Coaching a writer to become an author involves more than writing. I’ve had the good fortune to work with writers for 30 years and I’ve discovered one secret to an author’s success that has nothing to do with their writing talents: professional behavior. I see too many good writers make mistakes without knowing they inflict self-injury to their publishing efforts. Here’s a list of things that make me cringe in sympathy for an aspiring writer.
1. Sent query letter by email late on a Saturday night. Not professional behavior. Conduct business during business hours.
2. Didn’t follow the the golden rule of “We’ll call you, don’t call us.” Literary managers and publishers do not take phone calls from authors. If you need to speak to them on the phone, request a phone conference in an email to be set up at a mutually convenient time. If you have a literary manager, all your business correspondence with your publisher goes through your manager and not directly from you to the publisher.
3. Responded to a rejection letter or email from a publisher or literary manager that is a flat out rejection. They are not interested in receiving a rebuttal. Go ahead and write them, just don’t push send.
4. Tweeted a query. You’ll be sent to #EditorialHell. Go to the publisher or literary manager’s website and find out their submission guidelines. Often times they request you complete a form on their site. Many won’t even reply to your emails unless you follow their directions.
5. Self-published your first book in hopes that you can use it as a step-ladder to traditional publishing. The first book a successful author writes is not always the first book published. Contrary to what many people think, an author should not start off self-publishing and hope to get picked up by a big 5 publisher. Traditional publishers pit self-published authors in the same camp with Amazon. It may hurt more than help.
I’ve learned sometimes authors can be their own worst enemies when it comes to the business of publishing. And it breaks my heart because so many of them have a gift for writing.
Too many writers fail to understand the difference between a professional editor and a friend who knows grammar and copyedits. Professionals can tell the difference quite easily.
Many new writers are so eager to see their work in print they will work for free. This past Sunday in The New York Times Tim Kreider wrote an Op-Ed piece, “Slaves of the Internet,” in which he explores the mentality that leads people to ask a professional writer to do their work for free. Daniel D’Addario points out the issue is far more complicated for emerging writers in Salon two days later. Writing for free may provide an opportunity to learn from professional editors and gain exposure, but it doesn’t pay the rent. Pay the writer! is more than Harlan Ellis’ chronic refrain. If you don’t expect to be paid or ask to be paid, you won’t be. There is a new quarterly online magazine, Scratch which explores relationships between money and art, literature and business, life and work. I recommend it, strongly.
Some authors believe getting an agent itself is the yellow brick road to publication. Put on those red ruby slippers and click your heels three times because there’s no place like a publishing home. Dream on, Dorothy. This past month, the Association of Authors’ Representatives revised their code of ethics. Previously agents were only paid by publishers and it was considered a conflict of interest to charge an author; at least not before they sold their book to a publisher. Authors may now be charged by agents for fee-based book development services. Agents may also receive financial incentives to bring authors to subsidy or self publishing companies.
There are those who still think once they get a publishing contract they can sit back and do nothing until the book comes out and then hop on an all-expense cross-country book tour, because the publisher will do everything for them. J.D. Salinger is dead but some still believe in urban legends about one-hit wonders who live like hermits and are treated by publishers and literary managers like divas. Don’t expect M&Ms and Perrier at every book signing, darling. A writer’s misconceptions and ignorance about what is expected professionally from book authors today will raise red flags that mark your work for rejection and refusal, if not by publishers then by readers
Most authors don’t know their ignorance is showing when dealing with publishers and literary managers. They rant against an industry they often know very little about and certainly not from a publisher’s bottom-line perspective. Rejections often have nothing to do with the quality of the author’s work and everything to do with the author and their professional persona.
I recommend one book to every new client. The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry (Workman Publishing). Find out if you have what it takes to be a published author.
It’s not just your words that count. The business of being an author is professional.
Six or seven years ago my advice to aspiring authors of nonfiction books was to build an audience platform by blogging. An example of how critical blogging could be to securing a publishing contract can be found in the case of Ann Marie Ackermann, author of Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee. After an initial assessment of her manuscript, I had recommended she start a historical true-crime blog, and she did. In fact, the editor of the ideal book series at Kent State University Press became a fan ofRead more…