particular column is not an easy one to write. I’ve thought and prayed
about it for several months because it addresses the delicate nature of
professional relationships in a business in which emotions run high.
I am a writer. I am an editor,
but I was a writer before I became an editor. I love both crafts with a
passion that runs deep. I care. I care that the work is the best it can
be. The words come first, and I care that writers
are nurtured and allowed to grow in the ways that are best for them and
their calling. I care that the nurturing comes not only from fellow
writers but also from agents and editors who can help further writing
Which is why I hate when
relationships break down due to a lack of professionalism. Or worse, a
lack of patience.
First, you should know that I
have had moments of unprofessionalism myself. I know how it feels. When
I misbehave, I am so ashamed that I usually compound the situation by
hiding and going silent. This is a mistake, and I’m still paying for
the last couple of incidents. I have a professional relationship, an
extremely beneficial one, that’s still at risk because of my own
So I know it happens despite the
But I’ve been in this business
long enough to know that it also happens intentionally. I’ve seen
writers almost destroy careers with their behavior. I’ve known folks
who, despite repeated warnings from agents or fellow writers, have let
their egos or their impatience or their dreams kill relationships with
publishers who only want the best for them.
I know authors I hope I never
have to work with.
The reasons for that statement
are varied, and I need to insert a caveat here: I am not referring to
any Abingdon author; rather this column comes about from not only my
thirty years in the business but some recent conversations with several
editors and agents about author behavior.
Yeah, if you haven’t figured
this out yet, you should realize that editors and agents talk to one
Here are a few issues that come
Refusal to respond to
editorial suggestions. Editors and agents don’t make changes
or suggested changes for personal reasons. We know the manuscript is
your baby. But our minds are on the readers and the book buyers, and
our suggestions or requests are based on years of work with other
manuscripts. Editorial suggestions are not made because we dislike your
work; instead, our goal is to make it the best it can be. When an
author ignores a change, especially a major one, without feedback, the
editor begins to think the author has no interest in improving. This
bespeaks an ego and stubbornness that can show up in other areas of the
relationship. It’s a major red flag. If you don’t like the editing,
start a conversation. Don’t just turn in a revision that ignores or
stets them with no explanation.
The publishing process is slow. As a writer you must know this. While
this drives some authors to self-publish, the best way to build a
long-term career is with a traditional publisher. This takes time …
sometimes as much as eighteen months to launch a debut novel, with a
delay on purchasing a second novel until sales are in on the first one.
Authors who start pushing and making demands regarding that second book
may find themselves without that second sale—or without their agents.
Folks ask all the time what I mean by this, and the answer is usually,
“The same thing that makes someone high maintenance in the rest of her
life.” It starts with the attitude that “I’m special, so I should have
all your attention” and continues with “It’s my book; I know what’s
best for it.”
As an editor, I am responsible
for thirty-six to forty new books a year, plus the ones just published
and the ones two to three years out. I receive more than three hundred
submissions a year from agents. I’m making plans for conferences, and
I’m hoping to start two new lines in the next two years. No one author
is going to have all my attention. An agent with forty or more clients
will be handling the same balancing act.
And if you know what’s best for
you book, then I suggest you seriously consider self-publishing.
Otherwise, trust that a publisher is in the business of getting as many
books as possible into the hands of readers. They have a lot of
experience in how that happens, and sometimes their experience will
stand in opposition to what you want. Learn to trust.
Refusal to take career
advice. This one is a bit of a corollary to “high
maintenance,” but it goes a step farther, and I hear it more from
agents than other editors. While launching a career is slow, for
instance, your work will pick up increasing speed as time goes on.
You’ll go from waiting several years for the first couple of books to
having an editor wanting a book every three to six months. Life will
become a minefield of deadlines, edits, marketing, traveling, and
speaking. Skilled agents can guide you through this with wisdom … if
you let them.
One of the best analogies I’ve
heard recently (and apologies to the originator of this; I can't
remember which of my friends said it!)
is that the beginning of a writer’s publishing career is
like college and graduate school. It involves years of work, learning,
networking, writing, and waiting. Then more writing and waiting. Once
the career is launched, however, life can change in a hurry.
And just as it would be with an
MBA grad, a writer will be working with a series of professional
colleagues. You may be in a home office in your pajamas, cat on your
lap, writing on the book of your heart—but we will expect you to act
with the same professionalism as our colleagues down the hall.
If you don’t, the difficult work
of getting published on a regular basis will get a whole lot harder.