It is a business. . .

So treat it as one. Yesterday, as I was looking at FB, I came across a post from someone I respect a great deal. He also has one of the most unverifiable jobs there is in publishing. No, not reading the slush pile, although that is part of his job. He has taken it upon himself to do what so many publishers don’t do. He responds to those who send something in, letting them know whether or not their work has met the minimum threshold to be passed up the line for further consideration. Believe me, that is definitely more than a number of publishers do. Too many simply never get back to you unless they are interested.

What caught my eye with his post was how unprofessional someone had been in response to his email letting them know their story had not been passed up the line. Now, I know how it stings when you get a rejection. It’s like someone telling you your baby is ugly. But it happens and we have to accept it with grace and move on. Yes, we can kick and scream and curse in public but you do not send a note back telling the editor how wrong they were. Nor do you tell them that the title has been published during the time the editor was considering it, especially if the editor has gotten back to you in less than half the time they say it normally takes.

And that is where this particular author screwed up. Not only did they send back an unprofessional note to the editor, insuring he will remember the author and not in a good way, but he went ahead and self-published the book without removing it first from consideration by the publishing house. That is two very big strikes and, in this case, the author doesn’t get a third strike before he’s out.

There there is this post from over at The Passive Voice. Yet another author powering up his computer when he should have been walking away from it. In this case, he submitted his work for consideration to an agent, said agent rejected it and then made the mistake of not remembering the work when she and the author met for a face-to-face pitch session. Never mind that the agent probably receives thousands of submissions each year. Never mind the agent had been seeing other authors with other pitches that particular day. She obviously hadn’t read his earlier submission or she would have remembered it. How dare she!

So, instead of asking himself why he had just received rejection #319, this author decided it was a good idea to go onto his blog, name the agent and then proceed to try to shame her for her actions — or should I say inaction?

As I read his post, all I could think of was a situation five or so years ago where an author went on a tirade on his blog against his editor who had sent back edits he didn’t agree with. By the time his agent saw, or heard about, the post, it had gone viral. Yes, he finally took it down, but the damage had been done. I have a feeling that author is still trying to climb out of the hole he dug for himself.

In this instance, the author was so tied up with his own ego, he didn’t realize that he was shooting himself in the foot when it came to doing what he wanted — getting an agent. This time, the agent he was attacking took screen caps of his blog and then did her own post about what happened. That post has been picked up and is making the rounds of social media. The author now has the reputation of being, at worst, an online bully and, at best, someone who can’t control himself.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. If you are a writer, you have to treat your writing as your business. That means you have to be businesslike in your dealings with others in the industry, especially if you are trying to get them to buy your work or act as your agent. Ask yourself before writing that scathing blog or tweet or FB post if you would be doing this if the person in question was someone you had interviewed with for a mundane job (something not related to writing). Is it something you would want a perspective employer reading before your interview with them?

Remember, the internet is forever. Just because you take a post down, it doesn’t follow that the post hasn’t been memorialized elsewhere. So pull your head out of your ass and think before hitting the send button. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when you find you have just killed your chances for a traditional publishing career.

46 thoughts on “It is a business. . .

  1. I sounded off on something and got bit on the @ss hard back in the days when internet fora were just getting started. Never, ever again, ever. Right now I’m stinging a little from a bad business experience with a free-lance editor, but despite great temptation, I’m not going to jump up and down on the ‘Net and do something potentially regrettable. I’d just as soon not get a reputation for being one of “those” authors with people I have not even contacted yet.

    1. I think most of us have experienced that to one degree or another. The key is to learn from it and not do a long blog about it and then set the blog for the world to see. The old adage that any publicity is good publicity doesn’t always hold true.

    2. Oh, yes – I learned all about the benefits of biting one’s tongue, upon following the Great Jaqueline Howett/The Greek Seaman Flame War of 2011.

      It was like a twenty-car pileup on the internet highway. I just couldn’t look away. The benefits of saying “Thank you for your time and opinion,” and moving on were well-established.

    1. Yep. Thanks. I was trying to get this out in a hurry since this is the 5th Friday and we didn’t have anything up for today.

  2. The thing that has made me angry enough to spout off without thinking (once) was the feeling I had of betrayal from a publisher who gushed about my novel and said that they were so excited and would definitely publish it just as soon as they could, then, after several months of silence, the same editor wrote me back to say it was unpublishable and would need a complete rewrite before she’d even be able to read it all the way through.

    Since then I have seen the same pattern from other publishers and I suspect that it’s a habit of some editors–praise the work before even reading it to keep the author from sending it out to anyone else, just in case it is good.

    So now I don’t take editors remarks to mean anything real unless a check is enclosed, and remain skeptical until the check clears.

    1. I think that may be part of it but then there is also the fact that an editor might love it and then be told by higher ups that it doesn’t “fit” where they are going just then. The editor is stuck in the middle between the folks who pay their salaries and the author whose work they like. So, instead of telling the author what happened, they make up an excuse. Too bad the editor you dealt with didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to simply say, it’s a good book but it doesn’t fit our needs right now.

      1. I have it happen several times since then, enough to think that it’s a deliberate strategy. In any event I no longer react to comments–either positive or negative–to my work from editors. Talk is cheap.

  3. Never tell the entire internet something that should be told to a small group; or perhaps, to a single person.
    I think the small group is better, though, because the feedback is less likely to be distorted by personal affection.

    1. Agreed. Even then, make sure all devices are all, the windows are closed and the drapes are pulled. Otherwise, you may find yourself living that childhood game “grapevine” (at least that is what we called it) where what you said is soon distorted as it is passed from one person to the next with no control over where it goes.

      1. Which we’ve seen with the anti-Puppy crowd, far too many times.

  4. My impression from slush reading, and the occasional head-on collision with the writer is that the people with the most ego are not the best writers, nor the best at learning from critiques. Empress Theresa is a stand-out example, but even the lessor “this is not bad but you need to learn how to do dialog tags, and sew up your story problem before you stop writing” types of rejections got a few snippy replies, rather than polite thanks or being ignored.

    1. Agreed. Those are the ones who really do look at their writing like they would their baby and can’t get outside of the personal affront attitude to “it’s a business decision”.

      1. I don’t have a problem with “it’s a business decision.” I don’t even have a problem with “I don’t like your style, and I don’t think other people will, either.”

        What I have a problem with is “You wrote this book the wrong way, and you should rewrite it.” If there are spelling mistakes and misused words, I can fix those. But when I use the passive voice, it is because passive is the voice that should be used by me at that time. If I use an adjective it is because that is the part of speech that fits what I want to say.

        I was recently castigated for using the word “had”. Verbs of identity, I was told, are less exciting than action verbs and I should rewrite “so-and-so had a bullet wound” into “so-and-so felt the wound…”

        I take word choice and the rhythm of language very seriously. If I use a particular word in a particular sentence it is because that is the word that means what I have to say. If you feel my usage violates English grammar, we can discuss the issue.

        Stylistic choices, however, are matters of opinion. If you don’t like my style, that’s okay. Not everyone does. You can say that my stylistic choices are unpopular ones–you may even be right. But don’t tell me that my style is wrong because it violates what Stephen King or John Grisham says. I’m not them.

        Sorry. Bit of an off-topic rant. I will bring it back on topic by saying that it would be incautious of me to address this rant to a particular editor and post it.

      2. Years ago a wrote a “rejection slip” that gave certain writers what they thought they wanted. Ended with “Once again, thank you for your submission. Strum und Drang Science Fiction is always happy to discover new talent. Unfortunately, you don’t have any.”

        DIdn’t get published, but did get me my first personalized rejection.

    2. I suspect that’s in part why the “How to Submit a manuscript” at Castalia House says “We guarantee a one-month response. In most cases, rejections will be provided in a simple form letter that will not explain the reason for the rejection; this is not a writers’ workshop.” You can’t whine about not getting a detailed critique, or about getting one (not that it will stop some people . . .)

      1. It won’t stop them. They will still want to know why you rejected it, especially if they then read something from that house they feel is not as good as their rejected work.

        1. Now, in all fairness, I’ve seen a couple of magazines where this was the case. But if you looked at the names, you knew why they were published. Guaranteed fan base.

          Of course, these two magazines were exceptions. But it’s like that old creative writing class saw:

          “[Insert name of famous author here] writes that way.”
          “And when you become a best selling author, so can you.”

  5. A little off the topic for this article but related to “It’s a business” is a mistake that I saw an indie make in the last week or so.

    I noticed this ebook in the Kindle Store, it had an interesting cover but the author had priced it at around $28.

    No way would I pay that much money for an author I knew nothing about.

    Oh, being curious I did check the blurb.

    The blurb didn’t change my mind. 😦

    1. Damn, I don’t pay half that for a trad published ebook unless it is a non-fiction I need for research. No way am I paying that for fiction, trad published or indie.

      1. It would have to be some special trad book for me to pay $28 for an ebook. Maybe if it was a reference I needed …. but just a book? No. Now a nice leather bound edition? Sure….. But an ebook? What are you doing? Including winning lottery numbers?

      1. Hee, hee, hee. Look at what Elsevier and Oxford U.P. charge. $650 and up are not rare. I’ve got some research non fiction from Scribners, I think it was, that was $35 for the e-book. But they can’t beat academic presses for jaw-dropping e-book rates.

  6. I gather rejections now come by email? That’s a pity. Pre-email, they used to arrive on the expensive rag paper publishers used for correspondence. For a while I was interested in making paper and those letters, shredded and blended, made an excellent addition to strengthen any paper base.

    It was also very satisfying, of course, to drop the latest rejection into the blender.

    1. There are still a few places that respond via snail mail but most are by email now. I love the image of dropping a rejection into the blender. Talk about a way to deal with the frustration. VBEG.

  7. Reminds me of that old adage: Never insult an alligator until after you’ve crossed the river.

  8. Love this post! Professionalism in any job is super important and so few people nowadays conduct themselves in such a way that simply suits their emotions.

  9. While my mom was working for an agent in Hollywood, she started at the bottom with the slush pile. She brought home boxes of mail and slogged through it. For authors who have never even imagined that much reading to slog through, it can be overwhelming. They imagine that their query somehow stands out in the pile, but I can assure you that only an excellent first sentence stands out when you have that big of a stack to read through! If she then sent for the first chapter, the first paragraph had to grab the reader, or it was out. The sheer volume of drek out there is unbelievable, the rarity is the rough gem. Then the author has to contend with sheer laziness or incompetence and hope the universe isn’t against them so a real reader actually sees their submission….in these days of internet fame everyone thinks they have the next lottery winner!

  10. Amanda–
    Picked up Nocturnal Serenade on Kindle; in chapter 6 you switch the name of the prior villain from Samuel to Gregory. Thought you might want to know. Liked it; stayed up until 3:30 am reading last night.

  11. Having been on both ends of the process, perhaps some of you might be interested in an editor’s perspective.

    1. Most of the stuff that is submitted isn’t anywhere near ready. Seriously, we’re talking “WTF were you thinking” territory. Don’t submit just to submit, practice, then file it away if it’s not genuinely good and move on to the next work.
    2. You have VERY little time to impress the slush reader, who is wading through large quantities of writing that ranges from barely literate to mediocre. Make it count.
    3. Keep the cover letter short and to the point. No one is going to be impressed by how BADLY you want to be published or HOW MUCH you want to work with the publishing house. What you want has nothing to do with how good your book is.
    4. Pay a modicum of attention to whom you are submitting. If you submit a gay teen werewolf romance to Castalia, we’ll reject it right away.
    5. Spellcheck, particularly your cover letter, bio, and first chapter. The occasional typo is forgivable, but if you simply can’t spell, most slush readers will assume you can’t write.
    6. Pay attention to who else the publisher publishes. Be familiar with some of their authors to see how you stack up against them. At Castalia, our goal is for me to be the worst writer there. If your stuff isn’t objectively as good as my books, or Peter Grant’s, or Rod Walker’s, (and read the Amazon reviews to see how THOSE books are regarded) then you simply have no chance. Because John Wright and Owen Stanley and Nick Cole are even better.

    That being said, some work does make it through. I was just discussing publication with the author of an unsolicited submission who hit several of our interest triggers with a genuinely solid, well-written novel.

  12. One’s own feet make excellent targets, for they are large enough and close enough to easily hit.

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