A few days ago, INTERN got an e-mail from her editor with the kind of bad news that drives authors everywhere into unhealthy relationships with cheap vodka: the title INTERN had come up with for her novel had been, quote, "roundly" rejected by the Sales Team, who were requesting that a new one be dreamed up, stat.
Roundly rejected! huffed INTERN. They could have at least AGONIZED a little. They could have at least sent INTERN a letter explaining how this decision to veto her beloved pet title had ripped at their very SOULS.
After a day or two of mourning, INTERN felt pretty over it. After all, there are plenty of title-fish in the sea—and although INTERN was reluctant to admit it at first, the reasoning behind the veto seemed pretty sound. Over the next few days, INTERN's agent, editor, and assorted other publishing people all pitched in with ideas and suggestions, and the hunt for a new title has started to feel exciting and worth-it, not Tragic and Senseless as it did at the height of INTERN's emotions.
Interestingly, the hardest thing to deal with was not the title-rejection itself, but the reactions of (non-publishing savvy) friends and relatives:
"They can't make you change the title of your book. It's your BOOK."
"What do they know about titles? That title was perfect!"
"You should refuse to change it."
Even worse were the looks INTERN got when she delicately explained that she had signed a teensy little thing called a legally-binding contract giving her publisher final say over the title of her novel—like she was some kind of abused animal, or at best a prize nincompoop.
"So they can just tell you what to call YOUR BOOK?'
"They don't control the cover art too, do they?"
"What if they want to call it something dumb?"
All of which leads INTERN to one of the key issues in the Big 6 versus Indie Publishing debate: who gets to paddle the canoe.
The canoe-paddling discussion goes something like this on polite days:
Team Legacy: "Hang with us, and you'll have a whole team of canoe-paddling experts to guide you through the Rapids of Publishing!"
Team Indie: "Here's your oar, kid. Sink or swim!"
And like this on rude days:
Team Legacy: "Look at those poor indies paddling their cheap, junky canoes into the rocks."
Team Indie: "Look at those poor legacies trying to paddle their bloated, inefficient canoes by committee."
Of course, there's no reason the two teams can't coexist, with people who insist on absolute control paddling their canoes alone, and people who are willing to give up some control in exchange for more support enlisting the skill and know-how of a publisher. If you insist on absolute control, you need to be certain you really have as much titling/covering/marketing chops as you think you do. If you give away some of that control, you need to be certain you're working with a publisher you trust.
A few years ago, INTERN was renting a rambling old house with a bunch of other twenty-somethings. We wanted to put in a vegetable garden, and our landlady agreed to pay for the rototiller, seeds, and truckloads of compost and mulch if and we put in the manual labor.
High fives! Grabbing of trowels! Buying of beer!
Planting a garden on Landlady's dime was awesome: there were so many resources, so much mulch. But it soon became apparent that Landlady was not going to sit idly by while a bunch of eager but fantastically overconfident kids made expensive mistakes with her investment. She wanted to see a planting schedule. She wanted sketches of the proposed garden's layout. She pointed out that blueberry bushes needed to be pollinated—you couldn't just stick 'em anywhere, as INTERN and the gang had been planning to do.
Basically, she imposed rigor and a certain degree of party-pooperism to what would otherwise have been a free-for-all. Was it aggravating? Sometimes. Was it worth it? Yes. Would the garden have been better off without Landlady's funding and her interference? At the time, no—although it's certainly possible that a more experienced (and, um, responsible) group would have done just fine without it.
Is it an outrage that most publishers retain control over a book's title and cover, or is it an effective way of saving authors from their own (sometimes cheesy and non-marketing savvy) selves? Published authors, have you ever had a title rejected? Seeking-to-be-published authors, have you ever felt conflicted about the potential surrender of control a traditional book deal would entail? Is it better to have a publisher chime in on your plans to plant avocado trees in Maine, or would you rather attempt it anyway, thank-you-very-much?
INTERN wants to know!