Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Unsolicited Advice for Authors

Yesterday I commented on a post about unsolicited advice for authors Gawker made back in October. My take was a little advice for Gawker. Well, today I’m going to give my own bit of advice to authors, and you know what? Despite how upset I was at Gawker for saying that authors “are the craziest, meanest, strangest, cluelessest people you've ever met,” much of what was said I actually agree with.

Getting an editor and an agent and selling your book is very exciting and thrilling and incredibly nerve-wracking all at the same time. The book you have labored over for months or even years is now in someone else’s hands and, even worse, someone else’s control. So I understand the paranoia that can go along with all of this. I also understand all too well how authors can hurt themselves and their careers by becoming pests and irritating the one person on their side during all of this mess, the editor.

So what’s an author to do? With thanks to Gawker I’m going to give a softer version of some of the things an author can do to ensure success and a healthy relationship with her editor.

1. Use your agent. You pay her so use her. When you want to call your editor names and accuse her of lying or not taking care of you, call your agent instead. It’s her job to listen to your rants and raves and calm you down in times of stress. It’s also her job to play bad cop, and when things truly are bad with your editor, let her do the dirty work. That’s what you pay her for. She’ll be the one your editor is mad at instead of you.

2. Share Your Ideas . . . with your agent first. While your editor is always anxious and excited to hear what you’re thinking and hopefully she always wants to sign a new book, she also doesn’t want to be the sounding board for every single idea you have ever had. Again, that’s your agent’s job. When you have new ideas or six ideas for your next book, call your agent and see what she has to say first. She’s your number-one sounding board and she’ll be sure to tell you what might work, what might not, and when you should talk to your editor instead of her.

3. Remember the little people. It’s your editor’s assistant who does all the grunt work. She opens your mail, puts through check requests, checks on the status of the contract, and makes sure your editor gets your messages. In other words, she does almost everything. Therefore, if you are sending a small gift to your editor, why not send one to her assistant as well? And whenever you leave a message with the assistant or talk to her, don’t treat her like a leper. Treat her like the intelligent future senior editor (and possibly your editor) that she is.

4. Don’t make excuses. On this one I can’t agree enough with Gawker. It’s so irritating when I get three-page e-mail after three-page e-mail explaining all of the reasons why a manuscript is going to be late, including, but not limited to, sick sister, a deadline that was unreasonable (but that you agreed to), a day job, etc. How much could have been written in the time it took to type that e-mail? If you’re going to miss a deadline, simply, and apologetically, let your editor know that the material will be late and give a concrete date for when it will be delivered (or ask your agent to do it). And don’t be late again. The second most irritating thing is the author who spends months missing repeated deadlines.

5. Revise and edit. I’ll tell you right now that when you first submit your book to your agent, it’s not perfect, and when you then submit it to your editor, it’s not perfect. Heck, it might not even be perfect when it’s published, but you do have a team of people working with you to try their hardest to make it so. This doesn’t mean you have to make every change your editor suggests, but you do need to seriously consider every comment you see. After all, she only has your best interests, and your career, at heart. If you absolutely don’t agree with something, first weigh how important it really is to you and then decide whether or not you need a second opinion. Again, this is another great task for your agent. You can either run your thoughts and concerns by her first and see what she says or, if you just have a few quick questions, feel free to go directly to your editor. But remember, it’s always better to go with a plan than to simply just call and complain that you don’t like what she says. If you don’t like your editor’s suggestions, do you have your own thoughts for what changes can be made to better appease both of you?

6. Inform, but don’t inundate. It’s critical that you keep your editor informed of all the publicity and marketing you’re doing as well as things like late delivery dates, etc. But don’t inundate her with daily e-mails. The most effective updates can be done every few months. As things change, make the corrections to a master list and send it all at once. I think we all find it easier when we can go to one place for the information we need rather than go to several. And also be sure to always keep your editor in the loop. Even if you are sending something to your publicist, cc your editor. Remember, she’s your biggest supporter, and it would be silly not to include her in everything.

7. Ask Questions . . . of your agent first. It’s almost a guarantee that you are going to have a lot of questions for your editor, especially if you’re a newbie. You’re going to want to know about your print run, a marketing plan, edits, the next steps in the process, and even the name of the art director. Don’t hesitate to ask . . . your agent first. You might be shocked and amazed at how much your agent actually knows about the publishing business, and believe it or not she might actually be able to answer most of your questions. If she can’t, she’ll probably tell you to feel free to ask your editor or offer to make the call for you. When you do have questions, for your agent or editor, the most effective form of communication is, again, e-mail, and the best way to do this is to collect a list and send them all at once. It makes it a lot easier for an editor to sit down and answer all of an author’s concerns in one shot rather than a daily e-mail with a new question each time.

8. Remember your Thank-Yous. As irritated as you might get with your editor, she’s still your biggest advocate. She’s the one who talks with the art department about your cover, who pitches your book to the sales team, who pushes the publicity department to do more, and who generally talks you up to everyone and anyone who might have a say in how successful your book can be. So don’t forget to send the occasional thank-you note or press packet as a show of how excited you are about everything that’s happening. Editors love to see the bookmarks, totebags, pens, and magnets that authors create, and would love one for their own collections. After all, who doesn’t want to brag about their “kids.”

9. Keep your neurosis to yourself. Another job for the agent. I know it’s so easy to get paranoid and worried. Heck, I do it all the time. But this is what you pay an agent for. When you worry that it’s all a dream, call to discuss your fears with your agent. In all likelihood she can help put your mind at ease and, if anything is a valid concern, she can take care of the problems.

10. And finally, enjoy the ride. This is fun, exhilarating, and thrilling, and if your editor loved your book enough to fight for it in front of all her colleagues, you’re already in good hands.



Anonymous said...

These points are practical, easy to follow, and all too easy to forget in the midst of a crisis. For that reason, I think this post should be repeated twice a year.

Excellent reminders, Jessica. Thank you.


Kimber An said...

I saved this post. I especially liked #1. I have two fears:

1) The only agent interested in representing me will be cynical and cranky, so I'll have to turn him or her down.

2) I'll do something newbie-stupid and the editor will get mad at me, but my agent won't be there to help me deal with it.

Christopher M. Park said...

This is definitely good stuff. I look forward to having these sorts of problems, rather than problems of just finding an agent in the first place. But it's good to be reminded that everything isn't peaches and cream even once an editor has bought the ms--I imagine that a lot of first-time authors are going through adrenaline overload when they first get that news, and that the following ten months of waiting and editing and preparations might serve to drive some of us temporarily batty.

It's always good to be reminded that this is the process that everyone has to go through, that we aren't unique in the paranoia you mention, and that we have two strong forces fighting for us--the agent and the editor. As long as we don't bug them to death, and remember which of them we are supposed to ask what of, I suppose. Thanks for putting all this in perspective, and doing so in such a more informative (and less antagonistic) way than Gawker’s original post.


Anonymous said...

Great solid advice. I'm printing this post and hanging it in a prominent place. Maybe next to my yearlong calendar, the one with my deadlines circled in red.

I promise to read it once a week.

Terri Thayer

2readornot said...

Another great post -- thank you!

Wendy Warren said...

Wonderful post. And, it does double duty by telling us what to look for in an agent.

Many thanks.

Kate Douglas said...

I often read Jessica's blogs and think, yep, this was written directly to me...and this morning I read through the post, got to point #9 and went, "It IS!" I have to reiterate her comment about keeping your neurosis to yourself. I can only hope Jessica hasn't saved my heartrending epistles, dashed off to her at all times of the day and night--I'm so thankful she was there to receive them. If I'd sent them to my editor, I'd be out looking for a new job...excellent advice, Jessica, and definitely a post to pass on to my writers' groups.

Bryan D. Catherman said...

This is great advice. Thanks!

Karin Tabke said...

Jessica, I always make sure the gatekeepers know how much I appreciate them. Both of my editors are busy. Their assistants are busier.

Lesley said...

This is a really great post! I really appreciate the time you put into your blog to help us little newbies!

Anonymous said...

Great advice! I only hope one day I will be able to put it into practice.

I'm a big believer in thank yous - whether a note or some small token. Coming from the media, it seems like the only time you get any sort of feedback is the time you're called all sorts of bad names. Anytime someone says thanks for your help, or I enjoyed your work, or thank you for all you're done, it is a bright spot to someone's day.

Allison Brennan said...

Great advice. Especially #2. Your agent is your best advocate and helping you build your career. Not every idea I have is brilliant (believe it or not) and I get to share my stupid ideas with my agent (who doesn't tell me they're stupid, she just doesn't "love" them) and so my editor only sees my smart ideas :)

My agent knows how neurotic I am. My editor might, but definitely not to as great a degree!

Loralee said...

Good points to be remembered. A timely post for me. Thanks.

Karen MacInerney said...


Great post... and I am SO glad to have you as a sounding board for the crazy ideas that pop into my head at all hours.

Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure my editors are, too.

Thanks (as always) for the wonderful advice.

Karin Tabke said...

Allison, you're not neurotic (snort)

Marie said...

Excellent advice. Thanks.