Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

WTF Wednesday: How Much Honesty Is Too Much?

From authors, I mean. How much do you want authors to say about the trials and tribulations of writing and publication?

I’m actually not 100% sure this fits under the heading of “WTF Wednesday” quite as well as some of my other posts, but it’s something I’ve been wondering about lately, especially with some of these recent happenings in the writerly world:

  • Delilah Marvelle, whose publisher dropped her after two books, started a contest to encourage readers to buy her second book–out this month–in hopes of finding another publisher to finish out the series.
  • Cheryl Holt revealed on a reader forum that, after changing publishers, she’d had significant disputes with her new editor (who basically told her she didn’t know how to write) and ultimately had her contract dropped. She’s since picked up a new contract with a different publisher.
  • After initially expressing enthusiasm for the cover of her upcoming book, Justine Larbalestier admitted that she fought with her publisher over it but was ultimately overruled because the publisher apparently felt the face of a white girl would sell better even though the book is about a black girl.

These three things probably don’t seem to have much similarity to one another (the last one, in particular, evoked a real firestorm that has nothing whatsoever to do with what I’m talking about), but to me they share a common thread and that is that the author is revealing details about a dispute with her publisher. Whether that dispute is over a contract offer (or lack of one), editorial disputes, or dissension over cover art, it all comes down to authors telling us, on some level, how little control they have over the this big, complicated business we call publishing.

On some level, I’ll admit that I love to read this stuff because it makes some of my own frustrations seem less isolated and lonely. I mean, if even a New York Times bestselling author like Cheryl Holt can run into problems in publishing, it’s no great surprise that newbies like me would hit speedbumps in the road.

But on the other hand, these appeals and stories can cross they line between honesty and self-pity. I’m not saying any of these particular instances has that feel to me, but I can see how they might to others. And I wonder, in the final analysis, whether it does the author more harm than good to air her dirty laundry like this. It’s one thing to explain to readers that you are currently without a contract or that previously contracted books were ultimately shelved, but to get into the nitty-gritty of the whys and wherefores…I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. Mightn’t readers think less of a writer who admits to being “down on her luck?”

At the same time, I think there’s a culture of secrecy in the publishing industry, one that discourages authors from being honest about the kinds of problems they encounter, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing, either. Surely though, more transparency in this business is better, not worse (and it’s one of the reasons I tend to post about the mechanics of publishing on a regular basis; because I think having a better understanding of how the industry works is a good thing, not a bad one).

So, what’s your take? Do readers really want to hear this stuff, or do they just want books? Do you ever think less (or more) of an author for revealing the “dirty secrets” of her experiences in publishing?


  • Bev August 5, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    You bring up good points on both sides of the argument. I won’t judge what other people do but for myself, I would probably keep my gripes to myself (okay, yes and with my family and close friends). But hey, depending on my # of years in the business, there might be something that would make me go public with a gripe (slander and such). I won’t go as far as to say never, but right now, I’ll just say, I can’t think of anything that would make me go public at present.

  • Delilah Marvelle August 5, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    I am astonished to find that discussing my writing experience in a positive manner would somehow be considered “dirty laundry.” I’ve actually had quite the opposite reaction from readers and writers alike based off of the hundreds of e-mails I’ve received. Readers begin to realize the power they hold when they buy a book. While struggling writers, be they published or not, realize they are not alone. Writers all struggle in different ways throughout their careers, but if discussing those struggles in a positive manner is going to be deemed illegal, I cannot help but feel that the written word is officially dead.

    Some writers have the right to crawl into a corner and never breathe a word of what is happening to them or their career because there is a sense of failure and shame. But there are others who have the right to set their chin (very much like the heroines we write about) and go forth and try to create the most positive experience out of a heart rendering one. I think when an author isn’t being contructive, yes, I agree, it can be very destructive, but I have to say, to see my own name used in the same sentence as “dirty secrets and dirty laundry” by a fellow published author who writes for Kensington and hasn’t even taken the time to e-mail me or discuss this isn’t very fair. I don’t think you had slander in mind, Jackie, but in reading your post, what did you want me to walk away thinking about it?

    The bottom line is when others can learn from the experience and take something away from it, I have to say there is nothing more genuine and needed in this industry. That said, I am actually quite humbled that I have started such an amazing discussion on your blog.
    Delilah Marvelle

  • admin August 5, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    Delilah, I just want say that I NEVER for a minute intended this as a criticism of what you’re doing. To the contrary, I’m kind of awed by how willing you have been to share your experience. I think for most of us, it’s fear of being seen as “troublemakers” by publishers if we’re too vocal. At the same time, though, I do wonder how READERS see it, which is why your story got thrown into the mix of happenings that got me thinking…

  • Delilah Marvelle August 5, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    In the end, I knew in my heart that that wasn’t intended, so thank you. In your inquiry to readers, I have had an outpour unlike anything I’ve ever seen. All of it positive. And all of them impressed by how positive I am being despite what is a career setback. So it’s all about how it is being presented. Not that it is being presented.
    Again, thank you for hosting this discussion, like you, I am fascinated to know what others think.

  • admin August 5, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    Just because we’re talking about it, my option book wasn’t picked up by Kensington either, though not due to poor sales, per se, but for lack of data of any kind. I was disappointed by that, not because I couldn’t see the rationale, but because I thought at the time it was kind of silly to even tell me to bother submitting on option if they weren’t going to buy without data. Why make me wait six weeks (or nearly that) to find out I didn’t have a prayer? I mean, I spent a month or two putting together a proposal that they were obviously never going to buy. Why put me through that?

    Oh, whoops, I think I’m being vocal and a troublemaker. Maybe I should stop now, lol!

  • Delilah Marvelle August 5, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    I am *so* sorry they didn’t pick up your option book. It’s so difficult to understand why certain decisions are made. But one thing is for sure. You’re a damn good writer and just because Kensington passed, doesn’t mean another publisher will. Other authors have proven that and you will too. Being vocal in a positive manner is not causing trouble. Big hugs to you and if you ever need to chat, we can take it offline.
    Much love,

  • Amie August 5, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    I totally agree that there is WAY too much secrecy in publishing, but I think, when it comes to talking about your publisher, it’s uh LOL ALL in the execution.

    Delilah I commend you. You have balls of steel. I could NEVER do it. That said, K didn’t pick up my option book but I’ve already moved on to write other things that my agent is shopping. *shrugs*

    Much as I LOVE that option book and hope it sells to another house, I KNOW My career is not in erotica.

    I missed the whole discussion about Justine’s cover so I really can’t comment but I will say that I think educating readers about how LITTLE control authors have over our work and how it’s sold/presented is a good thing. Writers should NOT be held accountable (by readers) for every little mechanical (covers, missing pages etc) issue that crops up where a book is concerned. The writer writes the book; the writer promos the book. The writer does their best to edit the book; the writer does not make the cover, and, for lack of a better word, nobody writers have NO control over the cover. The writer doesn’t bind the book–a factory somewhere does.

    As to Ms. Holt….I’m sad that her email was posted in a public forum like that because to be frank, it went far beyond what I would EVER say to a reader. It was definitely TMI in my book. That said, there are two sides to every story and then there is the truth.

  • Jill Sorenson August 5, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    I’ve posted about my writing woes on my blog. Not because I want reader support, or pity sales. Just because I feel as though I’m among friends in the online romance community, and I want to share my experiences. Good and bad.

    One thing that seems to strike a wrong note with readers is a lack of accountability on the author’s part. I don’t know what others have experienced, but I feel as though my failings are my own. If I don’t succeed, I will take the blame.

  • Delilah Marvelle August 6, 2009 at 12:42 am

    LOL about those balls of steel. It comes from my passion for writing. Not actual balls. Or steel. Grin. Knowing Cheryl Holt, I can say that she is a *very* lovely lady who goes above and beyond to help fellow authors in a way that humbles me. People take things out of context and personally, I like you, I wanna know how did a reader’s forum turned into everyone’s forum.

    I agree to a point about accountability (everyone should be holding themselves accountable for things) however, I feel as if too much of that accountability is being placed upon an author. A recession isn’t something an author should be held accountable for. There should be factors brought to the table the enable an author to better understand what they really should be held accountable for.

  • Jill Sorenson August 6, 2009 at 1:01 am

    Perhaps I should say that authors should be accountable for their writing. Sales are a trickier issue.

    Also, I apologize if my wording above is a little insensitive. I didn’t mean to imply that there is anything wrong with rallying readers to buy. : )

  • Amie Stuart August 6, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Jill….I Totally! get what you mean 😀 And I’m HUGE on accountability–ask my teenage children….can you say pet peeve?

    But not when it comes to the stuff that IS beyond the author’s control–ie the covers and missing pages I mentioned. And I hate seeing authors getting reamed for stuff that IS beyond their control.

    One of my favorite apologies ever: http://sandrabrown.net/blog/2009/02/04/mea-culpa/

    And yeah, sometimes wording on the interwebz can be tricky. 😉

    Delilah congrats on the new sale!!!!!

  • admin August 6, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    I have to add my voice to Amie’s and say congratulations to you, Delilah. A three book deal with HQN is such wonderful news and I couldn’t be more delighted for you.

    And I’ll tell you what, you’re totally my new role model. Talk about taking lemons and making lemonade. You’ve taken it to a whole new level, m’dear :).

  • admin August 6, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    On accountability…

    I think the real struggle for authors, in many ways, is that we ARE held accountable for our sales even though, realistically, there is not a lot we can do to affect them. Publishers have far more control over the sales of our books than we do, because they’re the ones who market the books to booksellers and make the deals for co-op space and all the other nifty stuff that makes your book visible to consumers. An author can have an effect on the margins, but I think that margin is statistically pretty small.

    The only thing the author can really be held accountable for, IMO, is writing her best book. After that, it’s kind of out of her hands.

    That said, the fact that I haven’t sold another book yet isn’t, IMO, due to factors beyond my control. I just don’t think I’ve written a good enough book yet. That’s down to me, and not to the fact that sell-through on a debut book with a $14 cover price is probably NOT gonna be great in a recession.

    I do believe the Field of Dreams adage: If you build it, they will come. I just haven’t built it yet.

  • Delilah Marvelle August 6, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    I didn’t take offense at all! It wasn’t by any means insensitive. I simply figured you were referring to writing. And bottom line, that is all a writer should be held accountable for. Because our job is to write. Some people may be great at promoting themselves but what about those that don’t have the money or the time but write fabulous books?? It breaks my heart to think those writers aren’t being given a better chance.
    Thanks for the congrats!!! Grin.
    Thank you *so* much for the congrats!!! It means so much to me. And I don’t know about the role model thing, LOL, but I’ll take it as the best compliment ever. I hope that things turn around quickly for you. I KNOW they will!

  • Amie August 8, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    BTW as a small update….spoke to an editors assistant at a big NY pub this week (not mine) and funny enough, we got to talking about the mail we get from readers about stuff like missing pages and one misspelled word and I was SURPRISED to learn that the publisher gets the hate mail too. Made me feel SOOO much better LOL

  • Jill Sorenson August 9, 2009 at 12:44 am

    “That said, the fact that I haven’t sold another book yet isn’t, IMO, due to factors beyond my control. I just don’t think I’ve written a good enough book yet.”

    This is a very brave thing to say. I’m totally there with you. It’s not that I don’t believe in “creative differences,” but I prefer to think of my own struggles with rejection as “learning experiences.” An opportunity to grow.


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