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.
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!
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.