Thursday, November 11, 2010

What's the biggest mistake a writer can make after signing with a publisher? (and other questions answered)

Last Thursday, we answered some popular questions writers have for publishers, and this week, we answer more.
If the trend is vampires, does that mean I should write a vampire book in order to be published?

Don’t follow trends. Or maybe I should say, if you want to have longevity in this wonderful world of writing, don’t follow trends. Being trendy makes a writer look dishonest.  At the end of 1999, when every doomsayer and fundamentalist Christian was claiming the year 2000 (or Y2K) was going to be the end of the world,  a number of publishers in need of money at the time proposed that I write a book on the subject. I refused. First, I am not an authority, and all authors should be an authority on their topic. Second, I didn’t believe the end of the world was coming. So, it would have been dishonest for me to follow that path. My best advice may sound a bit like a cliché, but it’s true: write from the heart. Trends come and go, but your heart is forever. 

What do publishers usually think is the least attractive quality in a writer?

This is a loaded question. I’m not sure I could narrow it down to just one thing, so I’ll throw out a few. Publishers have zero tolerance for writers with bad grammar. Another thing publishers find unappealing is when writers say, “You really need to publish this book.  It’s going to be a bestseller.” If a publishing company got a quarter for every time they heard that line…  

 A better approach would be to tell the publisher you’ve written a heartfelt treasure you believe—with the proper synergy and marketing plan—can create a niche market. Most publishers are far more interested in creating new niche markets than in fighting with the bloody pool of people out there. 

Finally, most publisher hate (yes, hate) authors who are ignorant about the profession and don’t understand their role in the process of making a book come alive. Some writers think all they have to do is write a book, and that’s it—their job is done. Wrong. The author’s job has only begun once the book is written. There are many steps to take after that. The writer’s willingness to learn those steps and get involved makes a publisher to feel much safer about their risky investment. 

What's the biggest mistake a writer can make after signing with a publisher?

Another biggy! This time I’ll only tackle one. One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make after signing with a publisher is not being in the know concerning the language of the agreement. Most, not all, agreements in the publishing world are pretty standard. (Sometimes publishers will use tricky language to their benefit, but it’s not the norm.) Although I believe you should ask questions to make sure you understand the contract, there are some questions that, when asked, raise concerns and make publishers wonder whether they’ve signed someone who’s just too green and will waste far too much of the publisher’s time with questions about the contract. (For example, questions about publishing rights versus copyright - this is a basic concept writers should understand before going into the contract, and not knowing it often indicates to publishers they'll be spending a lot of time explaining things.)

Have questions of your own? Email us at  

Questions to be answered next week:

Why should I give up my ebook rights if I sign with a publisher?
Why publish with a publisher when I can use a print-on-demand service or a vanity press?

Why is it so hard to make money as an author?

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