• Tracy Slater
  • [Path to Publication] Is the Loss of Control Worth It when You Publish with a Big Five?
[Path to Publication] Is the Loss of Control Worth It when You Publish with a Big Five?
Written by
Tracy Slater
March 2015
Written by
Tracy Slater
March 2015

As a new writer who lucked out with a deal from a so-called Big Five publishing house, sometimes I'm momentarily wistful when I think about how self-publishing authors maintain 100% control over their books. Right now, I'm gearing up for publication of my memoir, The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, and Home on the Far Side of the World, by Putnam in June 2015. During this process, I've learned that, when you go with a big commercial house, you don't always get the last word on your book, even with things as basic as the title.

I first encountered this with my book concerning the subtitle. My original subtitle was "A Wife in Search of a Life Between East & West," and I really liked the sound of that. But my editorial team wanted something more specific, and when I put a couple of options on Facebook so my friends could vote on them, someone left a comment saying they were surprised that, with something as personal as a title or subtitle, I would have given up full control. I felt a little chided, and I wondered, "Am I not committed enough to my book and my own vision? Should I be letting an editorial team make decisions with and for me?"

The second time I encountered this issue was with the book cover. The first cover Putnam's design team made, I fell head-over-heels for. Because we ended up going with a different cover, I don't have copyright permission to post the original design. But let me just say: it had shoes (thus the picture to the left). And I love shoes. And it had a lot of pink. And I'm kind of into pink lately.

Eventually, Putnam designed another cover, the one below. My editor pointed out that this version would make the Japanese theme of the book much more immediately clear (since my title, using the word "Shufu"--which means "housewife" in Japanese--won't necessarily make sense or be clearly Japan-themed to the average American reader). When I first saw it, my stomach dropped a little. It was lovely, it was sophisticated, but it wasn't the one I had fallen in love with. (And it didn't have shoes.)

But here's the thing: After consulting with my agent and a group of well-published and -respected writers, almost every single person agreed that, although the first cover was snappy (and the shoes were lovely, they all assured me), the second one will be taken more seriously by potential reviewers and better communicates both the Japan and the fish-out-of-water nature of the book, essential aspects of my memoir. And as time has gone on, I'm more and more relieved that we didn't end up with the first book cover just because I loved it. Because I didn't write this book just to please myself. I wrote it to reach as many readers as possible.

What this experience taught me is that sometimes it's okay to not have full control, because along with the input--and even the decisions--from others, the book has become more of what, at base, I deeply want it to be: a public document, something that calls out to potential readers and invites them along for a ride. I hope to apply this lesson to everything I write in the future, regardless of how I publish it. Whether it's through a writing group or a paid editor or an indie press or a Big Five editorial team, I hope I'll always have a group of people to consult about the writing I make public, people who can help remind me that, although we think up our narratives or stories in the privacy of our own heads, when we put them out into the wider world, they become public documents that belong--in some senses even mostly--to those who read them.


Tracy Slater is an American writer based in Japan. Her memoir The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, and Home on the Far Side of the World has been named a Summer 2015 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection and is forthcoming from Penguin Random House’s Putnam imprint in June. Her blog is http://thegoodshufu.wordpress.com, she is on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheWriterTracySlater, and she is grateful to be part of the She Writes community.

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  • Tracy Slater

    Thanks so much, Joanell! Rally glad you found the post helpful. Let me know if you have other specific topis, esp. related to publishing with a bigger house, that you'd like me to try to address. I'll be doing monthly posts from now through the book launch in June and would love to try to keep these posts as useful as possible to people. Thanks again for taking the time to comment! And all my best to you.

  • I enjoyed this blog piece - helpful as I make my way into the publishing world, self or otherwise, to hear people's process. I think the cover looks very appealing and professional, and yes, I would pick that up and want to read it. Good reminder that we need experts along the way. Best of luck with your book launch.

  • Tracy, congrats on blurb!  You are on a roll!  So exciting!

  • Tracy Slater

    Thanks so much, Patricia, Kelly, and Phillipa! Phillipa, your comment is especially timely because I just heard that we are tweaking the final cover slightly to include a new blurb by Joanna Rakoff (her My Salinger Year was one of my favorite memoirs of all time, so I was beyond thrilled that she offered a blurb, and beyond grateful) where she says the book reminds her of "Eat, Pray, Love--rewritten by Woody Allen"! (I wish!! But it was so incredibly nice of her to say.) And Kelly, Patricia, thanks for the reassurance that I'm not alone in my gut instinct to trust Putnam's marketing tream over my initial reactions! So appreciate you all reading and leaving comments. Best to all!

  • Patricia Robertson

    So true, Tracy. With self-publishing it's nice to be in control but when it comes to cover design and marketing, I'd rather have someone who knows more about this in charge.

  • Great post, Tracy!  Can't wait to read your book.

    Just about every author I know has said the biggest disagreements they had with their publishers were over book cover design and title.  I figure those are marketing decisions and those guys know how to market books better than I do!

    Hope you and your daughter are feeling better!

    Kelly Hayes-Raitt

    Mosey on over to my web site and sign in for your free gift -- an mp3 of me reading my book's first chapter about a beggar in Iraq! ...And a pre-publication discount!
  • Philippa Anne Rees

    Oh would I change places with you? Absolutely. I much prefer the cover they devised, and know that saying 'what it is on the tin' is unfortunately pretty mandatory. The next 'Eat Pray Love'? Maybe.