Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Breaking Into (and Out Of) Print—Part Four

Yesterday I wore my publisher’s hat to talk about people who say they want to write, but end up sabotaging their own careers. Here’s my final take:

4) They fail to keep connections. I can tell who the true professionals are:

*They pay attention to the dates on their contracts.
*They check in.
*They let me know if there’s a problem early enough so we can deal with it.
*They help me promote their books by mentioning them at workshops, on their web sites, blogs, Facebook, or Twitter.

These are the people I send extra work to. These are the people I ask to help launch new series. These are the people who are building a career.

Unfortunately, there are many writers that blow their first professional connections.

The sad tale of Ms. X. The beginning of her writing career with me started well. She completed the work I’d given her in a timely manner. As such, I assigned her five, 550-word profiles in a series of three books that I wanted to send to print on the same date. For these types of stories, I usually give the writers a month per profile, start to finish. I want to see a first draft in about two weeks and the final version two weeks after that.

I know, a month to write a less than 600 words will seem like a lot of time to some of you. But, in this case research and, sometimes, interviews are involved.

I assigned these profiles last November & December, 2010 with the first draft due in January, 2011 (after all the holiday chaos—so writers actually got extra time on this batch). The final drafts for this series were due in May, 2011. Ms. X sent in her first draft on time, along with some questions about one of the other profiles.

And that was the last time I heard from her. Until May. I was putting the books together and realized that I was missing five manuscripts, all belonging to Ms. X. When I contacted her, she apologized, said she’s had a new job she was getting used to, she’d had to move, etc. As much as I felt sympathy for her plight, I was also angry. We could have worked all these things out. Life happens!

There was no way she could get 4 profiles and a revision to me in a decent amount of time. Suddenly, the 3 books I’d hoped to have for a fall promotion, were dead in the water. Not only that, but my printer had offered me a deal: I was actually going to print 5 new books and do a reprint of one of our other titles. By doing six books at once, I could get a much better price. Ms. X had managed to single-handedly delay six books on the list!

I scrambled to find other writers to complete some of Ms. X’s work. I’d already paid her the advances for these projects. We had to re-negotiate our scheduled date with the printer. Pre-sold books that had been promised for September weren’t going to be ready for our customers. Our web site announcements had to be revised. And here’s the kicker: while Ms. X was NOT handing in the work she’d contracted with me, I saw her post on a writers’ list asking about submitting to other publishers.

Hmmmm…. I thought, you DO realize other people (like publishers and editors) read these lists, too, don’t you? And, by the way, if you’ve got time to put together résumés, and post on lists, shouldn’t you first do the work you’ve already contracted to do?

So this is how connections are lost. I would have been happy to recommend Ms. X to any other publisher. Now I cannot. I also cannot ever hire her again. I can’t afford to.

What's your real attitude about becoming a professional writer? Remember that it's not just talent and luck. It's dependability, tenacity, and good connections.


I'm Jet . . . said...

Oh, Ms. X. Not good. Not good at all.

Linda C Brennan said...

Glad I'm still connected!

Andy said...

What an excellent series of posts, Mur!