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Friday, February 07, 2014

Tough Love for Today’s Writer—Quit Looking at Yourself as the Exception, and Follow the Rules

by Edie Melson

Publishing is a tough business.
Publishing is a complicated business—whether you’re writing fiction, how-to books, articles, or anything else. There’s a huge learning curve, and a lot of unwritten rules. And there are exceptions. But if you’re serious about a career in writing, you need to quit looking at yourself as one of them.

I know it sounds harsh, but you are slowing down your forward momentum and only hurting yourself. I should know, I’ve been there. And if you think you aren’t playing these kinds of games, take the short quiz below, and see how you score.

Scenario #1
The submission guidelines on the website of an agent/publishing house says you must query first before sending your manuscript.
  • a. You follow the guidelines and query first.
  • b. You write a good query letter, but you also attach a sample chapter.
  • c. You know when they read your manuscript they’ll be glad they skipped ahead so you just send them a quick note and attach your entire manuscript.

How do you handle scenario #2?
Scenario #2
You’re at a writer’s conference and during the introduction time, your dream publisher announces they’re not accepting the genre you write. You already have an appointment with the editor so you:
  • a. Let the editor know what’s happened and give up your appointment to someone else.
  • b. Pull a no-show, there’s no point to even sit down.
  • c. Keep the appointment and spend the entire 15 minutes explaining why they need to start a line of that genre with your book, because it’s just so good.

Scenario #3
You’ve had an article accepted from a magazine on spec (means they still have the option to not buy it if they don’t like the finished product). The editor contacts you and gives you a word count of 800 words. You finish the article, but it comes in at 1000 words. You decide to:
  • a. Keep working until you cut the extra 200 words.
  • b. Email the editor and ask for him to up the word count.
  • c. Send the article as is. It’s the editor’s job to edit. Let him earn his money.

How do you handle scenario #4?
Scenario #4
You sent a requested proposal to an editor. They told you to expect to hear back within three months. It’s been three months and two days. You sent an email asking for an update and don’t get a response. You then:
  • a. Wait two weeks before emailing again.
  • b. Begin firing hourly emails to the editor until they respond.
  • c. Pick up the phone and call the publishing house.

Scenario #5
You have a genius idea for a book/article. You work like mad to finish it in time to pitch it at a conference. The editor agrees and asks you to send it in for her to look at. You give it a quick once over and notice a few typos so you:
  • a. Take a few extra days to make sure it’s as clean and well-written as possible.
  • b. Include a cover letter explaining you new the editor was in a hurry to get this and apologize for any possible mistakes.
  • c. Send it anyway. Any editor with her salt will be able to tell how good it is.

For every A answer, Give yourself 1 point.
For every B answer, give yourself 2 points.
For every C answer, give yourself 3 points.

Don't live in a dream world.
5-7 points
You’re in a great place. It’s just a matter of time before you’re on your way.

8-11 points
You’re not quite as deluded as you could be, but you definitely need a reality check. Start following the guidelines, they’re there for a reason.

12-15 points
You definitely live in a dream world. You think of yourself as the exception—and without being an exception—you’ll never get ahead.

I’m curious. How have you seen others act as exceptions rather than following the rules? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Edie Melson is an author, freelance writer and editor. Her blog, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. She’s the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy, the Social Media Director for Southern Writers Magazine, and the Senior Editor for Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. Killjoy. But it's true. I'm amazed at the stories I hear from agents and editors. Why make a difficult journey even more difficult by doing your own thing? Good advice, Edie.

    1. Thanks Ron. We do see some pretty amazing (crazy) stuff at the Blue Ridge conference and I know it happens everywhere. Blessings, E

  2. I had one of scenario 2, an editor appointment with a new editor I'd never met. I didn't have anything ready to pitch (although the house where she worked does take my genre), so I told her I just wanted to meet her and we talked about an idea I had, which she said she'd be interested in if I wrote it. So sometimes, those can be used for more networking.

    1. Ane, absolutely. That's a good example. Blessings, E

  3. That's all well and good, Edie, but I AM the exception.

  4. Edie, great advice. Excellent writing and storytelling will win the day for the literary agents and editors--but the writer needs to fit into the submission process. I had a prospective author insist on sending me a nondisclosure agreement. I told this author that I've read thousands of submissions and never signed one of these agreement--but he insisted on sending his nondisclosure agreement. I opened it and read it--ridiculous. I was the only person who could look at his material and I could not share it with any colleagues within the publishing house. This author didn't understand--even though I explained it--that as the acquisitions editor I am not the only person who decides about his book. It is a team effort to decide to publish a book and spend thousands of dollars--not an individual. I wished him well finding another publisher. We receive over 5,000 submissions a year and only publish about 150 books that we sell into 98% of the bookstores in North America--including the brick and mortar bookstores. I do not need to sign a nondisclosure agreement to read your manuscript. This "different" author stood out--but not in the way that makes him attractive--and he probably didn't even understand--even though I tried to explain it to him. Good post, Edie.

    1. Terry, I bet your experiences with those who work from the 'exception' viewpoint could fill a book! Thanks for the encouragement, Blessings, E


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