Sunday, October 14, 2012

Are You a High Maintenance Author?

If you love to read, then the job of acquisitions editor for a small press is a dream come true. If you hate to dash dreams, are easily swayed or thin-skinned, find another occupation.

I am the gatekeeper who stands between you and the publisher. The publisher concentrates on production and relies on me to take queries and make decisions based on the needs of the publishing house. We share a vision and it's my job is to find manuscripts for that vision.

So, read the guidelines and study titles we've published. Get an idea of what we're looking for. We concentrate on our strongest genres where we have marketing expertise.

Note our word length. Larger outfits can produce huge books and charge more; we have to keep production cost down and make books affordable.

If it's a mystery, kill somebody already! The days of long literary passages are over. This is a TV generation, so grab my interest and do it quickly.

Show me craft. Anyone with a computer can write a novel, but few realize that writing needs to be studied like any other profession. Craft is more than punctuation.

Don't be high maintenance. What do I mean by that? Here's a list. If any of the descriptions sound like you, change your attitude or change your profession.

THE BRAGGART. “This is the best book you'll ever read. All of my relatives say so.” I'm not impressed, nor am I going to let the opinions of others sway me.

THE BEGGER. “Please publish my book before I die. I just want to see my name on the cover.” I sympathize, but that's not a good reason for me to send a contract. That's what vanity press is for.

THE DEMANDER: “Have you read my book yet? Will you read it in the next 24 hours?” No, so don't bug me every week. The more you ask, the longer it takes.

THE SENSITIVE: “You don't like my book? You don't like me!” I'm not rejecting you, and I will take the time to tell you why your book didn't make the cut.

THE IMPATIENT: “I got the contract a year ago. Where's my book?” Publishing is slow. We do our best, but we get the flu, have the occasional crisis and sometimes get overwhelmed with the workload. I work on Christmas and Thanksgiving—do you?

THE SLOB: “I wrote the book, now you fix the punctuation, grammar and spelling errors.” Nope. I'm going to pick manuscripts that are clean.

THE INFLEXIBLE: “My words are precious, so don't change them.” I respect your opinion, but it might lose you a contract.

THE LAZY: “Me, market? That's for underlings. I'm an author!” I need authors with marketing savvy and a willingness to promote.

THE CLUELESS: “I want to be on the bestseller list. And I hear Hollywood calling.” Make sure your expectations are realistic.

THE BAIT AND SWITCH: “Thanks for doing all the work on my book, but now I'm going to give it to another publisher.” Time and money wasted. Plus, some deserving author lost an opportunity.

I look for red flags early on in our relationship. If you are a problem child, I'm not going to make my publisher deal with you. Like I said, I'm manning the gate. I'm looking for authors who will work WITH the publishing house, not consumed with their own self-worth that they demand special treatment. It's important to keep your individualism, but not at the expense of a contract.

What kind of author do you want to be?


G. B. Miller said...

I am definitely not a problem child when it comes to things like this.

I've seen enough of this in my day job (work for a state governmental agency), so I definitely do not want to be like that with this.

Fortunately, I have been able to pick quite a few of my fellow writer's brains, so I have a good idea on the glacier movement of the publishing industry.

I have found that being open to honestt criticism/critique from a knowlegable editor can make a world of difference in the long run.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Good one, Sunny. The acquisitions person at my other publisher has said much of the same and sometimes on Facebook.

marja said...

I may be a problem child to someone, but not for you. (If I'm wrong, yell at me, just not too loud.)
Marja McGraw

bettye griffin said...

What kind of author do I want to be? That's easy! The kind who's independent and doesn't have to deal with acquisitions editors! Long live indie publishing!

That said, I do feel your frustration with some of the attitudes you have to deal with...

Stephen L. Brayton said...

I've seen this list before. Always a good reminder of what not to be when approaching a publisher of any size.

Sunny Frazier said...

Oh Bettye, you made me laugh. And just think, I'm one of the NICER acquisition editors!

(Don't even start me on agents. . . )

marta chausée said...

I want to be the very best author ever for you! Can I be your A+ student? That's always my goal. Study, learn, apply new skills. I am such a sucker for approval. :)

Douglas Danielson said...

Nicest “gatekeeper” I know. No wonder the books published by OTP are so good!

jrlindermuth said...

The relationship between a publisher and a writer is a partnership, and that requires good faith on both sides. To help in the process, OTP puts out one of the best author handbooks I've seen. In addition, if you have a question (or even a complaint), you can expect a reply muy pronto from Sunny and/or Billie. Among the nicest people I've worked with.

Charles Gramlich said...

I feel pretty good that I've never done any of those things.

margaret blake said...

I haven't done any of these, I am now patting myself on the head.

Rabbi Ilene Schneider said...

You have described me perfectly! I even have my acceptance speeches for the Emmys (I think the book lends itself more to a TV series than a movie, but, in case I'm wrong, the talk can be adapted for the Oscars, too) and for the Pulitzer. I am just sitting back and waiting for the kudos and royalty checks to come pouring in. But don't worry; when I'm rich and famous (aren't those the only reasons for writing?), I will still remember all you little people. After all, I had to climb on your backs to reach the top. I just hope the scars from the stiletto heels will fade.

Seriously, except for being a nudge, I hope I haven't fit any of those categories. And, if I had, you'd tell me (and forgive me).

WS Gager said...

Sunny: If they only knew what a pussycat you were in person. The hard part comes when trying to balance writing, promoting, craft,and reading. A bit overwhelming at times but a great life!
Cheers, Wendy

PS: The robot code on this blog is nearly impossible to decipher. If I didn't like Sunny so much, I wouldn't have tried four different codes. What is a horeshoe with a six in it?
W.S. Gager on Writing

Liane Spicer said...

@WS Gager: I've been wondering what Google/Blogger thinks it's playing at with the number in one image and the letters in another and all of it almost indecipherable. Thank you for persevering.

@ Sunny: Fair, but I have two caveats. We all (or most of us) start out pretty clueless but I made it my job to learn as much as I could as could as fast as I could.

The second is that I have issues with you changing my words. Discuss it with me, tell me why you think it should be changed. I might disagree, but you are the editor and you have the last word, so I'll change it if you ask. Just don't do it yourself. There's nothing I hate more than seeing words stuck in there that are not mine, that don't have my flow, that stick out from the rest of the story and jeer at me.

Does that make me high maintenance?

Sunny Frazier said...

You're right, I would never change a word without running it by the author. But, I can be very stubborn if I know it's something that will affect the decision of the publisher on whether you get a contract. I'm always in the corner of the author.

Wendy, you're NOT suppose to tell people I'm nice. I work hard to get this tough image!

Ilene, you have been a perfect lady all the way. But then, what else would I expect from a Rabbi?

WS Gager said...

Liane: Thanks for commiserating on my problem with the captcha code. I just hate them.

I teach writing at a local college and have students who think as you do or similar. What I can't get across is that if all the world thought like they did, there would be no problems. But we are indivduals with different experiences and perspectives. You may think what you say is perfectly clear and sounds appropriate but someone in another region thinks you sound ignorant or doesn't understand the terminology. I'm all for open disclosure between editor and writer but no one is perfect.

Best of luck!

Radine Trees Nehring said...

Well, how ab-so-lute-ly terrible. Somehow the computer gremlins ate my post--and it was so mahrvelously written, my dears. I'll never be able to reproduce such artistic writing after first blush of jeen-yus has passed.
However, because this is important to me, I am trying again, and braving the captcha trap as well!

Like others here, I praise the Oak Tree Press Author Handbook and wish all business and political interaction and instruction could be so clear and helpful. In addition, the Oak Tree Press staff is a boon not to be taken lightly. All members are worthy of additional thanks and praise, including you, "Tough Gal" Sunny. (Is there such a thing as "Nice Tough?" Well, if not before, there is now.)

Anonymous said...

Oh god yes, I'm a small publisher, and I am dealing with an author and an artist who are like this at the moment. The 'Clueless' I think best describes them - expectations that are far too high and an over inflated sense of their own worth. They don't seem to realise the competition that is out there, and that the book was doing fine. Thankfully it looks like their giant combined ego superID has encouraged them to jump ship (because I'm just not good enough for them...) so I won't have to put up with them for much longer. I feel like I have been paroled from a life sentence!