I’m not going to say this is an all inclusive list, in fact, this only scratches the surface. A lot of them are total common sense, but I still do a <face palm> every time I see someone break one of them. Having said that-yes, sometimes rules are made to be broken, but other times, rules are there to make your path through this very complex industry a little smoother. And besides, you have to know the rules well to know both how and when to break some of them.
Here’s my disclaimer before I get the flame posts. Yes, these are my opinion, and in most cases, the opinions of several others within the industry I know. These have been successful for me, but each author has to make their own path and their own decisions. Just remember what your parents used to say: If you make the decision, you live with the consequences…On with a few of the “rules”:
1. Don’t plagiarize – aka steal other people’s stuff. This doesn’t mean because there are already vampire books out there that you can’t write one. Everyone has their own writing voice and even if every one of us was given the same “idea” – we would all get vastly different books out of it. USE your own writing voice and don’t steal! That also counts for website content, people!! Just like books, most company website have their stuff copyrighted. Play nice with others and do your own work!
2. Leveraging “ideas” is not stealing. Just use common sense and refer to Rule 1. If you see another author is giving out a button or pens at a conference and you see that they are very popular with readers, and then you go make your own buttons with your own slogans and book info on them etc – that’s not stealing. It’s leveraging a good idea.
3. Learn from others’ mistakes. This is across the board. We’ve all heard the horror story of the author sliding a manuscript under the bathroom stall to an agent at a conference. (DON’T do this by the way – it will NOT garner you good results!!)
By using common sense you can also reason that sliding it under their hotel room door, slipping into their conference bag etc is only going to get them to remember your name in a BAD way. Watch and learn…seeing others make mistakes (or hearing the urban legends) will help you avoid making them yourself.
4. Anything & everything you do & say (especially online & in public) will affect your author brand. People disagree with me on this all the time, and that’s their right as long as they are ready to deal with the consequences. If you go to a conference, get drunk and dance topless on the table – believe me, those pictures will be tweeted far and wide before you make it down off the table.
And guess what – that WILL affect your author brand. Some of your readers might not care, some might. But agents and editors also are on twitter (and all the other social networks, including the word of mouth author grapevine – which goes faster than a speeding text message!) and they will remember you when their manuscript comes across their desk. They want to work with a professional, not a frat boy/girl. Also, if you make a statement on Twitter that is political, controversial, mean, slanderous, whiney etc – people will find that every time they Google you (which yes, agents & editors do before they offer to rep or buy your stuff)
I’m not saying don’t ever stand up for what you believe in etc. I’m saying make responsible choices about what you’re putting out there and take responsibility for it. If you Google my Tweets, I’m sure you’ll find quite a mixed bag…lol! And there are a few things on there I’ve been unfollowed for, and I made that choice and wasn’t sorry to lose those followers. My agent also follows me on Twitter, and I don’t think I’ve ever said anything horrifying enough for her wonder if she did the right thing representing my work. (Paige, you’ll have to let me know if I’m right on this one…lol!) Just think before you act/tweet etc – could this negatively affect my author brand? Then make your choice.
5. Writing is a business. So many people forget this. If you are writing for publication, you can talk about being an artist all you want, but as soon as you try to publish and get into this crazy maze of a business, it IS a business. Don’t take things personally. When you write, put on your artist hat. When in all other areas – keep your business hat on. If you act like a hysterical diva because your publisher can’t see your artistic vision of having a fully naked frontal picture of a man on your book cover, they probably aren’t going to take you very seriously…or offer you another contract.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a red-blooded woman and I don’t mind a nice full on nude picture of some hot guy, but publishers know that there aren’t many bookstores in their distribution networks who will stock that book – which means you’ll have no distribution, which means you won’t sell, which means they won’t make money (and neither will you), which means they won’t be offering you another contract. Business decision? Easy call. They’ll go with someone else who can separate their business hat from their artist/writer hat.
**Disclaimer. I’m not saying that if you have legitimate concerns over your covers you can’t speak respectfully and calmly to your agent and editor. That’s one of the wonderful things your agent does, by the way-has those tough conversations with your editor…
6. Don’t take things personally. This goes hand in hand with #5. Yes, sometimes others do take things personally and hold grudges against YOU. But if you were following the other rules, you haven’t done anything totally off the wall and it will be their problem. Which means in the long run, the Universe is doing you a favor by you not having to work with that person.
However, a lot of things in this business don’t feel fair. We get rejections, hard feedback, contracts options not renewed, bad reviews, authors who won’t do a cover quote for us etc. This is a business…say it like a mantra…and don’t take things personally. Let’s take a closer look: Rejections come for a variety of reasons. They might already have their slots filled for the type of book you’re writing. Your book may have a cat and they hate cats. Their boss may have told them NO MORE Vampire books! Whatever. Business. Same for all the rest. I recently asked a round of authors for cover quotes. All of us are busy, and I know that. If any of them have time and are willing to give me one – I’ll buy them a drink and send them a cyber hug. But I won’t get upset if they don’t have time or don’t like my book for some reason.
7. If you don’t know…ask. This is a good rule in life, not just in publishing. If you are afraid of looking stupid, fine – ask someone offline who you trust. But that’s how you learn. If you don’t ask…you’ll never know. And people in this industry do love to answer and share knowledge – avail yourself of that knowledge.8. Be a good business partner. Yes, this relates back to several of the above rules, but bears repeating. When you sign on with an agent, they are actually working for you. I know it doesn’t really feel like that when you start out and sometimes even after that, but it’s true. But just like you expect them to do their part of the job (giving you advice, finding you book contracts, having those “fun” conversations with your editors), they expect you to do the same.
This is also true of editors – they bought your book because they think it will reach readers, and, let’s be honest, they also think their company can make money from the sale of your book. You can help this equation by being honest and upfront. Meeting your deadlines. Keeping them in the loop without going on overkill (they don’t need to see your daily redneck jokes etc) and communicating early if you aren’t going to be able to meet a deadline or if there’s an issue.
9. Know when to keep your mouth shut. Again – another great life lesson. But especially in publishing. This is a very small community, even though there are TONS of us in it. Social networks have literally thrown us together in what sometimes feels like one big high school campus. And just like in any community, gossip and scandal flow fast and hard. I stay very well informed on what’s going on around me and I do have a few favorite blogs where I know I can always go to hear the latest “scoop” on pretty much anything .
I just do my best not to be the subject of any of those blogs – unless it’s an interview or a review, if you get my meaning. There are definitely times I do choose to comment on things I feel strongly about – but again (see other rules) I do it in a professional, calm manner that won’t tank my author brand. And there are other times, I vent to my cat or critique group, I rant at my computer screen, I write a nasty email….then I cool down and delete it, and get back to writing.
10. Be open to feedback and also be true to yourself. This is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ve seen instances that make me doubt everyone thinks so. If you get the same feedback from several or even a few places – it’s probably good feedback. (Show don’t tell, too much passive writing, not enough conflict, boring dialogue, 150K is not a good length for a debut novel, or pretty much anyone unless your name is Dianna Gabeldon, JK Rowling or Stephen King etc) However, if you get feedback that says “It just didn’t grab me,” or “Just not my thing,” that doesn’t mean another agent or editor won’t absolutely love it.
11. Write. Again – self explanatory, but people tend to forget it. Write every day, be serious about your craft. Learn, expand, grow and….write some more. Many authors get so wrapped up in promotions, submitting, drama etc that they stop writing and they never move forward. Writing must continue WHILE all the other stuff is going on.12. No whining! No one likes a whiner or a poor-me-er. Don’t be that person. Put on your big girl panties (or big boy boxers) and do your work, make friends, network, do your best, write, write, write and follow your career path. But whining doesn’t help anyone.
**Disclaimer. Whining is only allowed with close friends who you have enough mutual dirt on that they won’t rat you out – and must be done over a good alcoholic beverage (like a butterscotch martini) and much commiseration!!That’s just a small snippet of the “rules” I’ve learned, but I’m off to do #12
So help me out. Do any of you have “rules” you’d like to share? We’d love to hear them!Thanks!Tina/Cassie