Thursday, March 10, 2005

Professionals Do It

What’s your attitude when you turn in your book or your magazine article or your children’s book?  Just so we’re clear, I’m speaking of contracted projects where the magazine or publishing house have signed a contract with you.  The editor is expecting your manuscript on deadline.

Most beginning writers are surprised when the editor adjusts their words and they try to fight over every single nuance and change in their manuscripts. After years in this business and being the writer and the editor, I have one word of advice: don’t. If you balk and scream over the minor changes, then you will only irritate the editor and maybe become a one-hit wonder.  Just remember, you are looking for an editor where you can have an on-going relationship.  This on-going relationship translates into a steady stream of work and assignments and payments.  The constant movement of editors in this business never ceases to amaze me (and I’ve also contributed my part to this movement).  One week an editor will be in one place and the next week, this editor will assume a different role some place else.

No one likes to rewrite with instructions from the editor. At least, that’s my initial reaction. I rail and holler and scream (some times even out loud in my office)—but I never tell this information to the editor. If I’ve drafted a snappy response, I do it on a blank sheet of paper or a blank screen—and never send it.  If you send it, you will regret it and you will position yourself as an inflexible writer.  The editor and the writer have the same goals—to produce excellent writing and meet the needs of the reader or audience.

Several years ago, I contracted a book with a best-selling nonfiction writer. As a part of my responsibilities, I had to read his manuscript and see if it was “acceptable.” In book publishing, acceptability is a major step for the writer because it’s when the second portion of their advance (against royalties) is released. In other words, the writer gets a paycheck.  When you get this feedback from the editor to rewrite, instead of fighting against it, your goal should be to handle everything as professionally and smoothly as possible.

What do professional writers do? When they turn in a manuscript (whether book or magazine), they offer in their cover letter to rewrite. It’s no shame to rewrite and follow the editor’s rewrite instructions. When I prepared a series of questions for my bestselling nonfiction writer, he immediately responded with the positive statement, “Terry, you are making me a better writer.” He understood the process. It’s the mark of a professional in this publishing business.

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