Last week, Faith wrote a terrific post titled “The Ideal Editor,” in which she offered her thoughts on what writers ought to look for in an editor. One of our readers commented that he’d like to see her follow up this week with a similar article about agents, and it remains to be seen whether Faith will do that this week or will offer that list at another time.
In the meantime, though, I thought it might be helpful to offer a list of my own: “The Ideal Writer.” Being a writer is about more than simply putting words down on a page (or up on a screen). There are ways in which we comport ourselves through the writing and publication process that might well make our books more successful, and that will certainly make editors and agents more inclined to work with us. The things I’ve included in this list, are things that I have tried (with varying degrees of success) to do myself, and as you work on your books and look to break into the publishing process, you should think about doing them yourself. You’ll notice that the attributes listed below don’t have anything to do with style, or even with process. We all work differently; we all write what we love and what we feel. We deal with “How do We Write” issues quite a bit at MW. This post is a little different. (And like Faith, I’ll use the universal “he”. No offense intended.) So, without any more ado:
1. The Ideal Writer hits his deadlines. Yes, I’m starting at the end here. I’m assuming that the other stuff — the stuff that gets you do the end of the book — has been or will be covered by other posts on our site. But at root, a writer’s job is to write, and finish, a story or book. Deadlines are fluid things in publishing. Things run late all the time. But to the extent that a writer can make his deadlines, he puts himself in good standing with his editors, agent, and publisher. And that’s a good thing.
2. He also turns in clean manuscript. What does “clean” mean? Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean “perfect.” But it does mean that he takes the time to proof read his work, eliminating typos and other mistakes that shouldn’t need an editor’s attention. Yes, a manuscript will be copyedited and proofed further along in the process. But every mistake the Ideal Writer finds on his own simplifies the production process down the road, and allows the editor and copyeditor to focus on more important matters.
3. He accepts criticism without ego, without defensiveness, and with an open mind. He understands that the comments he receives from his editor and from his beta readers are not meant as assaults on his creative vision, but rather as attempts by allies and friends to help him make his book as good as it can possibly be. He is not so wedded to any phrase or element of his story that he can’t at least consider changing it to improve the piece.
4. A corollary to #3, he views the revision stage of writing a book (and yes, he absolutely goes through this stage with every story) as an opportunity to rethink portions of his first draft that might not have worked. In other words, he approaches revisions the way he approaches the first draft: as a creative endeavor rather than simply a corrective one.
5. He goes out of his way to show his appreciation for the work of the “support staff” of his publishing house(s). I mean here the people in the publicity, art, and production departments. These are people who work very hard to make certain that his book looks great and reaches as many readers as possible. They can make or break a book, and they deserve to be treated with respect and courtesy. They are also people who he *should want to like him*. Ticking them off would be stupid, and yet you’d be amazed by the number of writers who treat them poorly, or ignore them entirely. Don’t be that guy. Along the same lines, he treats his agent and editor as equal partners in his work. He always — ALWAYS — finishes his conversations with his agent and editor the same way: with a “Thank you.”
6. Again, a corollary of sorts to #5. He goes out of his way to be polite to fans, to reply (when he possibly can) to emails and letters from fans. These are the people who buy his books; why would he want to give them the impression that he’s a jerk?
7. He works hard to publicize his work, understanding that publicists at publishing houses can only do so much for any one author. Book signings, guest blogging, web site maintenance, con appearances — all of these things can build up readership, and since an author’s future writing success is often directly linked to his most recent sales performance, self-promotion is a must.
8. In helping to market his books, the Ideal Writer makes an effort to get to know workers in his local bookstores. He befriends them, he treats them with respect and courtesy (of course), he tells them about his books, and he offers to sign stock. In short, he forges strong connections with those who are most responsible for hand-selling his books.
9. He does not take too much satisfaction in good reviews, nor does he waste energy in responding to bad reviews. No book can please everyone; and even the worst books get some good reviews. The Ideal Writer writes the best book he can and lets the reviewers do their jobs.
10. He gives thanks every day for being able to create characters and worlds and stories, and get paid for it. He remembers that for every writer who is as lucky as he is, there are ten or fifty or a hundred or a thousand others who are just as talented, just as passionate about writing, just as committed to the craft, but who haven’t yet gotten that lucky break.
There’s my list of ten. What would you add or subtract?
David B. Coe