The Things I Can Control


I got a fan letter this week, and it was a lovely letter about plot and character and about how a new reader has found fantasy books because of my books. It was all nice. Until the reader offered a constructive criticism. About something I cannot control.  Her letter started me thinking, ruminating, and I just wanted to share her letter and my reactions and feelings about it.

Once-upon-a-time, I was quite tender hearted and might have reacted to her letter with some small level of depression. Back when I was younger I felt I needed to be in control—or at the very least be kept constantly informed about things I couldn’t control. Not so much now. Getting older has its perks, and a relaxed attitude about the things I can’t control is one of them. I am not unhappy about her letter. It did not bother me on any level. Which feels really good.

I’ve stripped out all the sweet things from the letter, and left only her complaint.

Ms. Hunter,

    I stumbled across your book in the library and was intrigued enough to read a genre that I don’t usually spend time in.  …   it took me forever to finish the first book.  … I couldn’t understand why I was struggling to finish … despite the action and my interest.  …compared it to another book that I had recently finished (twice as thick), and saw the problem right away …  The font is relatively small … it was single spaced!  That was the problem!  It wasn’t a relaxing read because of the tight spacing …

   This is just constructive criticism.  I … hope that the next stories are just as exciting and fun—just that they are double spaced!

A Fan

Well. Hmmm. My reply to her was kind, a thank you for her appreciation of my work and story, with an explanation that writers have no decision in that sort thing—the physical part of our novels.

Her letter was actually about the marketplace, about the readers and book lovers and the pros and cons of being traditionally published verses being self published. Because there is so very little a traditionally published writer can control.

We don’t get to pick our editors or house PR people. We seldom have a say in the cover art (until we get bigger in the genre). We don’t control what company-based PR is done. We have no control in how the book is laid out, how thick or how many pages it is. We don’t control whether the chapters start always on the recto pages (that’s the right hand page when a book is laid out) or back and forth from recto to verso pages (left).

We have *no* control over this stuff. But we also don’t need to worry about it all. We have people for that. (grins) We have educated and experienced developmental editors, copyeditors, and line editors. We may not always love our covers, but they are done for us by experienced and capable art departments with an eye to the current market.

We also don’t have to calculate spine width, trim size, book dimensions, paper quality or color. We don’t have to decide font size, letter or line spacing, or margins. We have no control over it all. And we don’t have the headaches.

We know we will be getting a quality product, a physical hold-in-our-hands product that looks good and that will fit bookstore specifications. We know our company has bought shelf space in bookstore chains. Because of this, we know it will appear on book store shelves. It will get acceptable billing / placement in Amazon. It will get the attention of reviewers, bloggers, and others. And when we do our own PR, we are being backed up by a PR department who always (at the very least) does the basics. And we get an advance, however meager that might be in these times.

And instead of doing and learning all this stuff, I can concentrate on the writing. I can be a writer and not a book publisher. Thank goodness!

So, once again, despite the occasional complaint about stuff I cannot control, I am happy to be traditionally published. I can’t imagine having to do all that stuff, like John and Stuart. It boggles my brainbox.




19 comments to The Things I Can Control

  • Faith, You said, “Getting older has its perks, and a relaxed attitude about the things I can’t control is one of them.” I like that. One of the attitudes I’ve been actively cultivating as I progress in years is this: Life is full of trade-offs; for everything I get, there’s a corresponding thing I have to give up. In your book example, it’s the control vs time issue. Want more control? You have less time. Want more time? You’re going to have less control? That’s just the way life works.

  • Three words….Bless her heart. Seriously, I can’t believe that someone complained about that. Even at my most ignorant about the book business, I knew that wasn’t the author’s fault. Sounds like she needs an e-reader where she can control her font size. 🙂

  • I recently had a similar complaint from a reader who didn’t like the italic face used in about 1% of my book 🙂 And of course, it bothered me a little, because I have not yet aquired with age that laissez faire attitude. Clearly I need to work on that… 🙂

  • Edmund, I’ve had control issues all my life. Not as in losing control, but needing to be in control. 🙂 I’d get ticked off at things, depressed, when I wasn’t in charge. I’m a Leo. (shrugs)

    Growing up (older) has made my life so much easier and me soooo much happier. I’ll take the extra time over being in charge any day now!

  • Vikki, yeah. Even if I had that kind of power over the physical aspect of my books, I’d be balancing the ease-of-read against the cost-of-paper.

    AJ, I don’t know if it’s laissez faire or the sheer number of letters I’ve received like that over the years. But it just doesn’t bother me anymore.I used to get really down about stuff like that. Now, I just tell them thank you, and that I’m not in charge. (sigh…)

  • Nice lady needs a Kindle for Christmas. Then she can tweak font sizes to her heart’s content. And with Overdrive, she can still check out library books on the device.

  • I thought about suggesting that, John, but I’ve been putting off buying a Kindle myself, simply because I’m cheap. She may be on a fixed income or something, you know?

  • mudepoz

    I was going to say the same thing about the Kindle. Overdrive and Kindle don’t talk to each other, John, unless I’m doing something wrong. Even with Callibra I can’t get many things to download. I am buying the new Fire. The Tall Dude is a Luddite, I love my techno stuff. Except for Word. I hate Word. I have three different versions on three different computers and none of them talk to each other. One won’t even insert page numbers. Of course, it’s my work one. Otherwise…gene sequencer, anyone?

    I remember, back in the day, the Easy Eye books from Magnum Royal. They were large print, on green paper. That were poorly glued and no longer exist. Come to think of it, they didn’t last long even when they were around.

    I’ll take a book that is bound and wear reading glasses. 🙂

  • I’m wondering if a single sentence would have taken the edge off of this criticism.
    “It’d be great if you could let your publisher know that the font was hard to read.”

  • Mud, I like the new Fire too. Color, like the Nook. Both have so many bells and whistles. I still haven’t narrowed it down totally.

    Roxanne, She could have said that, yes, and those words would have indicated that she had a clue about publishing. But it wouldn’t have changed anything.

    Bookstore chains have told publishers that they want books a certain spine width, and certain overall demensions. Massmarket releases of midlist writers (into which category I still fall) have to fit into that size-category. That means there is one overall demension for 100,00 word novels and for 130,000 word novels. I *could* write shorter novels, unfortunately, I write longer novels!

  • This is the kind of comment that would bother me for days, not because I think that it’s in any way the writer’s fault, but because I want to know who is so damned important that their books are being published double-spaced when mine aren’t! There is so much I CAN control with my books — plot, pacing, character, setting, etc. And those are the things I choose to care about. Those are the things that interested me in a writing career in the first place. >>I can be a writer and not a book publisher. Thank goodness!<<


  • David – don’t think of it as, “who is so damned important…” Instead, think, well, if So and So wrote longer stories, he’d have smaller fonts and single spacing, too. I like long book. I feel cheated when what looks like a big book turns out to have half as many words as the others. Like Faith said, your book, and the other guy’s book both have to fit in the same space on the bookstore shelves!

  • David, I am betting that the writer of the other book was a big-name writer, not a midlist writer like me. Sigh… If I am right, then he or she has a higher readership and doesn’t have to abide by the physical size-constraints that I do.

    Fame and fortune are coming. I can feel them on the way. But they aren’t here yet and I (like you) am still having to accept all that.

  • Lyn, *yes!* Exactly. I feel the same way, as if a publisher has lied to me when I buy a big book only to discover that it’s a little book streteched out over many pages. Some big name writer with a big following decided to write smaller books. That is sad! And actually, it’s sad that a publisher let them.

  • I haven’t quite caved to buying an e-reader either (though I suspect I will soon enough). I actually like books with smaller font, because it feels like there’s more story in them. Case in point: Harlequin romances. All of the books are of equal page count, but the amount of actual content varies, and I do feel a bit cheated when it’s obviously a larger font with greater spacing between the lines.

    I have to admit, this made me get up and look at a few of the books on my TBR shelf just for the heck ofit. Yes, the JY books are smaller font and single-spaced. But that means there’s more story to enjoy!

  • Thanks, Laura. Yeah, my books are a smaller font.

    I actually have a maginifer I use on small font books when on the road. And have a pair of stronger than usual reading glasses. But the e-reader is looming on my horizon as a soon-to-be purchased tool just to save my eyes.

  • Razziecat

    I’m sure the letter-writer meant well; I guess she assumed you were all-powerful, Faith! I know I used to think that authors had a lot more control over their books than they actually do. I was quite disappointed when I discovered that most authors have very little say in what goes on their book’s cover!

    I have a Kindle, and while I like the thing, it turns out that even e-books can be a bit “deceptive” in terms of story length. It’s not a matter of font size vs. pages, it’s just that some of the available stories are more novelette than novel, which isn’t always made clear in the description of the book.

  • Razzie, I agree. She wanted me to make my readers’ reading experience easier and better. Sadly, no can do.

  • I think it’s kind of sweet. She loved your book so much that she was hoping she could enjoy the next one even more, if only the font were bigger. Her “complaint” is actually quite flattering.