Friday, March 2, 2012

Don't Be a Helicopter Parent -- Letting Go to Help Your Book-Baby Grow

by Sophie Perinot

Our books are our babies. They’ve kept us up nights, and acted badly in front of company (like those agents we queried too early), but we love them to death and we are very, very possessive of them. And, like most parents, we have high hopes for them. We want them to go on to big things – big sales, good reviews, dates with all the best book clubs.

Sometimes the “possessive” author part of us and the part that wants what’s best for our books are in direct conflict. What do I mean? Have you heard of the “helicopter parent?” I would argue the “helicopter author” also exists—she’s in all of us (guys, you can read “he’s” if it makes you feel better) and if we don’t keep her under control our book will suffer.
Repeat after me – “I am a wordsmith, I write, I write really well. But it takes a lot more than writing to make a book a success—it takes a village (it’s okay, you can steal that phrase from Hillary Clinton, everyone else has). Once I have a publisher I will let the professionals who work there do their jobs.”
That’s precisely what I told myself immediately after I signed the contract for my debut novel (The Sister Queens). Despite being type-A, I decided to make a conscious effort right from the first trimester not to micromanage every step on the publication trail, and not to freak out when I discovered that I didn’t have the political capital to do so anyway. Only a few days before my due date (launch), I am pretty proud of myself. I think I lived up to my pledge not to helicopter parent, and I am going to share the secrets to my tongue-biting success.
Keep your eye on the BIG picture – book sales. I want to sell books. My publisher wants to sell books. We all want to sell my book to people who are not ourselves (and not our friends and family for that matter). So what we like—in terms of a cover, or a title or blog-ad copy, etc—runs a distant second to what a majority of book-buying, cash-carrying potential readers will like.
And the truth is, authors (especially debut authors) may not be in a position to predict what will catch the eye of the average book buyer. I am not trained to do that (nor have I conducted studies or otherwise made it my business to keep my fingers on the pulse of such things) and you probably aren't either. Which leads to my next point.

Remind yourself as often as necessary, that years of experience and professional training DO count for something. Publishing is a competitive industry. The folks our publishers hired didn’t just walk off the street and say “this looks better than working at McDonalds.” They are professionals. The marketing and art department folks are trained to know what gets a book picked up off a “new releases” table. They have been designing covers and brainstorming titles for years. With this in mind, I decided, even as I was offering my own cover ideas (as my editor asked me to) I would stop well short of trying to “direct the brush” of the cover artists and I would accept that they might know best.

Similarly, my editor has been polishing manuscripts since well before I thought of writing them. So, when I received my editorial suggestions back in the second trimester, instead of growling “my baby is perfect as I wrote it,” I consciously adopted a listening frame of mind, and seriously considered every suggestion. My editor gave me the gift of “outside eyes” and not just any old eyes, veteran eyes.

Was ceding some portion of control over a novel I’d lived with and loved easy – not all the time. Did I take every suggestion my editor made – no (ultimately it’s my name on the cover). But neither did I assume I knew best (or if I did assume that for some, giddy, amount of time – I made sure not to email my editor until the feeling passed).

Bottom line: I wanted a deal with a major publisher precisely so that I could tap into the resources and experience of “the best.” Disregarding the type of accumulated expertise my publisher had to offer would have been stupid and stubborn. It would be like going to the hospital and insisting on doing your own c-section.

My book is now four days away from its publication date. I have seen an advanced copy. Am I happy with the results of my “campaign of collaboration?” Yes. My novel is still my baby, but she has my editor’s eyes. She looks spiffy in the cover designer’s custom creation. She’s all grown up and ready to hit the shelves. In case your wondering, I’ll be the woman in Barnes & Noble on March 6th snapping pictures of her on display like she’s a kindergartner getting on the school bus for the first time. “Say Cheese.”


  1. All wonderful points! Your baby is going to be a huge success because you had a great team with a great product.

  2. This is so true, Sophie. Thanks for the reminder - as I'm heading into my own "first trimester" and getting ready for editorial comments, this is a nice and timely reminder.

  3. Thanks, Sophie--it's so true! Those editor's eyes are more experienced and less biased than ours--after all, what mama doesn't think her 'baby' is the most beautiful creature ever! Great job! This is from Anne Barnhill, by the way, in case I can't figure out how to post this.

  4. I'm enjoying your journey. I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award on my blog. I know some bloggers don't accept awards, but I wanted to give you a heads up. Here's My Blog

  5. I love this and I'm going through this right now with my book too. I hope I wasn't a helicopter parent during the book creating process! (He,he!)