It’s taken me a while to realise this, but if you wish to become a professional writer, you need to learn about not just one but two businesses: writing and publishing. These are linked but distinct professions, and each has a set of particular skills.
I’ve been focussing on the discipline of writing in this blog. The small decisions that one makes daily, whether to write or not, which has a cumulative effect. Procrastinate or not? Other blogs might focus on the mechanics of writing, such as plotting, pacing, structure, grammar and so on. It’s mandatory to master these before even thinking that you have a manuscript to sell.
But the publishing side of things has a discipline of its own. Everytime you approach a publisher or an agent with a manuscript, you’re putting forward a business proposal. So it makes sense to know about the business, learn the jargon and so on. Anything you put forward needs to say “I have taken the trouble to learn about this industry. I am a safe bet.”
Before I started thinking seriously about writing, I just assumed that all I needed was to finish my manuscript, and any editor with a brain would take the time to read through what I had written, and make a decision based on the merits of the entire novel. Therefore, they would be able to tolerate some grammatical flaws, spelling errors and not mind if the paper was not crisp and new. The editor (doubtlessly a bibliophile like me) would read on even if the opening was weak, as my story picks up in Chapter 3. The satisfying ending will hook ‘em.
I know now that this is laughable.
If I want to be taken seriously as a professional writer, then I need to understand the workings of those whom I hope will pay me. It reminds me of someone I knew who worked in the personnel department of a brewery. There was never any shortage of people willing to chuck in their current jobs to work for them. The trick was to find workers who were not just passionate but willing to work hard – and to not let the product go to their heads (literally, in her industry). Maybe that’s why there’s a “pub” in publishing, it’s an intoxicating thought, getting a book out.
There’s no shortage of manuscripts being thrown towards them. I was saddened the first time I heard that the pile of manuscripts they need to read through was called the “slush pile” – what high esteem they must hold it!. If my work did not attract their attention straight away, it would get tossed for the next one on the pile.
All I’ve learnt about the publishing industry has been garnered from publishers’ and agent’s blogs and websites, and from asking my contacts in the industry. The message is always about professionalism, but every industry has its own jargon and methods. I hope to outline some of what says "professional" in the publishing world in the next few blog entries. Stay tuned....