I've met my share of unprofessional authors in my time, and I keep reminding myself that these authors are in the minority. The purpose of this discussion is to get input from other authors and publishers on what authors should NEVER do. Let's make a list to help those who are coming in and need to learn the ropes. I'll start off with some of the ones I've seen.
1) Don't fail to look for and follow the publisher's submission
guidelines. In addition to causing the publisher extra work to bring
your book into line, it shows that you don't work well with a publisher.
Rightly or wrongly, you will be judged by your initial contact with the
2) Don't fail to learn what industry standards are. Even if the
publisher doesn't give guidelines, there is a minimum publishers expect
for submissions. If you're using tabs or spacing in at the beginning of a
paragraph rather than using the indent feature in a word processor,
you've already made a bad choice. If you are using an atypical font or
font size, you have as well. This is a profession, and you should know
the basics of it, as you would in any profession.
3) Don't balk at the contract you've already signed. Your opportunity to
want something changed was before you signed it, not afterward. Read,
understand, and AGREE with the contract, or don't sign it. Badgering the
publisher to make changes you aren't due is not a professional move.
4) Don't refuse reasonable edits. Even if you are writing in vernacular,
there is a minimum of readability you have to reach, which may mean
toning it down a bit. If you're not writing in vernacular, narrative
does not enjoy the loose standards of grammar dialog would. Simple
grammar and spelling should not be an editing "issue". Until the editor
is trying to make substantial changes, you have nothing to complain
about, and then...go through proper channels. Talk to the EIC or Senior
5) Even if you disagree with the publisher's reason for rejecting your
work, do NOT argue with them about it. A rejection isn't personal. By
acting so unprofessionally, you are MAKING it personal and demonstrating
that you are not a good fit for working with a publisher. Furthermore,
do not threaten the publisher, do not invite someone else in to argue
with the publisher in your defense (you're not a 12 year-old), and do
not tell the publisher he/she doesn't know what he/she is doing or that
he/she will be sorry they aren't taking your "type" of work.
Beyond the fact that you've just burned your bridges with that
publisher, you may have burned your bridges with other publishers that
publisher is friends with. I'm not talking blackballing here, but when
one publisher lets another know about the rough one they just dealt
with, out of a desire to protect the second publisher's own company, he
or she may ask the initial publisher to share the author's name. Out of
professional courtesy, that's going to happen. Publishing, especially
indie publishing of like genres, is a small group and many know each
other. NEVER forget that.
6) DO NOT blame publishers for things beyond their control. When Amazon
and the other distribution channels set up rules for what content they
wouldn't take, books that were contracted in good faith and distributed
were suddenly yanked from certain distribution channels. A surprising
number of authors blamed the publishers for that turn of events, when
the truth was that we had no control over it.
7) Never make your grievance public... Wait, let's rephrase that. IF the
publisher is breaking contract, feel free to make a big deal out of it.
If you just feel the publisher is wrong, ala #5 or #6, keep it to
yourself. By screaming in a public forum about it and blaming the
publisher, the author makes a fool of himself/herself and further
alienates industry members who might have wanted to work with that
author, until the outburst.
8) Be concise in your email correspondence. When you email the
publisher, use your full pen name, name the book you are inquiring
about, and be precise in what your question is. A publisher with dozens
or hundreds of authors on board may have more than one with your first
name, you may have more than one book with the publisher, and just
asking "What's up with my book?" does not tell the publisher what the
issue is, forcing the publisher to either ask you and waste time waiting
for an answer or spend time trying to figure out your cryptic question
while he/she could be doing something else?
Go to the direct person you need to speak to, when possible. If you send
an email about your cover to your editor, the editor can't do anything
but forward it to someone who might know, and that person might be an
administrator who THEN has to forward it to the art director or cover
artist. If you ask the art director or your cover artist a question
directly, you have cut two email forwards off your wait time AND not
wasted everyone else's time as well.
Use proper English (or whatever language you might be conversing in).
You are a professional author. You deal with words. A publisher should
never get an email from you full of IM or text speak. I'm not saying to
fully edit every email. There is no editor in email, of course. I am
saying that full sentences are appreciated.
9) READ your contract. I know I said that earlier, but this one is
important. If a question is answered in the contract, do not email the
publisher, asking the question. In fact, read all available information
the publisher offers to authors, including submissions guidelines,
handbooks, and so forth. You will feel more at ease and won't waste time
on questions you should already know the answers to.
10) When a publisher answers a question for you, DO NOT continue to ask
the same question. Moreover, DO NOT go from person to person in the
company, asking the same question and expecting a different answer to
it. Chances are, the company has already set standards/policy for what
you are asking, and the answer isn't going to change, but you are going
to wear out your welcome this way.
11) Be careful with how you compare companies. Demanding changes because
you like how another publisher does something is only going to cause
frustration on both sides. If it's important enough to you to be upset
by it, consider giving your next book to the other publisher. It's okay
to say "Have you considered...?", but what the publisher ultimately does
is based on their comfort zones, not those of individual authors with
Additionally, the publishers in question have a certain audience they
have built up. That relationship comes with certain expectations. In
specific, the readers know what to expect from the publisher and their
offerings. If you submit to a publisher, and they tell you they tell you
it doesn't fit, believe them. Don't argue it. Don't insult them for not
taking "your" thing. It's not the right publisher for you, and that's
not personal. Insulting them IS personal. No publisher "owes" it to you
to accept your work. Move on to find a better fit for you. Moreover,
nothing will get you put in the "never accept from this hothead" pile
faster than that.
So...what are your additions to the list?