Signing with a publishing house is undoubtedly a very exciting experience, but it can also come with a side of confusion, especially for debut authors. It can be hard to let your work go, because you’ve worked on it so hard and up until now, you’ve been in control (perhaps with your agent too). I wanted to explain some of the decisions publishers might make for your book, and why.
1. Changing your book title
I work for a very commercial publishing house, so we do this quite a lot for our authors, and the title of my own book was altered by the publisher too. Sometimes, authors might wonder why this is being done – maybe you love your title as it is, or don’t like the new one. There are a few reasons why a publisher might give you a shiny new title, though, and all of them have the same aim which is to ensure your book sells as many copies as possible and performs brilliantly both for you and for the publishing house. So, we might change a title because the current one is too long – when designing book jackets, we have to think about the lettering and how it will appear on a cover. If the title is very long, there won’t be enough space for the letters to ‘breathe’ and it will become tricky for the imagery to work in conjunction with the title – remember the author name and probably a strapline also need to fit on! So sometimes, we will find a shorter, snappier title which will look better in a design.
We might also change your title for keyword reasons. Amazon is a mysterious beast, but one of the things they do is analyse keywords – so the words consumers are searching for the most. Words like ‘sister’ ‘secret’ ‘summer’ always perform very well, for example, and in commercial fiction it can be be beneficial to include these in the actual book title as then your book is more likely to come up in a typical reader’s Amazon search.
Another reason could be that your title doesn’t say quite enough about the book, or isn’t commercial enough. Titles that (in my experience) have worked really well give the reader a good sense of the genre of the novel, or even use familiar terms that resonate with readers on a subconscious level. For example, titles that remind people of song lyrics, (See How They Run by Tom Bale) common sayings (Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner, He Said She Said by Erin Kelly) or even films or TV shows (Liar Liar by MJ Arlidge). Titles which are fairly simple also usually perform quite well (The Angel, The Missing, The Accident, The Widow, etc.) So your publisher will analyse all of these things, and come up with something that they feel gives you the best chance in a very crowded and competitive market.
2. Changing your author name
I can completely understand why some authors may not want to do this, as of course, your name is your identity and has been for some time! But publishers will sometimes advise authors to use pseudonyms, and there will always be a strategic reason behind this. They might want you to use your initials, for example, to make it perhaps less clear whether you’re male or female. The aim being, in this case, to connect with as wide an audience as possible. They might go the other way and give you a female name if you’re writing a ‘women’s fiction’ book, in order to try to resonate with the market more and give you a better chance of success. Or vice versa. I do want to emphasise that I’m talking about commercial fiction here, sold widely in supermarkets and online (and in Waterstones/WHS to a lesser extent).
Sometimes, we will ask an author to change their name if their name is hard to spell or has an unusual spelling, and this harks back to Amazon searches. We have to think about the mass market readership, and if they can’t find your name, they aren’t going to buy your book – and you’re not going to get the sale! So we might try to simplify names in that way, or change them completely.
3. Writing your blurb or copy
The book copy used on Amazon and on the back of your physical book is a sales and marketing tool, and a huge amount of work goes into it within your publishing house. It will usually have been rewritten several times, looked at by sales and marketing experts, and carefully crafted to reflect what your publisher thinks is the most hooky aspect of your book. It needs to be relatively short and snappy, focusing on the main thrust of the novel or the most interesting part of the novel, rather than trying to encapsulate all the nuances of your book. Readers make decisions fairly quickly, and with the huge amount of books on the market at the moment, they need to be grabbed from the get-go. Publishers will choose an opening line or a good author quote to pull the reader in, then give one or two short paragraphs with the aim of intriguing the reader to the extent that they will buy your book. Once they’ve got the book, there is plenty of time for them to uncover all the amazing other elements of your novel, but the copy cannot cover all of them because it will be too wordy.
4. Creating your jacket
I’ve written about commercial book covers before, but they are without doubt one of the most crucial elements of a book to get 100% right. Your publisher will look at the book jackets currently working in the market and take all of that into account when making yours – it’s about making yours original and stand-out, but ensuring it fits the genre or moves the genre to the next level. Colours play a very big part – we always look at season trends including clothing, paint pantones etc – and you’ll often see colours on book jackets come in and out of fashion. Your book cover must have good standout in both B format (normal book size) and ebook thumbnail size; otherwise, it will get lost in the huge amount of covers that are out there.
We always listen to the opinions of our sales team when it comes to designing covers, and all jackets are shown to retailers months in advance. You can tell by their expressions if they’re keen or not – and if they’re not, they’re unlikely to stock the book, so it really is so important to get the jacket right.
Hopefully the above is helpful for anyone recently signed to a publisher – you may find that neither of points 1 and 2 actually happen – sometimes titles and author names are perfect as they are, and it varies publisher to publisher. The thing to remember though is that your publisher will always have your best interests at heart, and they want the best for your book just as much as you do. Your publisher should always ensure you feel happy with the end result, and answer any questions you might have – authors are essential to the publishing business, after all. But the goal of both author and publisher is essentially the same, and once you have the perfect package, your book has every chance of becoming a bestseller!
Thank you for visiting my blog! If you enjoyed this article, you could make me a happy author by checking out my book which is only 99p on Amazon! 🙂
6 thoughts on “Your publisher’s decisions”
Interesting to get this insider view – now I just have to get my novel(s) beyond the self publishing stage!
Thank you of this insight Phoebe – very helpful xx
A great article to read, just like your other insights.
Great post 😊
Everything is very open with a clear explanation of the issues. It was definitely informative. Your site is very useful. Thank you for sharing!