If you want to be a published author, a little professionalism goes a long way.
Bookshelves are packed with volumes about how to properly submit your manuscripts, but how does professionalism function in real-world publishing relationships? Moreover, what defines professionalism from culture to culture? Agents and editors share their best examples of what works best, and how to get back on track if your interactions go off the rails.
The titular panel at WorldCon 80 — otherwise known as ChiCon8 — had moderator Holly Lyn Walrath, with panelists Emily Hockaday, Joey Yu, and Joshua Bilmes.
What does good professionalism look like?
- Attitude — respect the industry
- Value your writing — treat it like a job and seek out paying opportunities
- Treat people at conferences or in queries like you would a coworker you respect
- Be polite — use official communication methods (typically email, sometimes the phone, any listed public contact)
- Reply to email promptly — within a few days (the slush pile doesn’t count)
- Patience — very little in publishing requires a superfast turnaround (except magazine publication day)
What does bad professionalism look like?
- DMing agents or publishers you have no connection with, on their personal accounts, at 2am demanding they reply to you
- Not watching how much you drink at industry events — yes, even cons with your friends
- Heated social media exchanges. Note: Being outspoken for causes you believe in is different than personal attacks
- Forgetting that email/etc doesn’t convey tone — sometimes, if you’re too focused, you can reply to the question that’s asked and forget the context. Remember that we all have a lot going on in our lives.
The realities of professionalism
- Some sections of the publishing industry, especially overseas, can run on relationships — who you know. In some spaces, only referred writers get published. Meanwhile, in most American spaces, if you don’t come in through the submission tracker, your writing may get lost. Ask around.
- When you need to vent, build a private circle of trusted friends/colleagues to vent to. Don’t blast on social media or you can get a reputation. As always, this doesn’t mean not calling out inappropriate treatment, just the inherent stressors of the rejection/critique/publicity needs of the industry.
- Agent gets to be the “bad guy” for the writers they represent. They push and try to get the most concessions out of the publisher, leaving the writer-to-publisher relationship clear of those stressors. As Joshua Bilmes said, if he never goes so far that he needs to apologize to a publisher — he’s not doing his job.
How to maintain a relationship with your agent/writer
- Let them know when you have new manuscripts
- Reach out and check in with them
- Keep them up to date — give them a heads up before you’re late with edits.
- Buy your agent/those you worked closely with gifts on publication day (in some cultures, cards and flowers/food. In others, an iPad or better smartphone)
- Agents often send overseas authors more author copies because book delivery can be harder in some countries
What to expect your agent to negotiate
Contracts have been growing longer, you can expect them to cover eventualities such as rights and money if the manuscript never gets published — if the publisher doesn’t like the final draft. Some ask for the publisher to sign off on the final draft within 60 days, but Joshua Bilmes says he’s never called the publisher out on that. Not worth lost money and bad blood to walk away at that point. That said.
Publishers will not commit to marketing on a contract.
What can you ask for?
- How many review copies you’ll get
- Which contests they’re willing to enter your book into (many require publishers to do the submissions)
- If not, what forms/shipping/etc they’ll need you to fill out
- How many social media ads
- Amazon ad dollars can be well spent to get you up in the algorithms (results will vary)
3 thoughts on the anti-trust case regarding Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster
- Publishing is a gamble, money can help a lot, but it can’t guarantee success.
- There is nothing about their backlist that is “just money” at the big companies. It requires work and distribution, etc.
- There seems to be a feeling that Small Press will save the day, but readers aren’t putting their money where their mouths are.
Who makes the best clients?
- Writers who do the work
- who understand the industry
- whose personalities don’t make them a challenge to work with
- who invest their time
- who have a willingness to accept edits and critique
- when the agent/publisher and writer like each other as people
Remember, at the heart of it all, agents and publishers are in this to see writers succeed.
Any dos or don’ts that I missed?