25 February 2015

The things authors should never do when approaching a publisher...

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 publisher.

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 Editor.

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 the company.

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?


Jamie D. Rose said...

As an editor, I can say 'bravo' to all the points above. All editors understand that an author's work is their baby and they have put hours of blood, sweat and tears into it. I wish all authors would understand that as editors, our ONLY goal is to make the work the very best it can possibly be for the author's sake. Editors are paid by the word, so have no real stake whatsoever in anything beyond the success of the author. Being snarky with an editor who is only trying to make the manuscript better doesn't help anyone. Remember, as authors you know your story and your characters. As an editor, we are reading 'fresh', as the reader will do, so changes, plot holes and weaknesses we see and point out that seem unnecessary to you are only because you are so close to the work. 'Forest for the trees' stuff. Please respect that we are only trying to help and don't take things personally or be unpleasant.

Ria Restrepo said...

If your work is rejected and an editor takes the time to offer constructive criticism, just thank them and move on. Even if you don't agree with them, never ever become overly sensitive, argumentative, or insulting. Keep your mind open and consider the editor's advice. You may decide you disagree, but at least consider the possibility that they are right.

Lisabet Sarai said...

You've covered most of my pet peeves, Brenna, but just let me add: courtesy counts. No matter how annoyed or frustrated you may be, remember that your writing is a BUSINESS and you should act like a professional. This also means an author should not expect special treatment from a publisher or editor just because the author happens to the know the editor personally.

As you point out, the decisions a publisher makes are NOT personal. Unless of course the publisher recognizes a particular author who has been a real pain in the neck in the past! ;^)

Unknown said...

I am new to Fireborn, but not new to publishing. I say the following without having been through my first editing process, but this is something that, as a reader, bothers me and it reflects on the author and the publisher.

I've heard authors vehemently complain when an editor calls them on passive voice and filters, two very common craft issues. Authors will talk about how editors are trying to destroy their author voice by asking the author to "fix" passive voice and filters. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I'd love to see editors remain firm on this particular issue, which only helps to polish and create the best possible manuscript. Right from the submission process, these issues should be handled. So many submission guidelines list these two particular craft issues, but books contain them anyway.

Yeah, they bother me as a reader and I've worked hard to scrub my work of them. They are cumbersome. He felt his heart beat. Filtered - of course he did. Who else would? He saw her come in the room. If we are in his POV, that is assumed.

To wrap up - Yes, our work is our baby, but if authors could understand that their work is always going to be flawed and it is up to the editor(s) to see where and show us how to fix it. Editing isn't an insult.

Issue two is promotion - I have been with seven publishers and none have opened their limited pocketbooks with unlimited advertising. Having been a partner (promotions manager) in a publishing house that is today successful, I encouraged authors to promo their work with the help of publisher-supplied banners, etc. I'm in favor of promo kits provided to authors at the time of their new release, which allows them to plaster their cover and links everywhere.

Bottom line - authors need to put their best foot forward. I've met prima donnas that feel it is totally up to the publisher to promote their work. Each has their role, but the author needs to accept the fact that promotion is part of the whole package. The more books sold, the more money everyone makes. There's nothing shameful in self-promotion.

Okay, new girl out!