The inner voice that guides your actions and decisions-everyone has one. Some of us have one we choose to ignore, but we have one all the same. Sometimes you ignore that voice and nothing happens. Sometimes you ignore that voice, and it comes back to bite you in a big way. This is a cautionary tale of being bitten in a big way.
For those of you who don’t recall, I recently shared the exciting news of being signed with a publisher to release my first young adult novel. You may have noticed I specifically omitted mentioning the name of the publisher, and it wasn’t because I wasn’t allowed to name them. It was because I was ashamed for ignoring that inner voice telling me accepting this offer was a bad decision.
The first time I heard the voice regarding this matter came when I was doing a review of the publisher’s web site. It had a few typographical errors that raised a red flag to me. A publisher looking to establish himself as legitimate should convey an image of professionalism and instill confidence in their abilities.
My nagging voice of concern grew a bit louder when I did a little more in depth research on the publisher and found the only client signed to their agency was the publisher. Trying to be fair, I checked out the summary of the publisher’s book. While the book seemed moderately intriguing, I was again bothered by some errors with grammar and punctuation. I was even more bothered to see the distributor the publisher used was a self-publishing site. I excused it by saying the publisher may have started out self-publishing and then decided to expand to mainstream publication.
Another concern arose when I could find no record of other authors working with this publisher. Normally, I’ll take to writer friendly websites that contain ratings on publishers and agents as well as feedback from other authors as to their experiences. None of this existed, but I chalked it up to the fact that the publisher was too new to have anything in the database. There are some industry experts who caution writers not to get involved with a new publisher. Rather than being the guinea pig for a house that could flop, writers are advised to focus their efforts on working with those with a proven track record. I’ve always disagreed with this. Everyone has to start somewhere, and that includes publishers. Why not give them a chance? With what I’ve put myself through lately, I’m starting to change my stance on this.
More concerns surfaced when the publisher was quick to respond to me sending in my manuscript. Most agents and publishers will take weeks or months to respond due to the high volume of submissions. Having discovered so many issues, I opted not to respond to the request for my manuscript. That is, I initially opted not to respond. When the publisher sent a second email asking for the book and expressing a strong interest, I pushed aside that voice of reason and sent it in.
There was the first of many mistakes I made in this journey. I should have replied with a polite thanks but no thanks. Instead, I let my desire to be published and the overwhelming sadness in my life drive me to make a poor decision. This publisher’s interest came less than a month after my father unexpectedly passed away, and diving head first into this gave me a new sense of purpose and something to focus on other than my loss.
When I received the offer to publish a mere week after sending the novel, I couldn’t totally block the nagging voice. I asked some savvy questions about the editing and publishing process. The answers I got seemed satisfactory and the publisher always responded timely to my concerns and questions. And the big sticking point was that the publisher never asked me for any money. Asking for money upfront is always a bad sign. Against my better judgment, I allowed myself to be lulled into a false sense of security and agreed to sign with them.
My first big moment of regret came when the publisher sent me the editor’s mark up. There were a number of things the editor changed that went beyond correction of spelling and punctuation errors. One of the greatest concerns I had was the fact that the editor, based in the United Kingdom, changed several of my phrases to reflect the language of that region. Despite my novel being set in the United States, the editor changed the word friends to mates and crazy to mad, among other things. Having read the mark up, I went running for my lap top and dashed off a letter to the publisher expressing concern. I asked if these were things I was going to be forced to accept and reminded the publisher we’d agreed I would have the option of either accepting or rejecting any changes. The publisher assured me the decision was mine and even went so far as to say I could change the story back if I wasn’t comfortable with the changes.
To be fair to the editor, there were a number of things pointed out that I felt were viable and would improve the story. However, there were just as many things I couldn’t and wouldn’t accept. I changed some things and not others. After spending weeks working on this, I sent the revision to the publisher late last night. Along with the requested revision, I sent an email explaining what I disagreed with and why. Given the amount of time the editor spent working on the story, I felt it was only fair to explain why I’d overruled the suggested changes.
Imagine my surprise to open my email this morning and find a scathing reply from the publisher accusing me of lecturing them and being difficult to work with and telling me they knew this would happen when I started asking questions at the initial stages. Of course they knew it would happen! I asked those questions to avoid this very thing. I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time or money. The publisher went on to point out that if I’d signed with a “big six” publisher I wouldn’t have any input and wouldn’t even know about changes until after the fact. Again, I was fully aware of this which is what motivated my decision to work with a smaller house. I wanted to have a voice in the creative process. To me, it feels like I was offered that voice only to have it silenced when I had the nerve to use it. The publisher ended by saying I had three choices: 1) publish the way I originally sent it in and take my chances it could have errors, 2) deal with the fact that the editor’s changes were going to be incorporated into the work, or 3) terminate the contract. Ironically, this electronic tirade was laced with grammar, spelling and punctuation errors.
Moral of the story? That nagging voice inside you exists for a reason. When it’s telling you to listen to the red flags, listen to the red flags! This is what happens when you don’t listen.