Yesterday I had the joy of giving final approval on the cover for The Key of Solomon, something I will be unveiling a week from today. And it got me thinking about something that happened more than 20 years ago.
Back in the 90s, I was a book editor in Idaho–among other things–and a magazine editor friend of mine submitted a proposal for a humorous book about his childhood. It failed in committee, and I had the responsibility of telling him that he wasn’t going to get a book. When I told him, I explained why. The difference most times between an editor and a writer is that a writer focuses on the story exclusively, while the editor is responsible for the bigger picture, what I referred to as The Package. With a magazine, it includes the layout, the stories, the illustrations, the cover, the advertising, and even the way it is distributed. All of that has an influence on the total experience of the reader. For a book, it includes formatting–font chosen, how easy it is to read, how appropriate–, cover, editing and proofreading, marketing, and of course, the story.
Well, fortunately, my magazine editor friend knew what I was talking about. He needed to present his story as a comprehensive package and he did that–to another publisher–and got it published. I was happy for him.
In this day and age, it’s pretty nigh impossible to be a specialist. People expect you to know a little bit of everything, especially when it comes to publishing. Right before I left Pacific Press in 1998, I made the comment at a conference that I saw the editor of the future being a “jack of all trades,” good at editing, photography, software, design, marketing. A fellow editor disagreed with me. When I later asked him why, he said it was because he couldn’t do all of those other things. Well, unfortunately, that’s no longer an excuse. Especially when it comes to independent publishing, you have to know lots of stuff about lots of stuff.
That’s why I am so pleased with my new cover. I know that my story is good, but I also know that no one will read it if the cover sucks. I know that people will doubt my ability to write if there are typos or grammatical errors or layout errors in the book. I know that marketing can kill the book just as sure as poor writing can. I have to be good, not just at writing, but as a publishing businessman.
That’s the business today.