Friends and Lovers of Writers: Don’t Say You Weren’t Warned…

January 4, 2014

writers rules1. This warrants a quick kick to the shins of the person who deigns to ask such a ridiculous question.
2. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this question. I always tell them that I have written the latest bestseller.
3. Ok, I wanna show of hands for those of you who have heard this and wished you had a dime for every time someone uttered this. If we pooled our money together, I bet we could throw one hell of a party.
4. True story: I asked an ER doc about the weirdest thing he’d ever seen while on shift during a full moon, and he regaled me with a story about a patient who presented with a hairdryer up her hoo hoo. Now I had to research that. Hey, don’t look like that…you’d do the same.
5. My family has personal experience with this. Entire conversations took place that I have absolutely no memory of. The fallback in the Price Batcave was, “Was Mom writing when you said that?” It was my get outta jail free card.
6. Oh. Hell. Yes. To that bitchy teller at the bank…Chapter 3 is on you.
7. I…oh…um…yeah, whatever.
8. I can attest that I have NEVER done this. Ever.
9. To this I say, bless Doris Dumrauf and Annette Dashofy and their Christmas gifts…
10. Word.

Pity or pitiful?

September 28, 2011

I happened to read a post about an author whose publisher rescinded their contract when they found out she’d done a DIY after signing a contract with them. From what she says, her contract is being canceled and she has to pay back the advance.

She mentions being “coerced” to accept the terms of her contract and intimates that every author is being taken advantage of. However, since she was deeply in debt, she took the deal. And the advance.

I’m not going to debate the issues of who may or may not be right because none of us have the inside story from both sides. However, I would wager that something exists in her contract that spells out the legalities of what she can and can’t do independently from her publisher. Additionally, she made the conscious decision of earning her livelihood from writing – an insanely difficult thing to accomplish since most authors have other day jobs.

Given her reasoning, I’m nonplussed that she dissolved her relationship with her publisher and lost her $20,000 advance. For a debt-ridden author, this has to be a very tough choice, and it’s impossible for me to judge her for her decision. However, I do wonder whether it was a wise choice in the long run.

Sure, I’m a big believer in karma and that the decisions we make set into motion certain outcomes. But are they necessarily successful outcomes? And if I’m going to get into a philosophical debate with myself, then the beagle better add more tequila to the pitcher of margaritas.

More to the point, I read stories like this and think about all those lovely writers I meet at writer’s conferences whose sole purpose is to land a good book deal. Would they be so quick to walk away from that book deal if they were in the same position? Or would they make different choices in order to preserve the relationship in order to enhance their writing futures?

I could go on for days arguing the phycho-blabbery of those points, but we simply don’t have enough margarita mix to keep me going that long. Here’s what I do know: relationships take work and mutual respect.


Publishing goes both ways, and smart editors and authors share mutual gratitude to be working together toward a common goal. As such, each side works to maintain open channels of communication. But there are times when those channels break down, and gratitude on both sides melt like the ice in the beagle’s margaritas, leaving room for Attitude to move in.

The downhill slide usually begins with Assumption. One side may act in accordance with their assumptions instead of looking at the potential consequences of those actions.

The author assumed it wasn’t a big deal to DIY e-pub, and I’m sure she never thought it would put her book deal at risk. But for whatever reason, it did, and this is where her gratitude (remember, she was broke and grateful for that $20k advance) dissipated and attitude took over.

This was avoidable.

  • Why didn’t she consult her agent and editor before pubbing her DIY e-book? Case in point, one of my authors was asked to write an article for a magazine, and he asked if he could use a chapter from his upcoming book. Of course, I told him to go for it. Tra-la! It took him a fraction of a second to email me, and a fraction of a second to email him back. Had there been a problem, I would have cited the contract as to why this couldn’t be done.
  • When she saw how upset the editor was, did she weigh the financial and professional benefits of remaining with her Big 6 publisher against going it alone and all the uncertainty that goes with it? Hindsight can be a three-legged dog who’s rethinking the the intelligence of trying outrun a garbage truck. It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of battle, but when the dust settles, are you like the dog, wishing you had your fourth leg back? Once you cross over the line, it’s mighty hard to go back.
  • Did she allow emotion to cloud her judgement? Obviously, I have no idea. However, her post is extremely emotional – which I can understand – and it makes me wonder if that emotion ultimately served her to her highest and best outcome. She has an agent, who is probably less emotional and, therefore, more reliable in negotiating with the editor. Decisions made during emotional overload can be followed by regret that will follow you forever.

Case in point, I had an author many years ago who was verbally abusive to me. I put up with it for awhile until I had enough. I warned him that he’d crossed over the line, but that just encouraged him until he really went off the deep end. I cancelled his book contract within the hour.

When gratitude turns to attitude, you can’t help but reach a stalemate, an impasse. And when push comes to shove, are you in a position of strength, or have you relinquished everything in the heat of the moment? It’s hard to unburn a bridge because trust is the first thing that goes up in flames. The other side knows you have the potential to take things further than they need to go, so they’ll be wary of you.

It’s possible the editor was an idiot and entirely unreasonable, but it’s rare that editors are arbitrary to the point of cancelling a project. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s far from the norm. More importantly, this author comes off like she has a chip on her shoulder – that she was “coerced” into her contract.

Until someone sends me an updated memo, I have to go on the assumption this is still a somewhat free country, and we’re not forced to sign any book contract that we don’t believe in. She got $20k for her book, and were I in the financial straights she was/is, I’d find a way to make it work. As of now, she’s working without a net, so is she to be pitied or merely pitiful?

What would you do?

Are you difficult?

June 4, 2010

I just got off the phone with an editor friend of mine who wanted to vent. She has a difficult author. Oboy. Seems the author calls my friend twice a day and emails her six times a day, asking questions and voicing concerns. Mind you, the manuscript is still being written, so I was unsure what would take up so much of my friend’s time.

“Oh…” sez my friend in dramatic undertones, ” she calls to tell me she hates the cover. She calls to discuss adding some different content to the original idea. She emails to ask about promotion and marketing. She emails about movie rights. Have the damn beagle send me a Care package of margaritas, willya?”

I can hear the frustration in my friend’s voice all too easily because I’ve been there as well. We all have because we’ve all experienced the various flavors of The Difficult Author.

First-Timer Freak Out

Many writers are debut authors and have no idea what goes into publishing a book. There’s finishing the proposed manuscript, editing, cover design, page layout/ interior design, marketing/promotion…and on it goes. It’s a bit of a head spin for the debut author. And you know what? We’re good with that because we understand.

Many of us have Author Packages that we send out to our new authors the minute the ink dries on the contract. It helps us help you, the author, understand what to expect and when and how we do our magic. It also cuts down on the “holy conjugated verbs, Batman, what’s next?” emails. In a word, first timer freak out is expected. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

The Worry Wart

The difficult I’m talking about are those who worry.

Cover design: “Ew! I hate, hate, hate it!” Yes, yes, that’s nice, but this is what the sales folks think works well. Most editors will do all they can to reach a happy medium on cover design because a happy, proud author is one who loves to show off their book at events. We genuinely want you to like your cover art.

And this is where experience and knowledge trump wishies and pretty colors. Certain colors print up horribly, and certain fonts can set the wrong emotive tone [for instance, you’ll never see a horror novel with a script font]. You may want a purple dragon with detailed artwork, but that intricate detail invariably gets lost on a book cover and blends into a mish mash. We know that, but you don’t.

You may want a lovely script font for your romance, but they’re achingly hard to read. Last thing you want is a buyer squinting to read the title of your book because chances are they’ll give up and move on.  We know that, but you don’t.

We all have stories where buyers hate a book cover so much they don’t put it out on the shelves. If our sales folks say a cover looks great, then we’re going to listen to them. Not you.

Editing: This is the biggest reason my grocery budget is sky high. I buy lots of Maalox, Twinkies, and tequila with the sole purpose of editing a book. Most editing is wonderful and  comes together like a greased zipper. Others are tough because the author questions every decision I make.

If I feel a manuscript is filled with miles of fluff and backstory, then the author needs to trust me and edit it out. Arguing with me solves little because I do have ultimate say on how a manuscript is edited. I paid for those rights. I love the books we publish, but don’t have the blind emotional tethers. I’m looking at it in terms of  “will this puppy sell?” The worry wart is thinking, “How dare you kill my darlings?” Well, pretty damned easy, as it turns out.

The author who emails me five times a day, questioning every single editing crit that I have is the one who’s ruining my liver. I don’t mind discussion – no editor minds this. But being challenged at every turn is exhausting.

The Cranky Pants

There is room for only one cranky pants in the author/editor relationship, and I’m it. And truly, I’m not at all cranky because I want what’s best for everyone. Most editors think this way. We don’t awaken from our crypts wondering whose life we can ruin this fine day. But believe me, if an author gets cranky, this shoves the relationship into perilous territory.

No one gets paid enough to shoulder someone else’s crappy mood. I’ve been told, “It’s because I’m so artistic.” Uh huh. I don’t care if you’re Hemingway, there is no defense or excuse for cranky behavior.

Are you the type who upsets easily or takes offense at every turn and fires off an email telling your editor [or agent] they’re a pile of petrified fish twaddle because you don’t like their edits? Are you the type who needs constant contact with your agent or editor to ask them a gajillion questions? Do you send emails that demand final say on cover design and editing changes? Umm…better check that ol’ contract before hitting the Send button.

Do you send emails telling your editor that she’s always hated you and you’re being unfairly treated?

Any of these things create a situation where the editor says, “This cannot go to printing fast enough!” Or…they may decide they’ve had enough of you and dump you.

A certain amount of hand-holding is expected in any publishing situation, and we’re more than happy to perform this function. You’ve trusted us with your book, so it’s perfectly natural to cast a careful eye over every aspect of production. But if you’re difficult, word will get around. Editors do call each other and ask questions. Take stock of your behavior. Are they calling to discuss you?

Promotion – Stacy Dittrich

June 15, 2009

The second part of Stacy Dittrich’s blog post deals with the realities of book promotion. I know I’ve discussed this topic any number of times, but I felt it particularly important to hear the realities of promotion from someone outside my particular borders. Publishers handle book promotion in different ways.

I’ve heard stories of some very large presses who do very little, and this is understandable to some degree. They have the Big Name recognition and superior distribution. But that only carries a book just so far, and the rest depends on the author’s willingness and ability to let audiences know their book exists. Stacy gives a very interesting view into this part of the publishing experience.

stacyphotoProbably my biggest misconception in the industry was the marketing and promotion. Quite frankly, there isn’t any. I’ve been published by three different houses ranging from small to large and, although the marketing varies a little, each one puts little effort in the promotions. Unless you are established and have made the house millions, i.e. Stephen King, James Patterson, don’t expect ads in Vanity Fair or People Magazine promoting your book. Also, to ask your publisher to send your book to Oprah is like asking for a free trip to the moon. Imagine the wealth of manuscripts and books Oprah receives daily. Unless it is passed along by someone with an “in”, AND she loves it—it’s not going to happen.

Sure, you can dump thousands into your own publicist. I learned the hard way, (and $10,000 later) that everything my publicist did to book me on shows I could have done myself for less than half the cost. In fact, people are astonished to learn that after the cover or title of my book was splashed across the television screen on Nancy Grace or Bill O’Reilly’s show, it did little to help my book sales.

I’ve learned that networking is the key. Sites like FaceBook and MySpace are an author’s paradise for promotions. You’d be surprised at how little an ad on FaceBook costs, and how many professional connections I’ve made that has led me to radio, television, and print—all promoting my books. The internet itself is the new age of marketing: blogs, chat rooms, and book sites—there are literally thousands of them. You just have to take the time to do it. I’ve also spent hours researching radio, television, and newspaper sites all over the state, making my own press releases, and sending them out—you’d be surprised at the responses.

I just received an email from an author ranting about “why should I pay to edit my own book and if they’re gonna buy it they should market the hell out of it too!”  Little does this guy know with his attitude he will have a long wait. Don’t buy into “my book will sell itself.” This is pretty naïve.  The old adage of “you have to spend money to make money,” rings true here. Before you send your book off to an agent, hire a freelance editor to give it a quick run-through to make sure it’s as polished as it can be. No money? Call your high school English teacher and see if she’ll do it, or check with the English department at your nearest college. There are ways to do things as cheaply as possible.

The bottom line here is that publishers no longer want to put the money into the marketing. YOU are the author and, as the author (think of yourself as a business), you are expected to take an active part in making your book sell. Writing a good book is only half of what it takes to make it. A good attitude and professionalism, and acknowledging your part in the sales process is what most publishers seek.

Regardless, taking in all of the above—and a good dose of persistence, you will undoubtedly rise to the top! It’s a crazy ride, but a lot of fun.

Stacy makes a very good point about the editing aspects. I’ve talked about authors who bristle at the idea of having to produce a professionally written work knowing we’re going to dig our blood-soaked nails into the work again. The reality is such that if the work isn’t professionally written, we’re not going to waste our time on it. Any author willing to submit “good enough” isn’t someone I want to work with.

Publishing and promoting is hard work, and “good enough” doesn’t yield a great book or big sales. The idea of “good enough” is reprehensible and embarrassing to professionals. Stacy is a pro – she always was, even before her wonderful agent got her paws on her. And that is why she’s on her way.

General Service Announcement

October 1, 2008

We interrupt our daily insanity to bring some housekeeping chores to the forefront in hopes of creating world peace, a strong economy, and better tasting Twinkies.

If you query anyone, do yourself a favor and email from the address where you would like to receive replies. See, we tend to hit the ‘Reply’ button and this, “Don’t email me at this address, use the other one I have listed here instead” is unprofessional.

Keep in mind that you approached us, so it’s a rotten idea to begin making demands when we haven’t even had our first dance.

Your first contact with an agent or editor is your business card. How you present yourself is the same as a job interview. Beginning that face time by making special requests isn’t a wise decision.

Sigh. I want a brief bio. Period. Deal with it. I don’t care if you find my request baffling or irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if you feel my reading your bio will make your manuscript intriguing or not. It’s not your choice to make.

It would be a dimwitted agent or publisher indeed who would reject or not consider a sensational manuscript simply because a person’s biographical information did not meet some undefined and arbitrary criteria which exists only in the agent/publishers imagination.

For one thing, nothing we do is arbitrary. I’ll cop to having a great imagination, but not when it comes to deciding upon the sea worthiness of a manuscript. Those decisions are based on hard, cold calculation. And yes, actually many agents and editors have dumped terrific works based on the biographical information. If I have a something promising but it entails strong promotional support from the author to garner effective demand, but they are busy sitting home watching the soapies, then, you bet, I have to move on. Being an author these days does not consist of “If I write it, they will come.”

And don’t call me dimwitted. You don’t sit in my chair. You don’t answer to my submissions team. And you certainly don’t write the checks and take all the risk.

Um. Include one. This is helpful. Don’t offer to send your first chapter instead of a synopsis. If I wanted the first chapter, I’d ask for it. Really. I’m good that way. But before I’m willing to make that first date with you, I have to know what the dang story is about.

Avoid wasting your entire query telling me things like this…

there is no way I can begin to capture what the book is in a couple of paragraphs

…and give only the vaguest of descriptions like,

“this will resonate with baby boomers.”

I’m sorry, I left my tinfoil hat at home and am unable to divine what this means.

You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression, so use your query letter wisely. Don’t take up precious time giving me reasons why I should love your work. Tell me what your story is about so I can figure that out on my own. Trust me, I won’t take your word for it.

Please don’t tell me something will “resonate.” Sorry. This particular word makes my eye twitch. It’s just a personal thing. Ok, if you do use it, I promise not to hate you. Much.

And this ends our Public Service Announcement for today. Stay tuned…

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