Your writing is flawless, your ideas are brilliant, your manuscript is clearly magnificent. What more could a publisher possibly want?
Well, a lot, actually. Here are three ways to impress a publisher, whether you are a seasoned author, a newly signed neophyte, or a writer still trying to land your first book deal.
1. Be a grownup. As I've said before, the second you submit a manuscript or query letter for consideration, you've entered into a business relationship with a publisher. Successful business relationships require grownups. So:
- Meet your deadlines, no matter what. Sign your contract swiftly, turn in your manuscript when you should, and send your author photo in when asked. If something terrible happens to make you miss a deadline, let your publisher know as soon as you possible that you are going to be late, give the date you'll be able to hand in your material, and apologize profusely. But mostly just always meet your deadlines.
- Speaking of author photos, either get a hobby-photographer friend to take one, or consider hiring a professional. (Not a Sears professional.) Don't send a low-res, blurry, or hideous headshot. Especially don't send in a group photo in which your head is the approximate size of an ant's egg.
- Be courteous to everyone you interact with at the publishing company. This should, but apparently doesn't, go without saying.
- Express gratitude whenever you can. Book publishing is an isolating industry. The editors, designers, and salespeople you interact with are working hard to turn your manuscript into a bestseller because they love books—your book, in particular. They are not in the industry for any other rea$on, if you catch my drift. Saying thank you early and often will make them want to work even harder for you.
- Be editable. This deserves its own post so I will elaborate no further.
- Here is a fun scenario. An editor sends you some changes. You don't like the changes, so you write back to the editor saying exactly why—and you cc his manager.* STOP! WHY DID YOU DO THAT? It is weird, rude, and juvenile. You are essentially tattling on your editor—who almost certainly has the blessing of his manager to make your book as good as possible, and will also find the cc weird, rude, and juvenile. If you feel the need to go above your editor/designer/marketing person, write a fresh email. There's no need to bring someone else in on the whole email history. Be a grownup!
*I'm sure you wouldn't do this. You are far too classy and respectful.
2. Use social media, well and wisely. When I work acquisitions, the
first thing I do after reading a good manuscript is Google the author. I want to see if you're smart and engaging. I want to see if I like you. I want to see if you'll be fun to work with.
Dave Atkinson and Bethany Myers
are two new authors whose first manuscripts I acquired in the past couple of months, shortly before
leaving Nimbus. They both wrote fantastic books that I wanted to publish
straight away—and they both aced the Google test.
Their respective Twitter presences made me confident that I could sell not just
their manuscripts but also them, as authors, to the marketing
team. And I also had a good idea of their (lovely, funny, brilliant) personalities before I picked
up the phone to let them know they would soon be published authors.
Remember to be focussed and intelligent in your approach to social media. If you have an active, interesting presence on Twitter or Facebook, it shows you have a built-in network to market to, the ability to connect with an audience, and the willingness to keep your communication skills and methods up-to-date. This makes a sales manager rub her hands together with glee. But if you have a dormant Twitter account or a Facebook timeline full of cheesy memes, a sales manager sighs deeply and asks how good the manuscript is, really, and are you sure we have to publish this, Penelope.
3. Hone your word processing skills. Has a more tedious sentence ever been written? I don't care. I once had to type up an author's entire lengthy manuscript, which had been written on crumpled paper, envelopes, and—most alarmingly of all—a stained brown paper lunchbag.
So. Hone your word processing skills. Ask your kids, ask your neighbour, ask your community college for help. Your editor, while she may be very kind and patient, probably doesn't want to have to walk yet another author through how to use the track changes feature in Word. She definitely doesn't want to remove all the forced line breaks in your manuscript. And she has a deep need for you to make your changes to the most recent version of the file so that her eighty hours of editing are not for naught. Her time could be much better spent writing sparkling back cover copy to promote your book, don't you think? Your editor of course does not resent any authors for needing tech help, but she truly appreciates the rare author who knows his way around Microsoft Word.
In conclusion, there is a lot more to being published—either for the first time, or repeatedly—than good writing. Authors who do not charm their publishers—especially authors who violate item 1, repeatedly—do not get their subsequent manuscripts picked up. Unless they sell millions of copies of their books, in which case they can write their next manuscript on the back of a greasy food container of their choosing and blind copy my mother on every email.