something. Looking back, I can see how insanely fast it all happened.

July turned out to be very good for me, as I was due with baby #4 mid-September. That gave me two and a half months to promote before baby arrived. Trying to do book signings and the like with a newborn would have been a challenge. (As it was, dragging my huge, swollen self around was tough enough. My last book signing was days before she was born.)

I spent my spring going over edits and proofs. At one point, Angela informed me in an e-mail that my book would be called Lost without You.

I stared at the screen, confused. I typed, "What does that have to do with my story?"

Her reply: "Oh, I think they figured it was just a romantic-sounding title."

Great. I pictured the marketing department with a list of "romantic" names in one column and a list of writers on the other and then someone randomly drawing lines between the two.

I'm sure it wasn't like that, but I still didn't like the title. To me, the romance wasn't the point of the book. Yes, it's a big part of the story, but it wasn't where I wanted the focus to be. I wanted it on the mother-daughter relationship. Oh, and "lost without you" isn't something any of my characters would say.

During the final editing, I asked if I could tweak the last scene. I added one sentence of dialogue (which included the words, "lost without you") so that the title would point to what *I* wanted it to. (Not the romance!)

Since then, I've gotten several reader letters saying that they wondered what the title had to to do with anything until they got to that line. So, yeah. Glad I did that.

Then I saw the cover. In case you don't remember it, this is what it looks like:

It's not my favorite cover (not by a mile), but it's not bad, either. It does the job pretty well.

Let's analyze it for a moment. Remember, authors don't get much (if any) say in their covers. As a first-time author, I had even less say. No clout at all. I didn't even see the cover until it was finalized and in the Covenant preview catalog that goes to bookstores.

I thought the vertical design was kind of cool. The color was catchy. But . . . the girl on the cover looks pregnant. Brooke isn't pregnant. Ever.

And the girl has curly, brown hair. Brooke has straight brown hair. At one point, she dyes and perms her hair for a part in a play. So if it's curly, it should also be red. She looks so sad and miserable, but the story is actually pretty light for the most part. (It even has some funny moments, I think.) Overall, I didn't fall in love with the whole stock photo thing.

Note how itty bitty my name is on the cover. That's because no one would be picking it up based on my name. I didn't have a name yet, if that makes sense. Ever notice how books by really huge writers have their name emblazoned over half the book, while you almost have to search for the title? That would be why. Their name is selling the book.

A lot of readers are horrified when they find out that the writer doesn't get much say in the title or the cover. But the reality is that the marketing and graphic design departments have a ton more experience in selling books than the writer does. The writer's job is to write a good book; they package it and sell it.

These people have the goal to get customers to pick up your book off the shelf and give it a chance. They have a lot of experience in knowing what types of covers and titles will do that, and which won't. On top of that, the graphic design people are trained in making covers look professional.

Granted, sometimes they create flops, but it's far more likely that they'll do a (MUCH!) better job than the writer could have if given the chance.

This is why it's pretty easy most of the time to spot a self-published book: the writer picked the title and the cover and didn't know how. The cover and title might match the story inside, but the book will almost certainly get passed over on the vast sea that the bookshelves are.

Since the publisher takes the entire financial burden for evaluating, editing, designing, printing, shipping, and marketing your book, it makes sense that they'd get the say on how to sell it to give it the best shot.

That still doesn't make it easy to wait to see what they come up with!

(But I'm still thrilled over my newest cover!)

For over a year I couldn't call my first book by its title; it was just "my book." Not until I had more than one published (so "my book" was no longer specific enough) could I call it Lost without You.

I discovered shortly after LWY hit shelves that getting such a quick release date had one pretty big down side: if I wanted to build any kind of readership in my market (so readers would actually remember me), I'd need to have a book out roughly once a year.

Next time I'd have the typical year-long lag between acceptance and publication, and that didn't count the time it would take to get through the submission and evaluation process with another book.

Which meant I needed to turn in another manuscript, oh, yesterday.


Kristina P. said...

So interesting! And if I didn't know better, I would honestly think that was a book about teen pregnancy, like you said.

Lara Neves said...

So, I finished the PDF you sent me, and really enjoyed it.

Went to the library yesterday and thought I'd check to see if they had any of your other books. They only had Lost Without You. (SMALL library.)

Finished it last night. Also really, really enjoyed. I agree that the title didn't really seem to have anything to do with anything until the final paragraph. Interesting to know that you added that after the title was chosen.

Rebecca Irvine said...

This is great information for new writers. I would have loved to read this.

Question: Does your publisher communicate regularly with you about the sales of your book(s)?

Annette Lyon said...

Becky, Unless I ask specifically, the only info I get about sales is on my royalty statements that come twice a year.

In fact, when I was interviewed by a newspaper for House on the Hill, the reporter asked something about the book already going into its second printing--and that was news to me. She'd gotten that from Covenant, but they hadn't told me!

I tend to get obsessive about checking the DB site rankings. They're about the only indication of how well something's selling, and even that's not particularly accurate.

Erin said...

This is really interesting. But I can see that based on the cover of the first book, I would pick it up and look at it. So they must know what they are doing!

Jenna said...

I love that you are sharing your journey with us. It's really great reading, and quite encouraging too. You are awesome.

Rebecca Blevins said...

I'm learning so much from you.

Each time with these writing posts, I get so into it that there's a shock at the end when it stops. I'm looking forward to next week!

Heffalump said...

It's interesting finding out more of the behind the scenes stuff that goes on. Thanks for sharing it with us!

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

This is absolutely fascinating, Annette. Loving this series!

Luisa Perkins said...

I had wondered about that cover and title, because when I first picked up the book, I assumed it was a tragedy about a woman who loses a baby...I was so glad instead to read a lighthearted romance.

As always, a wonderful post.

An Ordinary Mom said...

I love learning about the behind the scenes stuff that goes on. And I had no idea authors had so little say in the cover?!? What if you totally hate it? (I guess they could tell you to "ocope" which is what my word verification is, lol!)

Glad you were able to get in that last sentence in your first book.

Amanda D said...

This is so interesting. I haven't read this money to buy books right now and our library only has Sprires of Stone. Sometime, I'll get my hands on a copy!

Anonymous said...

Such great info you're giving us. A world very few of us know about!
I'm loving this series of posts.

Here's a question...

How do you address an envelope when the family's last name already ends in "s"?

The Jones', The Joneses ?????

And don't you dare say "The Jones Family!"

Signed...Always wanted to know.

Heidi said...

This is the thing that has me feeling pretty panicky about writing a new book. Even if I turned one in today, it would be at least 18 months between Miss D and the next. I'm hoping blogging will be all the difference in that regard . . .

Alison Wonderland said...

First of all, Jenn, it's the Joneses. Trust me on this one, I was a Jones.

Second, I actually really like the new author, name really small on the book thing. I mean, I get that when you're Stephen King it's the fact that it's by Stephen King that gets people to buy the book but I still think that I'd rather people bought the book because it looked interesting. Of course, I'd really just like to have a book for people to buy.

Anonymous said...

Well, now I may need to try Lost Without You, just to see what it's really about. This post makes me understand, though, why titles are often not what I think they should be. I'm not a marketer!

Julie Wright said...

isn't it funny how it all works? Covers are either a great delight or a bit of a thorn depending.


Amazon's famous Prime Day events are huge for so many reasons, and for bookworms, it's even better: books aren't high-ticket ite...