Monday, June 29, 2009
Angela Cameron suggested an interesting post would be about “author etiquette.” While it’s not specifically different for e-published authors than it is for print-published ones, with the explosion of e-books there are more people than ever facing first-time authorship. Hmm, I thought, that could be interesting…
With all the social media swirl over snarkfests like #queryfail, I thought it was time to present authors with some (I hope) actionable advice that actually could help their publishing careers. So, this post addresses what I believe to be the characteristics that separate the wheat from the chaff—after the manuscript is sold.
You’ve signed your contract. You’re giddy. You’re a genius! Yes, you are. But the work is just beginning now that you’ve sold your manuscript, and there are a few key characteristics that happy, successful authors all share. In my many years of acquiring, editing, and selling books, here is the wisdom I’ve distilled about authors with happy, long-term careers vs. the unhappy, disappointed ones:
1) EXPECTATIONS. I’ve always felt that part of my job is to manage an author’s expectations while encouraging enthusiasm and excitement. Did you write a good book? Hell, yes. Is it the next Lovely Bones? Probably not. Not because it doesn’t deserve to be, of course, but because lightning only strikes maybe once or twice a publishing season, and it already struck Stephenie Meyer three times this season. Being a working writer is just that: WORK. Hard work, relentless work, thankless work, much of the time. Live for the small moments of glory: when a friend tells you she saw your book on Amazon. When you get a great review. When you get your first fan mail. Work hard enough, and they become more frequent. If you’ve been previously published in print, recognize that the e-book world is very different in terms of what it expects of its authors in the way of promotion, but it can also be much more creative and flexible.
2) GRATITUDE. Be grateful you have talent, that someone recognized it, and that you get to fulfill a dream. Most people don’t get that chance. At Ravenous, we reject 90% of our submissions. And we’ve been in business seven months. So what does that tell you about how lucky you are to have a publishing contract? E-publishing has opened up a lot of opportunity for new writers, and though you might have preferred to sell your first book to Random House (like our author Jamaica Layne did, before she started writing for Ravenous), it’s still a major achievement to have a publisher accept your manuscript. Be grateful to have the opportunity, despite the fact that it is much, much less glamorous than you’ve been led to believe, for much less money, and probably a lot more work.
3) MANNERS. Haven’t heard from your editor in a few days? Send her a polite note or leave a polite voicemail. Unhappy with your publicist? Again, send a polite note or a polite voicemail. Got a bad review? Ignore it: publishing wisdom holds that most reviews (good and bad) say far more about the reviewer than they do about the book. Treat assistants and interns with the highest respect and consideration; someday, they will be your editors. Never scream. Never accuse. And never, ever, air your dirty laundry in a public forum. Professionalism is the key to successful authorship, as it is to most other serious endeavors.
4) PERSISTENCE. Just because you have to be polite doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat. Be a squeaky wheel. Follow up on your submissions. Follow up on your media requests, your review copies, your trade show giveaways, and your press releases. If you’re persistent and lovely instead of angry and demanding, your publisher will welcome your calls and emails, and will be more likely to move your requests to the top of the pile.
5) PERSPECTIVE. Understand that nothing lasts forever. Not good things, not bad things. I had an author once whose first book sold half a million copies. She bought a new house, quit her job, and relaxed into a life of leisure. Six months later, the trend she was riding collapsed, and I’m not sure she ever saw another royalty check. I had another author who struggled with her first two books, which were not flops exactly, but didn’t pay the rent, either. She stuck with it, and her third book sold 100,000 copies and was translated into a dozen foreign languages. Everything is cyclical. Fifteen years ago, gardening books were hot. Six or seven years ago, gardening was pronounced dead by the book trade, and craft books were hot. Today, gardening books are up 40% and craft books are tanking. The e-book world will also have its cycles as it matures. There is an element of serendipity to this business we chose, and we must have the fortitude to ride the waves without succumbing to either hubris or crises of self-doubt.
6) MORE PERSPECTIVE. It’s your baby. It’s your life’s work. It’s been your dream since you were seven, it’s who you were meant to be. I understand. But if it doesn’t work, you are still who you are, your family, friends and dog (and maybe your editor, if you’ve followed rules #2 and #3) still love you, and that’s what really matters. This is a fickle, cold-hearted business for all its surface collegiality, and it won’t keep you warm at night. Be proud you took a risk many aren’t brave enough to take, and you learned from it.
And if you’re wildly successful, always remember point #5: it could have gone the other way. Humility is in order. So blurb everyone who asks, give a funny, self-deprecating keynote speech at the next national writers’ conference, and count your blessings.
Holly Schmidt is the president of Literary Partners Group, Inc. which ownsand operates Ravenous Romance at www.ravenousromance.com. She is also thepresident of nonfiction book packaging company Hollan Publishing, Inc. Hollyhas 15 years of experience in trade book publishing and is the mother of two young sons, who like to read almost as much as their mom does.