This past weekend an author friend of mine e-mailed asking advice regarding something that recently happened to her. In short, her publisher decided to brainstorm new book ideas for her, one of which included a pen name which is something she's never done before. She's also a new author and isn't familiar with the way things work all the time in publishing.
Brainstorming is a good thing when done with the right intentions. It is done all the time. I brainstorm with myself, silly as it sounds, every morning when I go for a six mile run along the Delaware River near Washington Crossing. I come up with some of my best ideas with these brainstorming sessions. I've brainstormed with my editors at Loveyoudivine.com with e-books like "A Young Widow's Promise." In that case I wasn't sure whether or not I should use my own name or a pen name because AYP isn't m/m romance. It's a m/f historical romance set in the Civial War, which is something I don't write often. Those brainstorming sessions with my editors at LYD, and others like them, have always been productive and I've valued the time the editors and the publisher have spent with me.
But there are some brainstorming sessions some (not all) publishers do that leave a great deal to be desired. One of which is the one my author friend told me about this past weekend. Her publishers decided to brainstorm...without HER. From the way it sounded to me they were treating her more like an employee of their publishing company than an author. The pushy editor didn't say, "This is what we think you might like doing." The pushy editor said, "This is what we want you to do." It wasn't a choice. It was an order.
There is a clear distinction between authors and publishers in most cases. Authors and publishers work together. The author doesn't work for the publisher. Of course it does happen, with certain publishers, where they will brainstorm without the author and then expect the author to do whatever they want without asking any questions, but this is when the author needs to seriously take all this into consideration. Authors who have good literary agents are lucky in this sense, because when this happens with a publisher, a good literary agent will go to bat for the author and help them decide whether or not what the publisher wants them to do is good for his/her career. You would think that anything a publisher would ask an author to do would be good for his/her career. But that's not always the case.
And this is why it's important for all authors, even those working with e-publishers, to learn how to represent their own best interests when it comes to dealing with what publishers want from them. And it shouldn't be assumed by any publisher that an author will agree with anything they want. Again, this is why authors have needed good literary agents in the past, and it's why they will need good literary agents in the future. Publishers have one concern: their own best interests. And what they consider good for them isn't always what's best for the author.
In the case of my author friend, I told her to weigh all her options before she signs anything or agrees to anything, especially if she isn't comfortable with what they want her to do. I also told her to make it clear to her publisher that the next time they decide to brainstorm about her career, or about something they want her to write in the future, to please include her in the brainstorming sessions. Like I said, most publishers do, indeed, take this into consideration. But there's always one pushy aggressive type out there who thinks they know what's best for the author and they aren't always right. Trust me, I've seen it more than once, where an author will agree to something he/she knows is questionable. It never works out in the end for the author. And this is when the author who doesn't have an agent has to start thinking like a businessperson. No one else knows your career better than you do and please don't ever underestimate this. If you have to turn something down now that you're not comfortable doing, you won't regret this in the future. Because if you're not comfortable with it now, you're never going to be comfortable with it.