The Balanced Muse: Surviving Publisher Change


Vision 69


The Balanced Muse:

Surviving Publisher Change


Mary Caelsto

The Muse Charmer

Copyright © 2012, Mary Caelsto, All Rights Reserved


The one thing writers can be assured of is that publisher upheaval will happen. I've spent a decade in this business, and during that time editors have moved on to different houses or projects, publishers have closed, and uncertainty has loomed. And yet, no matter the circumstances at the publisher, the professional author knows that he or she needs to continue to write. After all, nothing sells your last book like your next one.

However, when publisher change happens -- and it's happening with more and more regularity as the business transitions -- it can knock the muse right out of the game. I've not only experienced it myself, but also helped and watched other authors deal with the same situation. As writers, the books we produce are not "widgets". They are not interchangeable, and given the personal nature of our work, it's quite understandable why authors would go through the same steps of grief, from anger to acceptance, when change occurs. We wouldn't be happy if a favored teacher left our child's school in the middle of the year. We'd worry about how our child would cope and what plans would be made for the rest of the term. While the "books as children" metaphor is one most professional authors like to shun, there can be the same emotional ties, and it's those ties which make publisher change difficult.

A writer with a balanced muse, one that can handle both the business and the creative sides, knows that he or she needs to continue to produce quality manuscripts. One of the great things about the publishing industry is that while one publisher might be having problems, there are always more out there. Of course, contractual details, such as right of first refusal, need to be honored. But beyond that, the sky is the limit. So it's up to the writer to keep writing, even while searching for a new home for his or her work.

The good news is that many publisher changes won't require moving to a new home, unless something else happens. For example, a change in editors occurs quite frequently. An author hopes the new editor comes on board and loves his or her work as much, or even more, than the previous editor. When this happens, generally the relationship remains harmonious. But what if the editor doesn't like the author's work or chooses to handle it differently?

Sometimes there's question about the viability of the publisher. Royalty payments come later and later in the month. Questions go unanswered. The ship isn't sinking, per se, but it also isn't moving forward with great speed. Authors might turn to each other in the search for answers. The unknown can wreak havoc on the muse and inspiration, even if a deadline looms.

Or, perhaps the worst happens and a publisher goes under. Maybe a principal individual leaves the publisher in chaos. New management might be brought in, but perhaps they might not have experience or knowledge to move forward in a positive manner. Perhaps no one new is brought in and the publisher folds. If the later happens, then different steps are required, but the weeks or months while the publisher teeters on the edge can be difficult ones.

In these cases, the author has some decisions to make. Generally when there is discontent in the publisher-author relationship, the author has two choices: stay or go. They are not easy choices. Contractual agreements, royalty payments, and other factors all need to be taken into consideration. While this deliberation is happening, it can be difficult to keep writing.

Staying with a publisher will most likely involve professional, calm communications with the new editor or new company head to try and resolve any difficulties. If these communications break down, then the author once most again decide to keep trying or to give up. I'm not encouraging authors to give up, but the proverbial head against a brick wall metaphor must apply. If a publisher isn't giving an author what he or she needs, then the author needs to wonder if it's worth the effort to stay.

Each author needs to make these decisions for him or herself. Trusted friends or mentors might be able to offer advice, but no one except the author knows what's best for the author's career. So how can an author keep writing, keep balanced, while the world seems to spin out of control.

First, self-care is a priority. All the musts like proper rest, nutrition, and care for any illnesses should come first. If any part of the situation is harming the author's health -- or the author is allowing it to harm -- renders the situation untenable. The author will either need to focus on him or herself, letting the situation rest, or needs to take quick, decisive action to resolve the situation.

Next, the author should know the terms of any signed contracts. Does the publisher have a right of first refusal? Has the publisher violated any contract terms? Exactly to what, and for how long, does the publisher have the rights? This knowledge will serve the author well.

If the publisher has the right of first refusal on any related works, the author may need to drop the series for a while. Doing so can disappoint readers, so it may be important to state, even in the most polite of terms, why a series won't be continuing or finishing for a while.

Third, the author needs to find his or her love of writing again. Charm the muse, so to speak, by revising old worlds, watching favored movies, listening to music, or even writing fanfic for personal enjoyment just to get the love of writing back. The author can also try to write something completely different. Change genres, or sub-genres if necessary, or just write that story that's been nagging for a good long time. The muse is like any other muscle, if it isn't used for a while, it will atrophy. And, if the author has made a habit of writing, for example a thousand words a day, breaking those habits could be detrimental to the author's forward progress.

So write. Anything. Journaling can help, even though it won't be for public consumption.

The last advice to surviving publisher change is time. Though it's important for an author to be educated and to continue to write, it may take time for everything to resolve. If a publisher has violated a contract, notification and contract terms could take up to ninety days to be acted upon. Patience can be referred to as the "p-word" here, for it might be frustrating and difficult; however, it is necessary.

Authors need to understand that publisher changes happen in spite of their best attempts to avoid them. When they do, a few simple steps will keep the muse balanced and the words flowing. And that's how authors weather the storms of publisher change.


Bio: Mary has charmed the muse her entire life. As a published author of both fiction and non-fiction, she knows the balanced muse can handle the business, creative, and marketing sides of publishing. She launched The Muse Charmer ( to help enable authors charm their own muses to greater productivity and passion. She invites all authors to join her and loves to hear from her readers.