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Don't Be a Writing Diva

Nobody likes dealing with a high-maintenance author, especially agents and editors. Here are 18 tips that will endear you to those who can help you publish or perish. by Mary E. Demuth

I’ve seen authors in financial crises who berate their agents because they need their advance checks—now! When that doesn’t work, they’ll call the publisher directly, ranting. I’ve also known novelists who take it upon themselves to detail every failure of a publishing entity and e-mail it to an entire company. These are examples of High-Maintenance Authors, or HMAs, and the last thing any author wants is to place himself in this category.

HMAs can ruin their chances of further publication through bridge burning, preening and defending every intricacy of their prose. Here are 18 practical tips that both established and newbie writers can implement to become the kind of author that agents and editors love.

1. HONE YOUR VOICE. The more confident you are of your own voice, the better you’ll be able to discern when an editor’s squelching that voice.

2. MEET DEADLINES EARLY. Send in your manuscript early—and shock and please your editors.

3. WRITE THANK YOU NOTES. You’ll endear yourself to your agent, editors and friends in the business if you pen thank you notes. Make your thanks specific and genuine.

4. JOIN A CRITIQUE GROUP. Find a group that understands you and is ruthless in editing your pieces.

5. PUT DOWN THE PHONE. Don’t call editors unless they’ve given you the go ahead. A quick heads-up in an e-mail is easier to respond to and less intrusive.

6. RELAX ABOUT FINANCES. Hounding your editor or agent for payment comes across as desperate and unprofessional. Of course, if things are wrongly delayed, you should ask. But don’t pester.

7. HEED YOUR EDITORS. Particularly when you’re new at this writing gig, you’ll have to bend a lot to editorial direction. Chalk it up to learning the ropes. Later when you’re more confident in your writing, you can decide which editorial hills to die on.

8. DON’T HIT SEND. Before e-mailing a grievance, let it sit and percolate. Remember that e-mails can take on a terrible life of their own.

9. SEND COMPLIMENTARY E-MAILS AT WILL. On an up note, e-mails that praise something specific in a publishing house or magazine make the rounds too.

10. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Instead of pestering an editor about his publication needs, research it. Study the magazine or publishing house you’re querying. Be informed. Simply knowing the writers’ guidelines will endear you to an editor.

11. BECOME A LIFELONG LEARNER OF THE CRAFT. Go to conferences. Read great books. Read outside your genre. Go to lectures. Take a class. Try new things. Grow, grow, grow.

12. NETWORK WIDELY. An author with a large network of professional relationships will positively build his career. Remember, though, if you’re seen as an HMA right out of the gate, it’s hard to change first impressions. Though the publishing machine may seem behemoth, it’s really a small industry.

13. HOLD YOUR TONGUE. If you didn’t like the way a particular editor treated you, go through the proper channels with her. Don’t spread your angst around the industry. If you spew, other editors will think, Hmmm, if he slanders that editor, will he slander me too?

14. BE PROFESSIONAL. When you’re in industry settings, dress the part. If your publishing house asks you to put up a website to promote your book, make it look professional. And hire a photographer to take your picture.

15. DON’T KISS UP. People know when you’re being nice for the sake of getting something in return. If you want to scratch an editor’s back, go ahead, but not with the motivation of getting something in return.

16. BE PATIENT. Editors and agents are terribly busy and often won’t get back to you on your timetable. Accept that. This goes for editorial direction too. If you receive edits that initially make you angry or defensive, wait and write back when your emotions are in check.

17. START SMALL. Everyone has to begin somewhere. If you’re new to publishing, revel in not having pressing deadlines. Use this time to become a better writer.

18. ABOVE ALL, BE HUMBLE. Here’s an irony: Usually those bursting with themselves are new authors thinking they’re God’s gift to the literary world. Established authors have learned that success in publishing is hard to measure, that talent takes guts and work and sweat, and that when they heed editorial feedback, they’ll grow.

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