by Raelene Gorlinsky
Readers/fans believe the funniest things. Most readers don't know anything about the publishing industry and how it works, or what the "job" of author really entails. And readers shouldn't have to understand all that - they just want to enjoy the products (that is, books) that the industry produces. But some reader misconceptions can startle us. Which is how we developed our "We keep them chained in the basement" response.
We don't offer tours of our office to readers, but occasionally a fan will contact us and say they are going to be in the area and really, really want to come see our offices. We'll try to be accommodating, although I warn them up front that it mainly just looks like any office building, any type of company. So the reader comes, we walk through the various departments and explain what people do, we introduce them to Manaconda and Peter and whatever other animals are gracing the office that day (we're a very pet-friendly company), we give them some promo items. And then, about half the time, comes the question, "But where are the authors?" Beg pardon? "You know, where are the desks the authors work at?" Yep, some readers think that authors are actual employees of publishing companies, that you do your writing on site at the company, that you are somehow involved in running the company. Since we don't display you to visitors, we must keep you chained in the basement, only giving you food and water when you complete a chapter.
If only we did have you chained to us as indentured servants, maybe then you'd be a little more obedient. Because something that comes up not infrequently from reader emails is why we don't "make" authors write specific books. "She said there would be a sequel to this! Why haven't you made her write that book? What do you have her writing instead?" Make you? Tell you what to write? Again, it's the mistaken concept that an author is an employee of the publisher and does assigned tasks. Today you will write a story about...or I will chain you in the basement until you do.
I've tried explaining it with analogies. I've likened authors to freelance artists, who create a painting and then try to get it handled by whatever gallery has the type of clientele who would appreciate the artist's style and finished masterpiece. This explanation doesn't help much, because most people don't know any more about how the business aspects of the art world work than they know about how the publishing industry works.
Another common misperception of readers: "Why isn't my favorite author's next book out yet? Don't you give them a deadline? Can't you refuse to pay them until they finish the book?" Um, yes, it's called royalties - our author doesn't get paid until the book is done and for sale. But readers don't realize that most authors have another "day job", they don't (well, except for Nora Roberts) work 9 to 5 writing at their computer, an hour off for lunch. They don't assemble a specific number of widgets (err, words written) each day. I guess we're going to have to chain you in the basement until you meet your production quota.
So, authors, be sure you punch the timeclock on your way to the basement. Slip that chain around your ankle before you sit down to pound out your daily quota of words for the novel you've been assigned to write. And don't think you're getting paid sick leave or vacation - that doesn't come until you've reached 10-book seniority.
Yes indeed, if only authors could crank out stories on demand, publishers would have a much easier job. Alas, in reality authors are imaginative, creative people who want to write the story they are being inspired about and at the pace and place that works for them. And no other method would produce the great stories we get to publish. Chaining them in a dank, dark basement just won't work.