Who’s in control of the publishing process? Once the contract is signed, does the author have any say in what happens to the story? Traditional contracts specify that the publishing company will publish as they see fit. In other words, control is given to the publisher by the contract.
One criticism of indie authors is that are control freaks. Indeed, many indies will say that control is one of their main issues in choosing how to publish. And that’s seen in a disparaging light, as if the indie author isn’t a team player. From this perspective, the indie author doesn’t understand of the publishing process. Editors edit, illustrators provide the art, and each does their professional jobs as part of a team. An author’s professional job stops when the text is finished.
Let’s examine this issue of “control” in the publishing process. To do that, I want to look at an interview on Terri Gross’s Fresh Air NPR program with Marielle Heller, director of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”
Walking into the offices of the Book Group, housed in a small (by Manhattan standards) building on West 20th Street, one is greeted by the standard design trappings of literary agencies. Posters of book jackets line the walls and dozens upon dozens of books sit on shelves hanging above desks in cubicles and offices.
In the conference room, where the books of clients sit spine out on shelves that stretch from hip level to the ceiling, the vibe is unusually positive. Those who work in publishing can tend toward glass-half-empty. The eight women who work at Book Group (four principals, one senior agent, one agent, and two assistants) seem different. It feels a bit like stepping onto the set of a TV show about book publishing—one cast by the creators of Friends, featuring characters written by Aaron Sorkin.
Founded in 2015 by Julie Barer, Faye Bender, Brettne Bloom, and Elisabeth Weed, the Book Group marked the coming together of four highly regarded agents. (Each either left her own firm or a position as a principal at another firm to form the Book Group.) It also marked the union of four friends. This might explain the congenial atmosphere in the conference room. And, according to Bloom, the creation of the agency was, to some extent, a long-term goal.