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PLAYING BY THE EAR

Because of the low quality of professionalism in almost all our publishing houses, all authors must seek to establish a relationship of warmth, affection and mutual mistrust with their publishers in the hope that the uncertainty would lead to a better finished book, more aggressive marketing and hence higher royalties to them. But dealing with publishers — they will always be one-up on authors — and bearing with the inevitable defeat and disappointment are easier said than done. These would require an advanced course in public relations and following a list of do’s and don’ts.

First and most important is a near-perfect “copy”, consistent in every respect — spellings, italicization of foreign words and phrases, a uniform presentation of dates, tabular matter and place-names, and of course, without typographical errors. Again this is not simple and no author — at least first-timers — can handle it on his own. This is ideally the publisher’s responsibility, but there has been a marked dilution of standards in recent years.

Given the ground realities, it is best for authors after they have completed their writing to go to independent professionals who have worked as editors in publishing houses. There are quite a few around who would do it for a fee. But here comes the rub. Most authors believe that copyediting is nothing more than correcting obvious spelling mistakes and simple factual errors and therefore, are reluctant to pay a fee.

There are a whole string of niggardly details to be taken care of which authors are mostly unaware of. Sadly, calculations for copyediting are made on a per-page basis which is never an accurate index of the time taken to free a work of errors and inconsistencies. Experienced copyeditors have therefore backed out and left the field open to newcomers who do a superficial job.

This is not all. With increasing computerization, all publishers today expect the author to provide a floppy or preferably a compact disc of his work. Some authors who are computer savvy do so; others would simply have to go to computer professionals to format the typed copy on a floppy/CD. There are obvious advantages for both author and the publisher to work on an electronic file: for the author there is the assurance that the final book would be exactly as he had submitted it; for the publisher, the composing and proof-reading costs in time and money have been taken care of and he can therefore turn out the printed book within a month or so.

The author-publisher relationship does not end with the submission of the “copy” and the delivery of the printed book. In recent years, authors have been increasing involved in marketing — giving interviews, signing copies in bookshops, seen around in the right places to boost sales — all in close collaboration with the publisher. This partnership does result in a marginal increase in sales as the publisher gets to use the author’s “contacts”.

Finally, the royalties that accrue to the author at the end of the year. The established publishers do not fudge their sales figures, but there are others, especially those who have not computerized their operations, who do. With them authors can get their due share only if they share a good working relationship. Threats of legal action are useless.

So what should authors do' Play it by the ear, and keep in touch with their publishers.

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