Why hysterics, theatrics, and other acts of the demanding writer can spell DOA for a career
Nothing can spell the end of a promising writing career quicker than unprofessionalism. If your spelling errors are atrocious, your characters undeveloped, your book cover uninspired—these are things you can fix or learn to fix. The world is full of good story ideas that need a little tlc, and people who are willing to help. But throw a diva-esque tirade, and wham bam thank you maam! You will be destined to an unpublished life of bitter complaints on Facebook decrying the writing world which has so besmirched you.
I became aware of a strange trend of diva-esque writer entitlement recently at an industry conference, when I overheard a woman bemoan the fact that editors were nothing but “snake oil salesmen” and that she hadn’t put ten years into writing her manuscript only to have some “college boy” tell her it needed changing. She threw her scarf over her shoulder and huffed with indignation.
I was drawn inexplicably to eavesdrop on this woman’s coversation—in the course of my own writing career, how many times have I wanted to perform a ceremonial burning of form rejection letters, or tell a publisher in no uncertain terms to take a flying leap or shove it somewhere distasteful?! More times than it is ladylike to admit . . . My pillow has been the recipient of a number of well-aimed punches and Chuck Norris-style roundhouse kicks. But to vocalize these thoughts in public never even crossed my mind—my mother’s voice in the back of my head served as a constant reminder to “watch your manners young lady!”
The woman beside me remarked that she had taken to her blog to denounce the smarmy editor in question in grand fashion. It was an act of karma then, that the editor hosting the particular workshop we were attending opened her talk by addressing author behavior. She remarked that the form letter has become more pervasive not only because of increased submissions, but also for the very real reason that agents and editors are none too thrilled to have their personal commentary posted on social media sites. To the diva writer’s chagrin, the editor went on to describe several clients (authors with their first book in publication) whom she swiftly dropped after reading a number of rude posts concerning her on social media forums.
This is hardly an isolated incident. Your public behavior is the best indicator of whether you will be a positive author to work with, whether you are promotable, or whether you are simply to be avoided at all costs. As a writer, your words and behaviour are an indicator of you as an investment. Will people want to devote print space in newspapers, radio air time, or the resources to publish your book if you are a nightmare to deal with?
Not bloody likely.
Use the Manners Your Mama Taught You
It’s good to be passionate about your book and your writing. Heck, I’d be highly suspicious of any professed writer who wasn’t. But there is a difference between being passionate about one’s work, and being protective to the point of clinical insanity and possible assault charges.
“I don’t need editing! It’s my vision that’s important!”
No. It’s not. No matter what kind of book you have written, no matter how good you are at editing, there is absolutely no way you will catch all the errors of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and content on your own. I’ll say that again. You need editing. The greatest criticism of most books (self-published books in particular) is a lack of editing. Those that receive some modicum of professional editing are much more successful than those which haven’t.
Editing isn’t some grand complex conspiracy of the publishing industry. Editors won’t swindle you into some Machiavellian schema of political cunning to steal your vision from your brain in a Twilight Zone-esque caper of creepy proportions and slash with random brutality. Any editorial work suggested is to make your book the best it can be. In fact, any editing suggestions are a sign that there is genuine interest in honing your story and its central themes.
Editing makes your book gooder better.
“Don’t tell me what to do—I’m the expert here. I’ll tell YOU what to do with my book.”
To which the response will most likely be: “then you can take your book and stick it—” well . . . you get the idea.
Diva behavior like this speaks volumes to a publisher and any person even considering buying your book or promoting you:
-You can’t take constructive criticism.
-Any minor flaws in your book won’t be improved because of your hostile attitude.
-You are not worth the time, effort, and money to publish or promote.
-Any publishing relationship with you would be unprofessional, negative, and ultimately a loss.
-Would-be book buyers will be unimpressed by your attitude and may not buy your book on principle.
Does this mean you should skip off into the tulips, singing songs and whole-heartedly embracing everything that comes your way? Absolutely not. Be aware, discerning, knowledgeable about your industry, and ask questions. But above all, be polite and courteous. Say please and thank you.
It’s what your mother would want.