Pull up the big-kid pants

In advance: I’m not ranting, I’m not calling anyone out or trying to make anyone look silly. Snippiness of tone is the result of a frustrating week and a looming train to catch, but this is important.

I received a query today from a new writer who was bewildered by publishers who said ‘we don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts’, and ‘you need an agent’ and the SFWA site.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first such query I’ve received. My inbox is full of ‘HALP I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO’ emails from new authors. We’ll ignore the fact that, as a publicist, that’s not really my job, and focus on the core issue here:

Writing is a business. It’s a business of art, but It is a business and it must be treated as such. If you don’t understand and prepare for that reality, you set yourself up for failure, right from the start.

Another thing that baffles me: publishing people are, apparently, all the same to new writers. I get queries about everything from browser cookies to selling a manuscript. Would you really email an accountant who doesn’t know you from Adam with a query about copyright law? Granted, a lot of us blur the borders and publishing is much more intertwined than, say, accounting, but still. You’re already starting off on the wrong foot when you don’t research the person you are asking for help.

And may the gods be with you if you email a busy professional with a query answered by openly-published, freely-available, easily-found, basic information. Don’t even think about the ‘I don’t have time!’ excuse, because if you don’t have time to understand the basics, you don’t have time to be a writer. Period. The days of ‘write story. Send publisher. Receive money. Repeat.’ are over. It’s the equivalent of a full-to-part-time job.

That concluded, here’s the reply I sent to the writer who was frustrated, any unique information removed.

“Secondly, welcome to the writing industry. Publishers are swamped with manuscripts that ARE solicited. Most of them have guidelines saying ‘please do not send unsolicited manuscripts’, and ignoring those guidelines doesn’t make friends.

What I suggest is that you take some time to learn the business of writing before you go back to submitting manuscripts. There are literally hundreds of resources on everything from finishing a manuscript to finding an agent. Google ‘how to be a professional writer’, and check out Absolute Write, the SFWA blog and Inkpunks.com, to start off.

Writing is, perhaps unfortunately, not a hobby or a spare-time project anymore. You need to understand how the industry works before you can expect to even sell a manuscript. Even if you were to get lucky and catch an agent immediately, you need to know a lot more about the business than it sounds like you do now.

As far as SFWA goes, we’re an organization for professional writers who are making sales and publishing regularly. Like any guild, you join after you have a resume of professionally-sold work. Our guidelines and costs are listed on the site, so please take time to read what we have freely posted.

I wish you the best of luck, but caution you that the world of writing is going to require a lot of hard work, initiative and research, and there are a lot of people looking to make a quick buck off of someone who doesn’t understand the business.”

Do your homework, folks. Do. Your. Homework.

One Response to “Pull up the big-kid pants”

  • [...] I have spent…a lot of time as the Freelance Answer box, lately. Tip before the following Q&A: if you can ask someone a question,  consider if you should Google it first. And you might want to consider making sure you ask the right person your question.  Jaym Gates, a brilliant publicist, talks about that at her blog. [...]

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