PSA: What Writers Do

As I mentioned yesterday, it’s that time again!

Time for a refresher course on who does what to whom in the world of publishing.

All righty then!

Q: What is the Primary Function of an author?

A: The Primary Function of an author is to write.

Yep, that’s pretty much it, with the following clarifications-or-conditions:

If the we (as author) happen to perform the Primary Function under contract, we write books and hand them in (more or less) to deadline.

We may also write on spec first, and sell later.

If we do the selling thing at all, then we also may read and correct galleys. Some authors skip this, usually for lack of time; most try to go over their galleys, if only to annihilate that one wayward “not” in dialog, the existence of which changes the meaning of the last third of the novel*.

Occasionally, authors may be asked to write cover copy. Occasionally, authors are asked to write forewords to novels. Doesn’t always happen; sometimes, the requested copy isn’t used. That’s life.

Some authors choose to do some promotion and/or mingling with their readers. Some authors choose to do lots of promotion and mingling; some authors choose to do none. These choices are author-specific and personal.

* * *

Astute readers will see that the above list leaves a Whole Buncha Stuff having to do with producing and selling books that the author of same has nothing to do with.

These things include, but are not limited to:

1. Cover art**

1a. Cover and/or internal typeface(s)

2. The physical dimensions of the book

2A. The medium — i.e., hardcover, trade paper, mass market, electronic, audio — in which the book is available

3. The quality of the binding and/or the quality of the paper

4. The price of the book

5. The language(s) into which the book is translated

6. The vendors who carry, or who do not carry, the book in a specific medium

6a. The individual libraries and/or library systems that have, or have not, acquired the book

6a1. Whether or not the acquiring library, if any, has acquired all available books, or only random titles

7. The price charged by those vendors who do carry the book in whatever medium

8. The speed at which a certain printing sells out

8a. The speed at which (and whether) a sold-out book is reprinted

9. Whether the electronic version of the book has DRM imposed upon it

9a. The policies of publishing houses with regard to DRM

9a1. The policies of publishing houses with regard to pricing, and rate of publication for electronic books

* * *

Since some people seem to cling to the Certainty that Authors have control over all aspects of the publication of their book, despite numerous authors who occasionally produce lists like the above in order to educate their readers, and interested others, I need to be Very Firm here. Apologies to the overwhelming majority of y’all who are reasonable, literate human beings.


Writing to the author about your personal dissatisfaction with those things which fall into the publisher’s honor does one thing and one thing only: It corks off the writer. Depending on the writer, it may, alternatively, depress them and fill them with a sense of their own powerlessness, or solidify their belief that interacting with readers is more trouble than it’s worth and will only lead to grief.

What it won’t do is effect the change you desire. In order to effect the change you desire, you must speak to decision makers. Which is to say, you have to talk to the publisher.

I hope that’s sufficiently clear.

Thank you for reading, and for your continued support of our work.

*True story; not mine.

**Sometimes, authors do get to consult with cover artists; we’ve personally been very pleased in being able to work with David Mattingly on several of our Liaden Universe® covers, now. Ultimately, though, it is not the author, but the publisher, who OKs the art.

Oh, and by the way? If you really like a piece of cover art? Telling the author is nice, but you really ought to spend a couple minutes with Google and send an appreciative note to the artist and, yes, to the art department of the publishing house. Artists need love, too. And work.

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