You can be the best fiction writer in the world, unparalleled in your mastery of plot and character and theme. And you can circle the toilet bowl and go down with a gurgle in spite of that. How does this happen? There are ninety-and-nine ways, for sure. Here’s one:
Insult or offend the editor. Editors have extremely wide latitude in manuscript selection. That’s what they’re paid for — to be the gatekeeper into the publishing system. They reject bad books, of course. But they can also reject ms for a host of other reasons — too many writers from the West Coast in the stable; already bought a dynamite fantasy trilogy from Neil Gaiman and so cannot use your rather similar epic; didn’t like the fact that you drive a Hummer — any reason or no reason at all. As a species editors are underpaid and overworked. Rejecting ms is their only diversion.
So, you want to go down in flames? Call this rejection power into play against your career, by meeting an editor and commenting loudly upon the size of her breasts. This works even better if it is a male editor. Get extra points by using the term ‘rack’.
In a similar vein you could make rude comments upon other editorial attributes — race, baldness, political persuasion and so on. I have heard apocryphal stories of writers who were so foolish as to make sexual overtures to an editor’s spouse. There is no way that anyone could possibly imagine this could end well.
If you want to be a professional writer, the assumed requirement is that you act professionally. If you wouldn’t make that comment, or that pass, at your day job, don’t do it while pursuing your writing career.
Commit stupendous follies like this, and I guarantee you: your career will die on the vine.