3 Sure-Fire Ways to Insult Someone in Publishing

1. Design your own book cover, or better yet, have a loved one do so for you. Bonus points if that loved one is a child (either young of full-grown), and creates abstract art.

1.5. Draw your own illustrations or have a loved one do so because they’re really good with Microsoft Paint.

Books are products that require an industry professional’s attention and marketing consideration, just like any other consumer product—from Coke to Draino.

2. Tell your editor that you’ve had your family member (who has a really sharp eye), read your work for errors, and you’re certain it’s good to go. Bonus points if that family member is a retired high school English teacher.

Editing is about much more than correcting comma placement. Furthermore, all publishers have their own style guidelines that aren’t known or understood outside the publishing industry.

3. Tell your publisher that your book is a perfect fit for Starbucks [or any major retailer], and that it should be sold there.

More than anyone, your publisher wants your book stocked in every possible retail outlet, and will exploit every single distribution connection it has. It will place it in any outlet that will make space for books, and even pay money for placement. Your publisher isn’t lazy or unimaginative; there’s just immense competition.

And a sure-fire way to make an editor cringe:
Remark in an envious way, “So you must read a lot.” No, we don’t read. Mostly, we look for ways to make money and get your book placed at Starbucks, while gently informing you that your first-born cannot design your cover. Most editors have completely left pleasure reading behind. (That includes me, except when I’m on vacation.)

To end on a positive note:

6 sure-fire ways to make an editor love you

  • Ask questions about the business.
  • Ask what you can do to make your book or project or idea more successful.
  • Ask about the publisher’s strengths and weaknesses, and where your help can really make a difference.
  • Share your action plan for marketing and promotion, and ask the publisher for specific things where they can meaningfully and realistically help you (usually things you know they’ve done to assist other authors).
  • Ask for examples or models of what other authors have done that have led to success.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. (Do not hide out, do not point fingers, do not blame.)

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0 thoughts on “3 Sure-Fire Ways to Insult Someone in Publishing

  1. Jane Friedman

    @Lynn: I do admit to some hyperbole in my statement that editors don’t read — though this sentiment is echoed by longtime editor Daniel Menaker in his September essay "Redactor Agonistes":


    When I interview editors now, I do not ask what they read. I do investigate their project management skills, how well they work under pressure while still producing quality work, and how well they understand marketing and promotion. Social media and customer service skills are also becoming critical. Bottom line, the roles of editors have changed immensely. They are more like content strategists.

    Definitely agree about the author’s input on niche markets.

  2. Lynn Kauppi

    Editors don’t read??!! Nonsense!!
    When I interviewed for my former editorial position, I was specifically asked the kinds of books I read and how much nonprofessional reading I engaged in.
    In my experience editors are expected to be well read. If modern editors are not well read, then that explains the lousy books I see marketed.
    Additionally an author’s input is important in niche markets. Editors and the publishers’ marketing departments can’t possibly know all the obscure places in which a book would sell well. A New York editor turned down Norman MacClean’s "A River Runs Through It" because "that book contains trees!" I’m certain that book sold very well west of the Mississippi (and it even became a movie).

    Lynn Allan Kauppi, PhD

  3. Reesha

    I like that every sure-fire way to make an editor love me has the work "Ask" in it.

    Asking questions, asking questions, asking questions. Seems like a good thing to do.

    So…..do you read a lot?

  4. Jane Friedman

    @Mariel – LOL. I guess I am letting off some steam. 🙂

    @Kimball – Thanks so much! We love being able to help.

    @Mahesh – Didn’t know about that, but fascinating! Appreciate you sharing the links. (Writers, go check it out!)

  5. Mahesh Grossman

    Did you see the cover contest (http://budurl.com/l87r) that Rick Warren held at 99designs.com for his new book jacket? It was a great opportunity to see hundreds of designs for the same concept. But just like most authors who haven’t sold 20 million books, he picked the wrong one- for the wrong reason. Here’s the article: http://bit.ly/2btfDn

    (Of course, the most important elements were there, his name and the fact that he’s the author of The Purpose Driven Life.)

    Speaking of covers, I just interviewed Cindy Ratzlaff, who was with Rodale during the production of South Beach Diet. They aimed to create a diet book cover that looked more like a women’s fiction hardcover– and spent time and money to specifically develop that aqua green color.

  6. Kimball Livesay

    I know it sounds like common sense, but if it was so easy, I guess you guys wouldn’t have a job. Good post – and thanks for the tips.

    I was at the WD Editor’s Intensive conference a week and a half ago, and I thought it was sooo good! You guys were very helpful and it was wonderful to meet you and Alice and Chuck.

    Thanks so much again for all that you do. I love WD!!!!!