Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Dear Author

Hello everyone! I hope you all had a great holiday season. I’m finally back after an extended vacation, which included too much down time, way too much food, and not nearly enough writing. But it’s back to the old grind. I’ve decided to dedicate today’s post to something I’ve been wanting to address for a long time: requests for advice and help that many authors get from aspiring writers.

I get a lot of these emails, which I have no problem with. I’m always happy to help. I’ve spoken to writers groups, book clubs, and libraries about writing and publishing. I always try and give people resources for further info. But what I can do is very limited.

For instance, I got an email from someone about a week before Christmas telling me that they were going to be in town on a certain day and wanted to know when I would be available to meet with them to answer their questions about publishing and writing. I didn’t know this person from a hole in the wall. I politely wrote back and told them that while I was more than happy to answer any question they had via email, I was not available to meet with them in person. I didn’t get a response back, which didn’t surprise me.

A lot of people aren’t really looking for advice. They’re looking for the almighty hook-up, or at the very least they want someone to read their work and declare them the next big thing. In short, they think I can help them get published. Well I have news for you: Most authors, myself included, have absolutely no power to help anyone get published. Some of us are barely published ourselves. But, here’s what I can do:

1.I can give you the contact info and submission guidelines for my publisher.

2.I can share how I got published, for what it’s worth, since everyone’s journey is different.

3.I can recommend a list of websites, books, and blogs on publishing and writing.

4.I can come talk to your writer’s group, book club, etc.

5.I can recommend mystery authors to read and books or articles about the mystery genre.

Here’s what I can’t do:

1.I cannot read your manuscript. In these litigious times it’s just unwise. Plus, if I read everyone’s manuscript I’d have no time to work or write.

2.I cannot refer you to my agent. This is a very touchy question that puts an author on the spot. I mean, would you refer a complete stranger whose work you were unfamiliar with for an opening at your job? Because that is in essence what you are asking when you ask an author to do this for you. You are asking us to put our reputations on the line for someone we don’t know. Of course they’re are exceptions to this rule. If you are already published, established, have and agent and are looking to switch, or you’ve already been offered a book deal but have no agent to negotiate for you, you can usually find someone willing to make a referral for you.

3.I can’t give you advice on genres I don’t write in. I’m a mystery writer. I don’t know squat about romance, poetry, or nonfiction. But I get tons of emails from people who write in these areas. I can only give them limited help.

Here are a few tips on how to approach an author for help.

1.Be aware that most of us have day jobs and families on top of our writing deadlines and may not have time to give you immediate answers to your questions.

2.Never be rude! Publishing is a very small world. If you do get published and have been rude and difficult, it gets around and can have a negative impact on your career.

3.Give some indication that you know who we are and are familiar with what we write.

4.Always say thank you! Honestly, out of every ten emails I answer about publishing and writing I get maybe one thank you and that’s no exaggeration.

I hope this post doesn’t make it sound like I don’t want to help people because that’s the furthest thing from the truth. But no one can do it for you. You have to create your own destiny and chart your own course. All I can do is help point you in the write —yes, I spelled it that way on purpose—direction.

Have a good one!


Nine to Five Diva said...

Hi Angela,

Welcome back to you and all the Crime Sistahs. Thanks for sharing (and caring enough) about the craft to provide the real 411 on the publishing world. From what I have learned being on the outside looking in, it is a 'true' business. Creativity will only go so far and understanding the 'bidness' is very important. I'm still working on my revision and hoping/praying that it will pass the muster after I submit it.

In the meantime, I look forward to what the CS blog has in store for us in 2008.

All the best,


Angela Henry said...

Hi Charlotte,

Yes! Publishing is a very much business and a lot of writers, myself included, don't realize just how much until after you get published. But, believe me, you learn fast. Publishers are all about making money. They've really adopted a Hollywood blockbuster mentality. The sales and marketing departments are the real power behind most publishing companies. I've heard many stories of editors who've fallen in love with a manuscript only to have to turn it down because the marketing department told them they'd have too hard a time marketing it. It's a shame but that 's the way it is. That's why so many new and traditionally pubbed authors are turning to self-publishing


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