Two weeks ago, I wrote about the waiting game, in which writers are forced to wait and wait and wait for anything in publishing to get done. However, the waiting game has an opposite: the anti-waiting game.
The anti-waiting game has become more and more common, thanks to modern technology. In the old days of publishing, when manuscripts and page proofs were typed or printed on actual paper, authors regularly received large, bumbling packages by mail. Inside was the original manuscripts of the novel, all marked up by the copyeditor’s red or blue pencil. Enclosed was a paper letter that usually said something like, “If you could be so very kind, we would like you to approve each of these changes and return this manuscript to us. Shall we agree on six weeks, old friend?”
And the author settled in with a cup of tea in front of the fireplace.
How things have changed. Now you’re as likely to get a giant email dump with a PDF in it and a frantic note from someone in the editorial food chain: “I know this is short notice, but we need you to go through these changes by Friday morning!”
Every author I know has gone through this. Demands that manuscripts be rewritten within two days, or over Christmas, or when the author is on vacation. There’s an idea out there that because email allows instant delivery, instant writing must follow.
Just say no. Politely and firmly.
I have a firm rule: I don’t do the twenty-four turnaround. I look at it this way–somehow, books were still published on time before email and before FedEx. I also have a very full life of my own, thanks, and I’m simply unable to drop everything for an editorial emergency that I had no hand in creating.
The one time I broke this rule, I regretted it deeply. I had a proposal and sample scripts in at Tokyopop for a manga series. Oh, how I wanted to break into manga, and oh, how I loved these characters. Unfortunately, the editor there strung me along. She seemed surprised that I had an agent, and that I insisted my agent do the bargaining. She delayed talking about potential contracts. And then, all of a sudden, she revealed that Tokyopop was shifting to a new contract system: the Shining Stars program. My proposal would be the first one to go through this process, and wasn’t that exciting??
Well, no. Especially when she said that the editorial board was meeting TOMORROW and that she needed to present them with a new proposal about my manga series, written in a certain way with certain content. Could I do it? If I didn’t, I would have to wait three more months until the next editorial go-round.
I broke my “no twenty-four hour turnaround” rule and stayed up until midnight (when I get up at 5:30 AM for my day job) and wrote the material.
The editor loved it! So did the editorial board! They offered a contract!
It was awful. It was thinly-disguised indentured servitude, and it was written in California surfer slang. I’m not exaggerating! They later offered the same contract to a bunch of other authors and artists, who backed away in horror and then made fun of it on-line. Google “Tokyopop Shining Stars contract” to see what it looked like.
My agent said she found the contract insulting and she advised me not to sign. For the first time in my life, I turned down a contract.
This is what comes of breaking the twenty-four rule. The anti-waiting game is not for the faint of heart!
–Steven Harper Piziks