choosing my battles -- by jane kelley

The month of March is named for Mars, the ancient Roman god of war. It seems some people are making a god of war again. Certain battles are worth fighting––even in writing. But which ones are for a good cause? And which aren't?

Many many years ago, my debut novel NATURE GIRL was inching toward the day when it would be on the shelf. This process had many many milestones, all of which were new to me. My amazing editor, Shana Corey, guided me through a lot of revisions with enthusiasm and wisdom. 

About a year before the pub date, I got a peek at the cover. The illustrator was Heather Palisi, who had done a fantastic job drawing my heroine's doodles that appear throughout the novel. The cover was great. Brightly colored, fun font, very eye-catching. There was just one problem. The cover had a bird on it. My novel had humans. A dog. A bear. And a fish (which gets eaten). But no birds appeared anywhere. 

What was the bird doing there? ON THE COVER––the thing by which my book would be judged (even though everyone says the opposite). 

When I asked about this, the answer was, isn't it cute? And yes it was. 

But I said, there can't be a bird on the cover. I had to protect my rights as author. Clearly no one had read my book. Why else would they want to feature something that wasn't in it? Didn't they have any respect for me at all? If I didn't defend my book, did that mean that I didn't care about it? Did that mean I wasn't enough of an artist to have an artistic vision? 

Did I go to war? Withdraw my book? Break my contract? Try to find a publisher who 'got me'?  

No. I remembered the respect with which the entire team at Random House had treated me. I knew they had read the book. Multiple times. And thought about it and how best to share it with the world.

The adorable bird moved from the front cover to the back.

 And the title page.

And in the novel itself––after I added this short paragraph to the first chapter. 

A brown bird was just a few feet above me. It cocked its head and gave me a look like, "What are you doing in my tree?" Believe me, I didn't want to be up there. But I had to get high enough so that the cell phone signal could make it over the mountains and out of Vermont.

Crisis averted. Bridges not burnt. Relationship with editor maintained. 

Some people ask me if any of my editors have imposed their visions on my novels. People do worry about losing control of something they have worked so hard to create. I always say that I welcome the input from other people. I assume that they care about my work––or they wouldn't have chosen to publish it.

Jane Kelley is the author of NATURE GIRL and many other middle grade novels, including THE DESPERATE ADVENTURES OF ZENO AND ALYA, which does have a bird on its cover.


  1. Thanks for the lesson on fighting for important things with grace and an open mind.


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