Author Arrogance Part I
There is a terminal disease running amok, one which may or may not lessen your chances of having a publisher and/or agent offer you a contract. This particular disease is usually felt by all first time authors to some degree. Some of us manage to survive the infection, but others never do and find themselves on the outside looking in, often with a mile wide chip on our shoulder that no one recognized their genius.
What is this disease? What is so awful that it’s fatal to everyone who can’t fight off its effects?
Well, perhaps I exaggerated a bit. The disease is fatal, but only to your career of having an agent and/or publisher offer you a contract. Or if they did, inform you in no uncertain terms that the contract is null and void.
The disease in question is called First Time Author Arrogance. It is recognized by the symptoms of “I know everything about how to ready my book for publication.”
Let’s examine the case of Susie Short Story. Her whole life has been about the shorts she’s written for magazines. That’s been her bread and butter for years. But she wants more. She yearns to see her book at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list, and she knows the novel she’s been working for the last decade is the perfect combination of Harry Potter meets Lord of the Rings with a twist of The Fault In Our Stars and (just for good measure) the pluckiness of Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird. Susie has no idea why agents have been rejecting her perfectly written, supremely edited book. They must know with so many elements that it will be a bestseller within minutes of the book’s release. Why, these agents should see that a publisher won’t even have to hire an editor to look over the book. It’s perfect in every sense of the word.
Susie finally decides these agents are fools and decides to hunt for a publisher herself. She begins with those considered the Big 5. They’ve been around for years. She’s met a few of their editors at writer’s conferences. Using those “connections” she’s soon firing off letters and frequenting the post office, searching for a reply. She read their submissions guidelines, but Susie’s old school. She doesn’t think they apply to “good friends” of the editors she watched from afar at a meet and greet cocktail party. Despite all her submissions to these people, she never receives a reply. Another year has passed and her determination to be published is stronger than ever. In a moment of panic, she searches for and discovers some online publishers. Her disdain rises at stooping so low, but she consoles herself by thinking about how all those people at the Big 5 publishing houses will be so jealous once her book hits number on the NYT bestseller list and stays there forever. Susie reads through the submission guidelines and fills out a dozen queries and eighteen full submissions.
Her wait this time is so much shorter. Twenty-nine times she opens emails that begin with, “I’m sorry to inform you…” The reasons are always the same. Her plot is murky. The characters don’t leap off the page. They already have several novels of this type, but try again in another year or two. Her hopes crashing against massive boulders, Susie opens the last email and is elevated into writer heaven. There is a contract attached. Her fingers trembling on the mouse, she reads the contract, follows the instructions to sign and return, and sits back. Tears stream down her face.
“Finally! Someone has recognized my genius!” She throws up her arms in a V.
Within a week, Susie is running down the necessary information, conversing with her editor-in-chief in order to find out how amenable the woman is to having an independent cover artist create the perfect cover, without telling her that Susie had that done years ago and is unwilling to give up on that investment. She’s also attacking her social media pages with posts about her great good fortune, uncaring that people’s reactions are mediocre at best.
Three months pass. The idiot editor is butchering the best passages in Susie’s book, claiming they’re repetitive and unnecessary. Susie is having to rewrite major sections of the book that are slow and pedantic. Her temper is on edge. The editor-in-chief refused the cover art, saying it wouldn’t work with the print book and instructed Susie to fill out the form and turn it in by today, or the publisher would select her cover. The editor has just sent the fifth email in as many hours, asking why Susie is a week late with the latest round of revisions.
With an infuriated “that’s it!” Susie pounds out a long email to the publisher herself, explaining how this editor-in-chief and her inept editor are ruining a potential NYT best seller with their foolish ideas. She’s certain the person in charge of this company won’t be at all happy with how things are progressing with a book certain to make her company thousands in royalties in just a few hours. She doesn’t even bother to read what she’s written an hour later when she hits the send button. All Susie knows is that she’s told the CEO that her EIC and editor are horrible people determined to bankrupt this indie publisher and something must be done immediately.
The email Susie receives later that night isn’t from whom she was expecting. She reads the stiff words with a sinking heart. She has one choice, and only one choice, that must be responded to within two days. Either she can cooperate with the pre-publication process for her book or she can sign the attached release and leave Publisher ABC.
Wondering what elicited such a response, she reads her email and discovers that she not only maligned the EIC and editor, calling them uneducated trolls and the idiot-in-chief and her minion on several occasions. Susie realizes her email was one of the most unprofessional things she’s ever done in her long writing career.
“What have I done?”
Sheer panic overtakes Susie. She looks over the release, thinks about the twenty-nine other rejections and comes to a decision. No reputable publisher would ever allow an EIC to deliberately ruin a book.
“Maybe I’ve been wrong about my book all along.” She sadly opens the original submission and admits some… no, all of what the editor has saying is true. “My book really wasn’t publication ready.”
Her hand shakes as she writes her response. It takes her much longer to formulate the apology than it did to write the email that almost ruined her dreams. She’s humbler now than she’s been in many years. She proofreads the missive a dozen times, making a few corrections here and there before sending it to the people she insulted, and then hopes she hasn’t ruined any chances she has for a publisher.
End of part one. Next week: Johnny Jerkus gives his opinion about publishers.