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Friday, April 06, 2007

Beyond The Writing

Beyond The Writing

I always maintain that it’s about the writing, not the personal. And it would be nice if that were completely true…

It isn’t. Not in every situation, anyway, and it can be helpful to know when external rules apply.

For example…

1. Person buys book and reads it. Probably safe to say appreciation will be based solely on the quality of the writing, unless it’s a damn good author photo.
2. Person who is not your mother, spouse, sibling, former English teacher or otherwise connected with you is sent book and reads it. This person will likely base their opinion of the work on the writing.

On the other side…

1. Person submits story to magazine. In past they have submitted there and been accepted, refused to make necessary corrections to the story and argued over various things. Whether or not the magazine considers publishing them again will probably not just be about the writing.
2. Someone wants to sell an anthology. It won’t just be about the writing – they will have to consider having some known names contributing in order for the package to be marketable.

When I attended Harrogate 2005 there was a panel on getting published, and one of the things that Johnny Geller said was that he’d sometimes read the work and not be completely sold, but then meet the author and get a sense of the person and decide he could work with the person. At the time I remember thinking that was a bit unfair. Shouldn’t it just be about the writing? However, I can appreciate the reasoning that goes into things now.

It isn’t just the quality of the writing. It’s also whether or not the work is marketable. But there’s even more for agents and publishers to consider, and one of those things is productivity.

Workers are assessed on their level of productivity in a variety of ways, and the writing world is no different. If someone is invited to contribute to five anthologies, agrees to all of them, and only delivers to one it doesn’t look professional. Unless there are reasons (such as illness, family tragedy) that factor in, the editors the author failed to deliver for will be less likely to work with them again. This works in reverse as well.

I was reading Miss Snark the other day, and she said something that really got me thinking. I value clients who understand this is a business (for the most part) not operating at breakneck speed but also not at a standstill either. When I ask for something, I expect to hear back in a day or two at the most. If it's a task, it might not get done in a day or two but I'd like to hear you got the email and you're working on it.

The people I prefer to work with do that.
I've learned to be pretty clear about that preference before moving to "wanna sign up at Snark Central" but we never get to that point if you lollygag about. If lollygag is your default mode, that bodes ill for whether I think we're a good match… Agents vary, but I bet if you asked 100 of them, all 100 prefer someone who's prompt rather than not. This isn't some sort of rule. It's just a word to the wise. Have your stuff ready: bio, synopsis, people who might write blurbs if you have them, those kinds of things.

That shouldn’t seem like rocket science. It shouldn’t seem that complicated…

Yet clearly, Miss Snark felt it necessary to say it and, in my own limited experience on the receiving end of submissions from writers, I can appreciate it.

I’ve screwed up when I’ve submitted to the odd place. Okay, early days, we all make mistakes. But I learned from it. I didn’t walk around blaming the publication – I blamed me for failing to include everything they asked for.

We have submission guidelines and I’m continuously amazed at how many people don’t follow them. And if someone sends us a query, someone submits a story without the release form… Sayonara Sunshine.

And, if someone submits a story and then withdraws it and we see it’s because they did simultaneous submissions we remember that.

When we started out I tried hard to set things up in such a way that we could be fair to writers. The result was that some people tried to take advantage. Inevitably, you get to the point where your submission volume is such that scratching a few names off the list isn’t going to hurt your feelings at all.

The reason I say this is not to pick on writers. It’s because I’ve started to understand, in some limited way, what agents and editors think.

There are a lot of things to consider when you’re trying to market your work… And I’ve been wrong. It isn’t just about the writing. It’s about a lot of other things. If you have a reputation that you consistently can’t finish projects or deliver on deadlines it’s going to be a mark against you. If you have a reputation for trashing people online it might not be seen as helpful. It will certainly impede your ability to get blurbs, do joint signing events, etc.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I didn’t start this blog to sell books. However, everything on this blog reflects on me. Getting an agent and getting a book deal can be affected by my behaviour. Now, I have an agent… Yet I’ve found myself thinking a fair bit recently about whether or not the tone of my blog should change.

On the one hand I don’t like that idea. However, I do understand it. Free speech is a wonderful thing, but it can cause problems. Evilkev discovered a co-worker’s blog once, where she railed at length about her dislike for him. Not everyone has a sense of humour or can shrug that off as easily as he did.

My 2 cents for the day is, if you think you’re ready to start querying for an agent/publisher, make sure you’re ready. And make sure you can deliver. I think having a book out already helps in one respect: I’ve already proven I can bring a book to completion. Shopping another project demonstrates I can finish more than one manuscript. This is also good. It means that I have a track record.

Someone once said that you shouldn’t be in a hurry to get your first book published because you only got one chance to make a first impression. I beg to differ. The minute you start getting short stories published, the minute you start blogging, you’ve made your first impression. All of it can factor in to a decision about whether or not someone wants to work with you.

And that’s not something to dismiss if you want to have a career. It’s one thing if you already have an agent and a big publisher and books on the shelves – you can afford to do what you want more than others.

Those of us who are working toward that goal have to consider our behaviour more carefully. It’s hard to get published, and publishers aren’t prepared to throw money at proven risks. Bear in mind what your blog communicates about you and whether or not it might be hurting you more than it’s helping.

After all, having a hundred hits on your blog every day sounds like a good thing… But not if the majority of those people are dropping by for their daily laugh at your expense.

(This is cross-posted from my personal blog.)