Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Attitude Matters

During lunch with an editor, not surprisingly the economic slump came up. Editors are losing their jobs, while others are making decisions on which authors they are able to offer new contracts to and which they are not. What we discussed was no surprise to us, but might be to many authors: an author’s attitude can matter in some cases. In other words, being a pain in the ass can bite you in the ass.

The first thing publishers look at when cutting their lists (and therefore making decisions about which authors will be returning and which will not receive contracts again), are numbers. Of course the authors with the best sales track records are going to stay, but what about those authors who are neck and neck? How do you make the decision when you suddenly come up with, say, the last ten authors, five of whom you can offer contracts to, but five of whom you no longer have room for? Their numbers are all relatively the same, they sell well, not fantastically, but steadily. The decision is going to come down to attitude. The authors you like, the ones that don’t cause trouble, or give you daily headaches, the ones who turn in relatively clean manuscripts and don’t call screaming simply because they hate the color pink and you used pink on the cover, those are the authors most likely to get the next contract.

Does that mean you need to sit on your hands and keep your mouth shut? Absolutely not. I have a fabulous relationship with a number of editors and a number of contracts people within publishing houses, and you know what? I can be a real pain in the butt. The trick is to be painlessly painful. In other words, to understand that you aren’t always going to get what you want and to face problems professionally and kindly. If you’re unhappy with your cover, you should let your editor know, but you should also let her know why and reasonably discuss solutions if there are any. Better yet, you should let your agent do the dirty work so you always look like a gem.

In publishing, like in any business, the way you approach things can make a difference in the long run. How many of you have walked out of a store or away from a professional simply because you didn’t like the person’s attitude? I know I’ve refused to work with all sorts of people just for that reason. Why should publishing be any different? Again, if you are a royal pain, but bringing the big money, they know they're stuck with you, but if you are at the same level as a whole heck of a lot of nicer people, you better watch your back.