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Things publishers dislike about authors

Authors fail to appreciate that publishing is a profession, and effective publishing is the product of experience

Stories of manuscripts picked up from the slush pile are motivating, but they stand out because they are rare; publishers get it right more often than they get it wrong. Authors persistently underestimate their professionalism.

There are authors who think that all the publisher has to do is press a few buttons, wait for the books to be delivered and then count the takings. This is a gross misrepresentation of how much care and skill is involved. Pitching a book to a market, preparing a manuscript that is fit for publication, planning how the book should look and feel, commissioning a cover and preparing the cover blurb that will make it appeal to the market in question, all take time and experience.

In any case, it’s not always the author who comes up with the idea for the book – it’s not uncommon for the publisher to have an idea, draft a contents list, choose someone to write it, propose the idea in-house and create enthusiasm for it, rewrite what is submitted as it is not up to the required standard … and then watch the ‘author’ take full credit. Successful publishers must often bite their tongue.

Authors are self-obsessed

Publishers are inclined to view some authors as over-indulged children: attention-seeking, neurotic and narcissistic. Over the years, I’ve given many talks on self-marketing to groups of authors, and whilst the majority of the audience are pleasant, the stereotype definitely exists. Publishers are wary.

Of course each author is producing their own books, but the publishing house has the rest of their list to be concerned with. An accusation that authors think only of their book, and not of the rest of the output, is a common one.

Authors are unrealistic and too demanding

Just because an idea occurs does not mean it is a good one. Not every idea thought up by an author is automatically printable.

There are authors who view the industry as a branch of the NHS, from which they are somehow entitled to receive attention and production, irrespective of the merits – or saleability – of their manuscript (and they don’t want to be told that it’s unpublishable). Not every book can land the author an interview with Richard and Judy or Parkinson.

Authors are rude

There are authors who demand the earth, but never bother to comment on anything that goes well. Failing to thank for a launch party, or any extra effort by the publishing house, such as getting books to an event that the author only informed them was happening at the last minute, is particularly annoying.

Authors are needy

A writer’s life is like a rollercoaster. The difficulty is that most authors want publication so much: it’s something they have worked towards, in incremental degrees, through writing for parish newsletters and local papers, until at last, the goal of a book in print appears like a mirage before them. It’s difficult to be strategic and objective when you want something so desperately; every word a publisher utters will be dwelt upon later, dissected and examined for wider meaning. Is this proof of author neediness, or just evidence of their enormous desire for what publishers can offer?

Authors can be unhelpful

Marketing in publishing often relies on a search for free publicity, and because opportunities may occur at the last minute, you may get asked questions you have been asked before. Responding with ‘I have already told your editorial director, I suggest you ask him’ is not helpful, particularly if the latter is away and the information is needed urgently. And if someone has had a bad experience talking to you, it’s an opportunity that may not come again.

Similarly, the marketing department of a publishing house is seldom on stand-by waiting to leap into action once they hear from an author. The workload has to be juggled. Leaflets can’t always be provided at the last minute, but with enough warning they can be produced. Remain in touch about what you are up to; you can’t assume that your publisher knows all the details of your professional life since you last filled in an Author Publicity form.

So if you are giving a talk, or you want information sent to a conference where you are giving a paper, provide all the right details. Don’t assume that the initials you know it by, and the precise location in Boston, are known by your publisher – even though they are engrained in your psyche, and being asked to speak is the greatest thing that has happened to you since 1980.

Authors have big egos

Things not to say to an author

  • I’ll give you a ring to talk about this sometime. No, I can’t say when I’ll ring, but I’m sure I’ll catch you in …
  • It’s a good idea, but you’re not famous enough.
  • There’s no enthusiasm for this idea in-house.
  • Just rework this; it won’t take you long.
  • I know I said I would ring, but I was busy.
  • I’ve got this great idea for a novel.
  • I like the idea in principle, but can you rewrite the novel from the point of view of a 12-year-old boy?

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