Letting your book-child play with strangers

My debut novel, After the Bloodwood Staff, is in the throes of production. I am incredibly fortunate that My Publisher, Odyssey Books, allows its authors input into the cover design, and I just had a very exciting and collaborative discussion with My Cover Artist. She was eager to hear — and very respectful of — my ideas. Moreover, her own ideas were almost alarmingly synchronized with mine. This is looking a lot like one of those situations where artistic collaboration goes really well.

It doesn't always, of course. Writers, in particular, can have a hard time with it. We're used to utter control over what our characters do (I'm not one of those writers who say that their characters control them, but I'll say no more about that right now). So letting other people control the timing, the look, the edits, the marketing, the media relations — it can be intensely anxiety-producing. It's hard to accept that a different idea, someone else's idea, about our own work could possibly be better than our own. It's hard to come to terms with the fact that someone could bring insights to our work that even we, mighty and wise parents of our book-children, had not anticipated.

But for those who can manage it, letting others join in the fun of creation is exhilarating and a source of genuine artistic growth. If a reader tells you about the profound meaning they found in your work, and it's nothing like what you intended, don't argue! Rejoice that you could write something so deep and gloriously complex that it allowed a stranger to bring their own experiences to the work to reveal new meanings. Rejoice that you had the artistic generosity (whether you knew it at the time or not) to leave space for others' insights. Rejoice that your editor, your cover artist, your publicity manager, the people gracious enough to blurb and review your book, all thought your work worthy of their time, attention, and even love. Your book isn't yours anymore: it belongs to everyone who reads it and everyone who helps you bring it to your readers, as much as it belongs to you. Let their genius teach and inspire you to take more risks, learn more skills, trust yourself more.

It's risky; of course it is. There's potential for great pain if someone misunderstands, misappropriates, or misrepresents your work. But at the same time, there is such joy in the moments of discovery and creative rapport! How wonderful if your work is the basis and the reason for this joy! The next time you have the chance to relinquish a little control over your work, why not risk it and see what happens?



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