Be professional from day one!

Elaine Everest reflects on the publishing world and the writers who one day hope to be part of this wonderful profession.

For the past ten years part of my week has been taken up teaching creative writing classes. I was employed by Kent Adult Education Services before setting up The Write Place creative writing school in 2009. From beginners through to novel writers most students have the dream of becoming published – many wishing to make it their occupation. I’ve been privileged to see quite a few students sell short stories, articles as well as non-fiction books and recently novels. Something I’ve noticed without fail is that those who succeed have been professional from day one. They’ve treated their writing as a job, studying the markets and reading about agents and publishers so they know about the movers and shakers in our world and who is looking for new talent long before they are ready to submit.

Amongst a sector of wannabe writers there seems to be a certain arrogance. The moment these people swagger into my classroom (yes, women can swagger as well as men) my radar picks them up. Here we go, Elaine, you are in for an interesting evening. These days I find their antics funny. Hey, if they want to waste their time by disbelieving advice on how to become published who am I to complain. They’ve paid me a fee! However, it saddens me that arrogance stops a good writer from succeeding – sometimes they even influence a good student and they too give up on their writing. One such chap demanded to be in my novel class even though he had never really put pen to paper. Each week he had some grand idea for an earth shattering plot along with an excuse as to why he’d not written a word. Come read back night and he would spew forth his advice to fellow students on where they were going wrong. Fortunately no one listened, he was not allowed to hog the limelight and he soon faded away.

005

Every writer’s dream is to see their book at the London Book Fair.

Another lovely man (can you see a pattern here?) would not listen to me and insisted on heading to London to reclaim his tome when an agent had held onto it for one month. However much I explained about waiting a while longer –especially as the agent had requested sight of the full novel – he was adamant that one month was long enough. The agent later told me that she had tried her utmost to speak to him and explain she was already reading the book and loved what she’d seen but this man took his heap of paper and headed for home. To my knowledge he was never published.

Being professional is also about presenting work in a reasonable way, regardless of whether it is sent by email or post. A polite letter, clean paper and a front sheet set out neatly will mean the work is a pleasure to read. I’ve worked at administrating writing competitions and believe me, many well published writers cannot layout a front sheet. It’s no different to writing a letter – perhaps they haven’t written many of those either?

Moving on to the publishers themselves. The least I expect from them is an acknowledgement of my work and within a decent length of time. I know of short story magazines where the editor continually allows submissions to be held for over one year and only then rejecting in vast numbers. Another publication, overseas this time, does not reject but simply lets submissions fall off the cliff at the end of six months and suggests we resubmit. I’m not a lemming and I will not be following other writers over that steep cliff. Magazine publishers need to realise that writers submit because it is their job, they need to pay the mortgage or eat sometimes!

My final word is for the unprofessional ebook publisher who is incapable of responding to a submission after raving how my book was perfect for the new ebook section of the mega company she works for. The woman gushed and raved and insisted that I send the book to her. One year on (and counting) since that industry one2one she has yet to reply – even with a rejection. She also ignored my polite enquiries, as did her assistant when she was made aware that I, and many fellow authors, had been ignored. Perhaps if I was unprofessional I would name and shame. Catch me on a bad day and you may just know the name of this publisher…

 

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8 thoughts on “Be professional from day one!

  1. When I attended creative writing evening classes years ago, there was someone just like that in our class too – thought he knew it all, dominated the feedback and wouldn’t shut up. Later, when I was teaching, he tried to join the class and the admin team managed to dissuade him, thank God! Funny how there are always those who think writing is easy but never actually do any of it themselves. A very enjoyable blog post with lots to think about!

  2. Elaine, if authors were aware that the chance of receiving a reply let alone a decision were slim to none this publisher might receive far fewer submissions. Her bosses might wonder why and remind her and her assistant a reminder that authors supply the books that keep them in a job. Naming this publisher (arrogance never feels shame!) would be a kindness/service to authors.

  3. I can relate to much of this, especially the lack of response in the short story magazine market. My spread sheet from last year for this was covered in green – the colour I use to indicate that I never heard from the magazine. I swear the problem becomes worse every year.

    As for that man who demanded to be in the novel class – oh yes, I remember him well! He caused a stressful atmosphere every week and I was certainly glad to see the back of him. Then there were those two students who were convinced their novels would be snapped up on Foyle’s discovery day, losing heart when they weren’t. These people do eventually fall by the wayside, luckily for them, and us.

    • Ha! I’d forgotten those people, Francesca! We could write a book! I agree with you, the people that fall by the wayside make life just a tad easier for others.
      Since writing this blog piece I’ve heard that one UK publication has deleted a whole year’s worth of submissions and started a new scheme whereby submissions fall off the cliff after three months. It’s simply hard luck if we don;t hear. Not at all professional and shows how valued short story writers really are.
      Elaine E

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