Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Business Basics for Today’s Writer—Tough Love—Quit Looking at Yourself as the Exception, and Follow the Rules

Publishing is a complicated business—whether you’re writing fiction, how-to books, articles, or anything else. There’s a huge learning curve, and lots of unwritten rules. And there are exceptions. But if you’re serious about a career in writing, you need to quit looking at yourself as one of them.

I know it sounds harsh, but you are slowing down your forward momentum and only hurting yourself. I should know, I’ve been there. And if you think you aren’t playing these kinds of games, take the short quiz below, and see how you score.

Scenario #1
The submission guidelines on the website of an agent/publishing house says you must query first before sending your manuscript.
  • a. You follow the guidelines and query first.
  • b. You write a good query letter, but you also attach a sample chapter.
  • c. You know when they read your manuscript they’ll be glad they skipped ahead so you just send them a quick note and attach your entire manuscript.

Scenario #2
You’re at a writer’s conference and during the introduction time, your dream publisher announces they’re not accepting the genre you write. You already have an appointment with the editor so you:
  • a. Let the editor know what’s happened and give up your appointment to someone else.
  • b. Pull a no-show, there’s no point to even sit down.
  • c. Keep the appointment and spend the entire 15 minutes explaining why they need to start a line of that genre with your book, because it’s just so good.

Scenario #3
You’ve had an article accepted from a magazine on spec (means they still have the option to not buy it if they don’t like the finished product). The editor contacts you and gives you a word count of 800 words. You finish the article, but it comes in at 1000 words. You decide to:
  • a. Keep working until you cut the extra 200 words.
  • b. Email the editor and ask for him to up the word count.
  • c. Send the article as is. It’s the editor’s job to edit. Let him earn his money.

Scenario #4
You sent a requested proposal to an editor. They told you to expect to hear back within three months. It’s been three months and two days. You sent an email asking for an update and don’t get a response. You then:
  • a. Wait two weeks before emailing again.
  • b. Begin firing hourly emails to the editor until they respond.
  • c. Pick up the phone and call the publishing house.

Scenario #5
You have a genius idea for a book/article. You work like mad to finish it in time to pitch it at a conference. The editor agrees and asks you to send it in for her to look at. You give it a quick once over and notice a few typos so you:
  • a. Take a few extra days to make sure it’s as clean and well-written as possible.
  • b. Include a cover letter explaining you new the editor was in a hurry to get this and apologize for any possible mistakes.
  • c. Send it anyway. Any editor with her salt will be able to tell how good it is.

For every A answer, Give yourself 1 point.
For every B answer, give yourself 2 points.
For every C answer, give yourself 3 points.

5-7 points
You’re in a great place. It’s just a matter of time before you’re on your way.

8-11 points
You’re not quite as deluded but you definitely need a reality check. Start following the guidelines, they’re there for a reason.

12-15 points
You definitely live in a dream world. You think of yourself as the exception and without being an exception you’ll never get ahead.

I’m curious. How have you seen others act as exceptions rather than following the rules? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!



  1. Oh Edie, you know so well how my wrong choices early on slowed my choices! Praise God He finally got through this thick head that I needed to learn--and follow--the rules!

  2. Thank you for sharing. I learned I had to submit per the guidelines when I submitted my book. It said "failure to comply means an automatic rejection."