Circumstances Beyond Our Control

by Michelle Gagnon

I just handed in the final page proofs for my next thriller, which is always an exhilarating/terrifying moment for me. Exhilarating because I’m finally completely done with the book. And terrifying because from here on out, it’s beyond my control. I have to keep my fingers crossed that the myriad small changes I made are inserted into the final manuscript (since the final few drafts are actual paper copies that get mailed back and forth, sometimes things slip through the cracks. Sad but true, and the best argument I can see for switching to electronic editing across the board).

In line at FedEx, I started thinking about all of the things that are beyond our control as authors (many of which people assume we do control). Here’s my list:

Covers: I always fill out a lengthy form detailing characters, scenes, and plot points. I attach images that I think would look great on the cover, forward jpgs of covers that I loved from other people’s books, and pitch a few concepts. Now, so far I’ve been fortunate enough to receive covers that were vastly superior to anything I could have conceived. But still, there are always a few little things I’d prefer to change. This time, after some back and forth my publisher incorporated a few of the changes I requested into the final design. Here’s the original:

gatekeeper one

I felt the background color was too drab, and all of the text was at the bottom, so you barely noticed anything above the center of the page.

Now here’s the final version:

gatekeeper cover3

Better, right?

Typos: I’m not saying I’m perfect, but occasionally glaring typos appear in the text that were in no draft of the manuscript I submitted. My book club read The Tunnels, and when I walked in for our meeting three people shouted out, “Page 67! What happened there?” Half of the night was consumed by a discussion of some of the typos in the book. Somewhere between my final edits and the typesetting process, new typos appeared. Again, beyond my control (also the reason why I never crack the spine to read the final product. I have never once read one of my books after mailing off the line edits, because if I spot a typo it drives me nuts).

  • Missing Pages: I received emails from a few people who purchased Boneyard, only to discover that fifty pages were missing from the middle of the book. After talking to other authors, I learned that this is not that unusual. A glitch at the printing plant can ruin a whole batch of books. Fortunately, publishers are wonderful about shipping out a replacement copy, if it ever happens to you.
  • Print Runs: This can be make or break for an author. Say your initial print run was 20,000 books. Sell 15,000, and your book is a success story. But if the publisher printed 100,000 copies, and you sold 15,000, your book would be considered a dismal failure and you would be facing an uphill battle to get the next one published. Not fair, right? But as an author, you have no say in whether your print run is five thousand books or five million. You have to just keep your fingers crossed that your publisher’s sales projections are right.

I will say that in book publishing, I still have far more control than I ever did as a magazine writer. Back then, I’d hand in an article and six months later, something came out with my name on it that was virtually unrecognizable.Not always, but frequently enough to be depressing. In book publishing you are definitely allowed a firmer hold on the reins.

Off the top of my head, this is what I came up with (my brain is officially mush after spending the past week muttering sentences aloud over and over again). But I’d love to hear of more circumstances beyond our control, if they occur to you.