A Tale of Six Publishers – Part 2

Make sure their in-house stylebook/author’s guide suits your work, human editors beat machine editors, and definitely make sure the editor they assign you is familiar with your genre

(oops! this was suppose to go out last week. my bad. sorry.

Part 1 of this series covered my entry into the world of noveling, and the first quote-publisher-unquote who wanted my premier novel, The Augmented Man. I shared three critical issues to ask any publisher before signing with them:

  1. Marketing – how would the publisher get word of my book out to potential readers?
  2. Distribution – how would the publisher get my book into potential readers’ hands?
  3. Career Development – what would the publisher do to help me become a better author?

This post deals with publisher #2 and critical issue #3 from the list above

Nutshell takeaway: Publishers interested in developing you as an author put their own money into it. You’re an investment. They work with you to develop your craft and help you learn how to improve your craft because they know, in the end, they’ll make more money from an author with developed talent than an author with stalled talent.

I became careful investigating publishers due to my experience with publisher #1. Investigating before entering into any kind of agreement with an unknown entity (organization or individual) is called due diligence. I was learning that the publishing landscape changed since my 1980s-based experiences, and due diligence became one of my tools in seeking out publishers.

Before submitting to publisher #2, I asked around in writers groups, message boards, talked with the people I’d be working with, et cetera.

One anomaly occurred: Someone praised the publisher on one board. Their praise was so over-the-top I asked if they worked for the publisher.

No, they didn’t.

But when I looked through the publisher’s staff, there the praiser was. In charge of acquisitions. Meaning they’d have the deciding vote on whether to send my work up the chain.

So I asked via the message board if this individual worked for the publisher.

Well, yes they did, but they got the job slightly after they responded to my initial query.

Okay, such happens. Several 1980s trade-technical authors put me on their letterhead because I was so well recognized in the industry.

Onward and Upward.

Publisher #2 read my The Augmented Man and asked if I had other books ready to go.

Specifically, they asked if The Augmented Man was the first in a series.

“No, it’s not.”

Could I make it into a series?

“The protagonist completes his growth arc at the end of the novel. I’m not sure how to develop him further from there.”

Did I have other books available?

“I have Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires and Empty Sky ready to go and two others ready for editing.”

They sent me a contract for a five book deal.

I was thrilled. I was ecstatic. I was humbled. I was honored.

Now let me tell you how I was damn near screwed.

In-House Stylebook/Author’s Guide
A good publisher either sees promise in your work or doesn’t. They’ll work with writers showing lots of promise until said writer either matures or doesn’t.

What the won’t do is rewrite your work to suit what they want to publish. Doing so removes your voice – your branding – from the work.

The conflict arises when the publisher accepts your work, sends you a contract, and fails to mention they have an in-house stylebook. An in-house stylebook – also known as an author’s guide – is a set of rules any work must adhere to to be published. They’ll have it in writing if they have one at all.

Now here’s a kicker: publishers who have no stylebook usually (99.999% of the time) have no human editors, no proofreaders, are small to the point of 1-2 person operations, and should be avoided.

Most publishers will point to either the Chicago Manual of Style or Strunk&White and be done with it. Some will have a stylebook so their products have a language consistency across a given genre (Old West novels won’t include the use of mobile phones, video conferencing, …, Modern Romance novels won’t have shoot outs on Main Street, …)

And some publishers will decide semicolons (“;”), em dashes (“—”), colons (“:”), ellipsis (“…”, et cetera, are useless punctuation marks and should all be replaced by hyphens (“-“)


Each punctuation mark means something different. Specifically, different punctuation marks signal the reader how long a pause to take before reading further.

Regular readers know I write to a rhythm. Readers with musical backgrounds can pick out the time signatures (3/4, 7/8, 4/4, 9/16, …) of whatever piece they read. My writing has a subtle beat to engage the reader and keep them reading through to the end, much like a piece of music’s beat keeps the listener listening to the end of the piece.

Removing my chosen punctuation throws off the rhythm and meter of my work.

But okay, it was a five book deal. Could we compromise?

The EIC (Editor-in-Chief) said yes: Could I go through The Augmented Man and, if I found places where an hyphen wouldn’t suffer the work, switch it in?

I spent a weekend with five writing manuals and accepted style guides on my desk going through page by page.

In the end I could make an argument for changing ~40%, I did, and sent it back in.

“No, sorry. The decision is they all have to be changed.”

Basically they told me I wasted my weekend because they have no interest in compromising, only in having me do all the work of changing punctuation around.

Never, ever, ever cause me to waste my time!

I was incensed.

And this was only the beginning.

Before you continue, remember that The Augmented Man is a near future, science fiction military psychological thriller. The opening scene is in a biker bar.

The editor assigned to me flagged several items. What follows is a sample. Give them a read and guess why they were flagged:

The door opened and he smelled the cool April evening on his skin. It was followed by the alcoholic breath and sweat of two men and a woman they supported between them.Trailer brought his attention back into the bar, collating the activity immediately around him.
The barkeeper, a heavy smelling man…

Seem okay to you?

Seemed okay to some twenty first readers, too. It’s on the first page of the novel. The editor flagged it because “people can’t smell through their skin, and people can’t smell ‘heavy’.”

How about:

Donaldson parted the beads to inspect the images. Regardless of technology, each image showed a different woman, each sporting leather, each mostly naked and most of them average looking, plain. Each image was autographed and dated – the mobiles, mobcomms, and glasses digitally. Donaldson guessed the date signified when the women’d been inducted as mommas.

They had no idea what a “momma” was.

One more:

Rivers inhaled, grabbed the handles, and, with no hydraulics to aid the movement, slid the door up the runners with a smooth precision and a clarity of movement that pleased Donaldson. Rivers’ military dress and topcoat couldn’t hide his powerful shoulders and arms. Remarkably well proportioned, with close-cut blond hair, bright blue eyes, strong jawline, and the broad calloused palms of a long-time weightlifter – his size deceived people until they stood next to him, until they had something normal – a doorframe, furniture – to compare him to.

Give up?

She flagged it as being gay.

And the above are only a sample.

The Augmented Man was this editor’s first project. She just graduated with a BA in English. She never read science fiction, never read military, never read thrillers, …

She only looked at the first twenty or so pages. The rest was machine edited.

I called the EIC. Apologies, the EIC would personally edit my book.

It didn’t get better.

I cancelled the contract. Publisher #2 wasn’t interested in developing me as an author, they were interested in adding titles to their catalogue so they’d appear bigger than they actually were. Turns out close to 80% of their titles were written by staff.

And sucked.

Next week, the publisher #3 fiasco.

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