Tag s | Editors

Are You High Maintenance?

What does it mean when an author is classified as “high maintenance” by an agent or a publisher? The more I think about the question, the more I realize how difficult it is to quantify. Any attempt to do so is fraught with potential misunderstanding because most people are looking for specific rules to follow (“Do this, or else”).

Normally, “high maintenance” is a description of someone who is difficult to work with or is constantly in need of attention. It can be anyone from a “diva” to a “rookie” to a “veteran.” The best way to express the issue is in the following word picture:

When you contract with an agent or a publisher, you are granted a large measure of “good will” in the form of a bag of gold coins. You are free to spend these coins however you wish during the course of the business relationship.

The cover design is completely wrong? Spend some coins. The marketing plan appears weak. Spend some coins. And as time goes by and positive things happen, you receive more gold coins for your bag.

However, many authors make the mistake of spending their entire bag of coins the first time something goes wrong. And then the next time they need a favor or a special dispensation there isn’t any “good will” left.

I think there are three areas where these relationships can break down.

Unreasonable Demands/Expectations

Remember that publishing is a business and should be treated professionally. Each author comes into the business with their own understanding of the industry and therefore with their own set of expectations.

  • Expecting your agent to answer their phone at 10 am on a Sunday morning is unreasonable. (Hopefully, your agent is at church!)
  • Expecting your publisher to fly you, at their cost, to Germany to research your next novel is unreasonable.
  • Demanding that your agent drop everything to read your sample chapters and respond–in the next hour–is unreasonable.
  • Arriving unannounced at a bookseller convention and expecting your book will be displayed in the publisher’s booth (even though the book is not a new release) and then yelling at everyone for disrespecting you is unreasonable. (No gold coins for you.)

Each of the above examples are actual demands and expectations that have happened. Lest you misunderstand, it is okay to ask; but don’t expect a yes to every demand you make and then be petulant when you don’t get what you want.

Unreasonable Behavior

  • Going ballistic and screaming on the phone at an editor about your manuscript edits is unreasonable behavior.
  • Sending a barrage of emails to your editor every day is unreasonable behavior.
  • Shouting angrily at an editor and declaring that he is obviously not a Christian because the art department created a weak book cover is unreasonable behavior.
  • Asking your agent to lie for you with your publisher is unreasonable behavior.

You get the picture? Each of the above examples are actual situations I have personally experienced, either as an editor or an agent. Every agent and editor in the business has shocking stories of unreasonable authors. Please note, they are the exception–and that is why they are memorable. Ninety-nine percent of the time everything is peachy. Okay, 97% of the time.

Don’t Become a B.E.N.

When Karen Ball worked for our agency, she asked that her clients not become a Black-hole of Emotional Need (what I call B.E.N.). This is a delicate area to navigate because a writer’s life is full of disappointments and frustration. Your agent should be a safe place where you can vent. But too much drama can become a challenge for any relationship.

Becoming overwrought over every issue and constant complaining can be draining to all those with whom you do business. As with all things, use discretion and lots of communication to make sure any lines are not crossed. I addressed some of this in the post “Never Burn a Bridge.”

I’ve heard it said that if you aren’t demanding and in the face of your publisher or agent, they will stop paying attention to you. Sort of like saying, “The pushy bird gets the worm.” There may be a measure of truth to that. However, I can also say, “The pushy bird gets the boot.” I’ve been in meetings or on conference calls where the publisher says it is no longer worth the expense of time and emotional energy to continue working with a particular writer. Let me simply implore you, “Don’t be that author!”

Coin Collecting

To counter those times where you must spend your good-will coins to get something fixed, there are some things you can do.

  • Remember to say thank you when a job is well done. Everyone enjoys being appreciated.
  • Remember to always speak with grace in your email communication. Email can sap the pleasant tones out of what’s written; you will always sound stern. (I am guilty of this.) If you’ve got a tough letter to write your publisher, run it by your agent first to make sure you are not out of line.
  • Try to avoid personal pronouns when writing your publisher if you can. Not “you messed up”; instead, “the team failed to get this done right.” Avoid putting people who work with you on the defensive. They are your in-house advocates. Without them on your side, nothing will get done.
  • Be reasonable with your expectations. And if unsure, ask your agent if something is normal or not.

By the way, I know what some of you are thinking. “Steve is writing about me!” Let me assure you, I’m not. It seems that each time I write a post like this one, a client or a person in the industry writes and says, “I hope you weren’t writing about me!” I might answer with “feeling guilty about something?” 🙂

[An earlier version of this post ran in June 2012. This version has been thoroughly revised and updated.]


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The Editorial Process

It is important to understand the process through which a book takes under the umbrella called “The Edit.” I meet many first timers who think it is just a one-time pass over their words and that is all that will ever happen. And many who self-publish think that hiring a high school English teacher to check for grammar is enough of an edit.

There are four major stages to the Editorial Process. Unfortunately they are called by various names depending on which publisher you are working with, which can create confusion. I will try to list the various terms but keep them under the four categories.

Rewrites / Revisions/Substantive Edit

These can happen multiple times. You could get input from your agent or an editor who suggests you rewrite or revise those sample chapters of the full manuscript. Last year I suggest that one of my non-fiction clients cut the book in half and change its focus. We sold this first time author. But the writer had to do a lot of work to get it ready for the proposal stage.

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The Stages of Editorial Grief

Nearly every writer will tell you they have experienced the proverbial “red pen” treatment from their editor. The reactions to this experience can follow the well-known stages of grief popularized by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

Skip Denial, I’m Angry!

There is no denying that the edits have arrived. And for the author who was not expecting a hard-nosed edit, they can transition from “shocked-angry” to “furious-angry” to “rage.”

And then they call their agent.

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Never Burn a Bridge!

The sale of Thomas Nelson to HarperCollins and last week’s sale of Heartsong to Harlequin brought to mind a critical piece of advice:

Never Burn a Bridge!

Ours is a small industry and both editors and authors move around with regularity. If you are in a business relationship and let your frustration boil into anger and ignite into rage…and let that go at someone in the publishing company, you may end up burning the bridge. And that person who you vented on might someday become the head of an entire publishing company.

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How Long Does It Take to Get Published?

How much time does it take to get published?

I came to the publishing business from the retail side of the equation. The biggest adjustment was understanding how long the process takes. In retail there is instantaneous gratification. But book publishing is a process business.

There is no question the timeline varies from person to person and project to project. In the world of major publishers the diversity can be quite extreme.

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Criticism Is an Unhappy Part of the Business

I would like to tell you about a most enjoyable day. Our agency’s guidelines request that unsolicited manuscripts come via the post (I know it’s old-school but it works for us), but we still receive e-mail submissions. I spent an entire morning going through that particular in-box, having an assistant send standard e-mail rejection letters, since none were anything our agency could/would handle.

Very soon I received three separate responses:

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Four Myths About Editors

Since even the most prolific authors’ experience with editors may be limited to one or two, editors can seem mythical. Let’s unwrap a few assumptions: 1)  Editors don’t have to worry about the market. Agents advise writers to consider the market when writing. This is because editors do have to …

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Brainstorming: How and With Whom?

Brainstorming is one of the fun parts in the development of a book. The key for the author is a willingness to hear other ideas. The second, and most critical key, is discovering those with whom you should brainstorm. Those people need to be willing to have their ideas rejected in the discussions and be willing to let an idea they created to be used by someone else. It takes a special person…many times a professional…to achieve that.

I’ve heard complaints from some authors who try this in a critique group only to be frustrated. Egos get in the way or the ideas generated are singularly unhelpful. Or the discussion doesn’t move the project forward, instead it gets sidetracked by numerous differing opinions on the direction of the piece.

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Promotion: Faithful or Self-full?

“What’s the difference between promotion and self-promotion? How do we promote ourselves/our books so that we honor God, respect others, and use common sense?”

The constant tension between marketing and ministry has plagued the Christian author, speaker, bookseller and publisher forever. Why? Because Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. Because we are commanded to die to self and to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord….

And yet, our society…our culture insists, even demands, that we market and promote our message.

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