One of the sharpest lessons of the digital revolution has been that authors who had been treated poorly by publishers were eager to take their case (or books, as may be) directly to the readers. Publishing professionals are still having some trouble wrapping their minds around the concept of authors actually enjoying sharing their work directly with readers (and, even better, getting paid to do so). Bestselling authors, who are well treated, also seem to be having trouble with the idea of ignoring the gatekeepers. There’s buzz about an interview on the The Daily Beast where Jodi Picoult offers advice (in all caps, no less) that writers not self publish.
For many decades before the digital age, authors (even some bestsellers, but mostly those who were not) tended to feel they were like little Oliver Twist — holding up a bowl, hoping for more gruel, but expecting to be roundly scolded for doing so. Respect, for most of us, was a one way street.
Once, when I was working on the fourth book of a series for my publisher, DH took a summer research fellowship at NASA. We packed up the kids and ourselves and re-located to Huntsville for six weeks. Being a believer in communication, I let my editor know my new address, and also told her there was a week where I would be unavailable to turn edits around for the third book due to the summer schedule.
Naturally, the edits arrived exactly when I specified they should not. I had seen friends and other authors deal with this situation (one choosing to bring her edits on vacation with her!). But I contacted the editor and told her I would not be able to meet the deadline set for return of the edits. She and I set a (very short) turnaround window that allowed me (not much) more time. She seemed to think she was doing me a huge favor, instead of accommodating me as I had accommodated her several times already. This was not a surprise to me, as I’d understood the one way street nature of the biz before I signed my first contract. I didn’t like it, but it was the only way to be published.
Not any longer.
Anyone who has done their homework on the writing profession has seen the advice given freely and often to aspiring writers: don’t be a diva. This behavior was defined broadly and included sending in multiple submissions, contacting an agent by phone with a query, sending anything other than what the particular agent/editor requested, etc. The infamous “manuscript under the bathroom stall door” was usually mentioned.
It grated on me even back when I was a young aspiring writer and observed that diva behavior often led to sales for the diva. I believe in being polite and exhibiting mutual respect. But these same editors and agents who were demanding good manners from authors were not exhibiting the same. Right now, there are many agencies whose policy states that silence means no. This is not only discourteous, it demonstrates a lack of respect bordering on contempt. And yet I’ve met some of the agents with the agencies that have this policy. They are polite, kind, truly interested in getting good books published. Authors who find a place with them may be (like lottery winners) lucky to find the right editor and make that all important sale.
Of course, actually being published by a traditional publisher comes with its own surreal air of disrespect: contract negotiations rife with “non-negotiable” clauses, deadlines to suit the publishing staff’s schedule (which the author must not miss, but the publisher can take as advisory), the author-as-the-last-to-know when ARCs are sent out or a pub date is changed. After you’ve survived a few years, you do begin to understand the temptation to be a diva.
If one party has no respect for the other, then it isn’t any wonder that being a diva could be a successful business tactic. After all, every one of us knows someone in our lives who plays the diva and gets what she (or he) wants. We are even a little awed by someone who has the inviolable belief that she deserves exactly what she wants when she wants it (admit it, you are!). I sometimes wonder where my career would have gone if I was able to play the diva every now and again back then.
Which is not to imply that playing the Diva card always ends up in success. I observed my share of Diva turns ending in disaster, too.
So, what do publishers and agents respect (then and now)?
- Big sales
- Big buzz
- Celebrity cachet
Right now, those three things are hard to accomplish for an author who is not already an established bestseller. Bookstores are closing and reducing stock on the shelves at the same time that more books are being published than ever before. Not only are authors choosing to go directly to the readers with their indie published books, but smaller cooperatives and publishing boutiques are springing up all over (BookView Cafe, to name a successful example).
So what is an author to do? Search for the Inner Diva, and bring her out when needed. Respect your work. Reward those who respect your work by respecting them back. Ignore or work around long-ingrained industry contempt for the author.
The world, she is a changing. But it takes some time for the clueless to catch on. The right dose of Divatude may just clue in the clueless.
Kelly McClymer is an opinionated new member of Book View Cafe, and a cheerleader of writers reaching readers however they can. You can visit her on her desperately-in-need-of-update website; Follow her on Twitter, hang with her onGoogle+, Like her on FaceBook, and share Pinterests with her. Oh, and she’s on Goodreads, too (once a reader, always a reader)