Wednesday, 27 October 2010

How to speak publisher - A is for Author

That's you. Don't look around for the real author, you're the real author if you have a contract with a publisher who's paying for your book. Now you have to behave like one, because if you don't believe you're a real author, you can be sure as hell no one else will. Act professionally and you will be treated like a professional. Do a 'what, poor little me?' act and you'll shoot your authorial career in the foot before you've left the starting block.

Acting professionally means not being precious about your work; not keeping important information from your publisher or agent; not making excuses for failing to write, or failing to write the right thing; not missing deadlines, writing over the agreed length, or deviating wildly from the agreed synopsis. Oh, that's all very negative. Let's reprhase: being professional means remaining open to suggestions and criticism that might improve your work (no, it's not perfect, whatever you think); sharing any important information with your publisher and agent; writing what you have promised to write by the agreed deadline and in the agreed or standard format. There - that's not so hard, is it?

'Oh, but I can't,' you wail. 'I have a cold, I need to take my son/daughter to swimming lessons, I'm depressed because I'm getting a divorce, I can't work out how to change the margins in Word, I got distracted into reading a blog about how to be a writer....' You know what? It doesn't matter. Anything that would not prevent you going to a paid employment should not prevent you fulfilling your contractual obligations to your publisher. This is your job now - that's why they're paying you. Of these excuses, only one counts - 'I'm depressed because I'm getting a divorce'. And that is covered under keeping your publisher or agent informed of vital information.

If there is a real catastrophe that prevents you meeting your deadline, say so. Apologise, explain, tell them what you are doing to remedy the situation, and suggest a solution. Even if the solution is 'tear up the contract'. If you come clean, and don't screw up their schedules, they will respect your professionalism and sign you again in the future. If you keep quiet and don't deliver - acting unprofessionally - they will, quite rightly, stop respecting you and be wary of working with you in the future. If you have an agent, you can be slightly more emotional and let him/her smooth things diplomatically with your publisher. But remember your agent can also dump you if you turn out to be more trouble than you're worth. Your agent is not your friend (remember?), so you should act professionally with him/her, too.

As an author, you might think your job is to write things. Sadly, it's not that straightforward. To be a successful author you will also need - almost certainly - to do at least some of the following: book signings, school visits, conferences, festivals, interviews, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, radio, TV, reviewing... general profile-raising stuff. You don't have to do all of them. I don't do school visits (which is quite a big one for a children's author) or radio. I've never been asked to do TV, but I wouldn't be keen to do that either. This stuff all takes a lot of time and much of it doesn't earn any immediate money. But many publishers take a dim view of authors who won't do any of this. Some demand their authors have a website and a promotional Facebook page (not the same as your personal Facebook page - we'll come to that in F.)

If you hate all this stuff, pick the bits you hate least. I've always had a good excuse not to do school visits - my own children and single-parenthood means I have to be back home by the time school ends, not halfway across the country trying to get home. But all the electronic bits can be done from the snug comfort of my own writing room, so I do those. And I like them because I'm a geek. If you're a natural performer, you might hugely prefer school visits to perfecting your website - fine; go for it!

And, lastly - don't beat yourself up about not writing while you are doing these other things. They ARE part of your work as a writer. Within reason - spending all day on twitter and Facebook is beyond the demands of publicity management and if your internal Alistair Campbell is encouraging you to do that, fire him.



  1. But what if you don't have a current contract? Does that mean you are no longer, or never will be, a "real" author? I agree about not letting your personal life interfere with contracted work, and always meeting deadlines even if you are close to death at the time... but I think in the end WRITING makes you into a real author, sticking at it and not making excuses to yourself just because you are not being paid for doing it.

    A great blog title... are you going to do the full A-Z?

  2. That's a very good point, Katherine. I quite agree that you are still an author if you don't have a current contract. But this is an A-Z of publisher speak, so it's about what a publisher considers an author to be. And I don't think a publisher is that bothered about what an author does when they don't have a contract with them. But maybe I'm wrong.

    I do intend to do the whole A-Z. Very ambitious, I know! There are still quite a few A's to go - apps, acquisitions...