November 25th 2013
Professional Comportment and What it Does For a Writer
First, let my apologize for the site difficulties we had recently. I had a post up about writerly fears that I removed when the site failed and moved to another blog. You can find that post here.
What follows is one of two posts that I have up today on the business of writing. The other can be found here. That other post is about making business decisions as a writer, and how we should weigh loyalty and pragmatic concerns in making those decisions.
This post is a bit different, though related.
I recently signed a contract for a three-book contemporary urban fantasy series with Baen Books. This after publishing solely with Tor Books for what will add up to sixteen novels over the course of 18 years. Did I owe it Tor to sign with them (they also made a bid on the series)? Would Tor offer me a contract based on our longstanding relationship even if my sales numbers tanked? The answer to the first question is “Maybe, but I don’t think so.” The answer to the second is “Of course not.”
That said, though, my relationship with Tor has remained strong for as long as it has in part because I have tried to comport myself professionally when I work with anyone from the company. Tor will not give me a contract I don’t deserve simply because they like me. But I do believe that Tor has given me certain considerations over the years because they have faith in me as an author and as a business partner. And I would even go so far as to say this: If I were right on the cusp — if my agent and I were to pitch a series to Tor that they thought maybe they wanted to buy, but weren’t completely sure, those personal factors might actually tip the scales in my favor.
So, what are these personal considerations, and what can an aspiring author do to make a publisher more likely to work with him or her? Actually, most of it is pretty simple and self-evident. And yet, you’d be amazed at how many authors fail to do even these five simple things.
1. Hit your deadlines. All of them. If a book is due on March 1, I hand it in on March 1 or before. That means I finish writing the first draft as much as a month ahead of time, so that I have a few weeks to let the manuscript sit and then do some revision and polishing. But more than that, after I get the manuscript back from my editor with editorial notes and suggestions for revisions, I meet THAT deadline as well. Same with copyedits and proofreading galleys. I hit every deadline. Earlier this year, I had a chance to do some revisions on my own for Tor and I told my editor that I would have the manuscript back to him by a certain day. And I did. Delays are common in publishing. There are a lot of moving parts to the creation of a book, and publication dates get pushed back all the time. I hate it when that happens to me, and so I make it a point not to make matters worse. That’s why I always hit my deadlines.
2. Turn in a clean manuscript. This is why I polish and revise on my own ahead of time. I want my drafts to be as free of typos and foolish errors as possible. I believe that all writers need editing. I have never turned in a perfect manuscript and I never will. But by turning in clean work, I allow my editor to focus on more substantive issues. I also speed up the copyediting and proofing, and I create fewer opportunities for foul-ups later in the publication process. Production staffs at publishing houses appreciate that.
3. Be open to suggestions and criticism. I do not agree with everything my editors say about my manuscripts. The first time I read editorial comments, I disagree with A LOT of what I read. That’s my knee-jerk reaction. Which is why I never respond to my editor after reading comments just one time. I let the comments sit for a while. I give my bruised ego time to heal. And I usually come around to agreeing with about 90% of what my editor tells me. I am not afraid to fight for things I truly believe should remain as they are — it is my book, and ultimately editorial decisions are mine to make. But a smart writer knows when to set ego aside and take criticism, and when to fight for something despite an editor’s doubts. I choose my battles, I make my case respectfully and calmly. And I always, ALWAYS end every conversation with an editor with a “Thank you.”
4. Don’t be a jerk. I deal with a lot of people in house — my publicist, the royalty people, the art department, the folks in marketing. And I treat every one of them with respect and courtesy. These are the people tasked with making my book look great and sell as well as possible. Why on earth would I be anything but grateful to them for their time and effort? It takes no more effort to be nice than it does to be a jerk; so why not be nice?
5. Work hard to sell your books. This is another no-brainer. You want your book to sell. Your publisher wants your book to sell. Your publisher will do stuff for you and your book (send out review copies, help you arrange events, use their social media and website to trumpet your accomplishments), but they want to see that you are reinforcing their efforts through social media, convention appearances, signings, giveaways, blog site and website maintenance, etc. This is a win-win endeavor. Everything you do for your book will help your sales AND convince your publisher that you are doing what you can to help them get out the word about your work.
There is more that we writers can do, of course, but taken together these steps are a really good place to begin.David B. Coe http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://www.dbjackson-author.com
David B. Coe
David B. Coe (http://www.DavidBCoe.com) is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and a number of short stories. Writing as D.B. Jackson (http://www.dbjackson-author.com), he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a blend of urban fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (http://magicalwords.net), and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. In 2010 he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Visit site.
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