One of the first rules of fiction writing you'll learn in workshop is "Show, don't tell." Show, don't tell also serves you well in your creative and professional lives.
When I started out as a young creative exec. for an entertainment company in Hollywood, I had lots of GREAT ideas - ideas that my superiors thought were great, too. At first when I emailed them my great ideas, there would be lengthy back and forths about how to execute all these great ideas. I was on fire! But along with all my great ideas, I had actual work to do, too, like reading through the loads of submissions I had requested or that were passed on to me. I also had contracts to review and our own clients' project submissions to look after. I had a lot on my plate. Of course, my great ideas were yet to be touched. Weeks went by. I'd have another great idea I'd shoot off to my superiors who thought my other ideas were brilliant in the past. Only this time I didn't hear back from them as quickly as I had before. A day or two passed. Their response to my great idea was, "Great. Show me." I cringe just remembering this. But I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my professional life then...don't say, do!
I only had to learn this lesson once as it was a painfully embarrassing one. I quickly turned my act around. As I grew into my position on Fairfax and later ventured into my own agency, I began to notice a similarity among most new writers - lots of telling and little showing. Lots of writers like to talk about writing. And honestly, this is one of the many reasons that pushed me into coaching because what I noticed in my field...a seeming lack of integrity with new writers, aka flaky, was on one hand permitted by agents (because writers are supposed to be flaky, right?) yet agents would grow increasingly annoyed with these writers and their bad habits and ultimately question their overall ability to produce when it came down to it.
Talent is important, but if you can't follow through your intentions with action, if you can't make a deadline, an agent will not put their credibility on the line with an editor or publisher for you. They have an image just like you.
Here is my top 3 list of common writer gaffes, how to avoid them and why you should:
1. Eagerly taking down notes from your agent or editor on how to execute something better in your manuscript, proposal, blog, not following through completely (or barely making changes) and then sending it back to them to re-read your "finished" manuscript.
Oh my dears, I see this one a lot. If an agent or editor with a good record of success invests their time in you, giving you free, sound editorial advice, take it and run with it! Absolutely, you should consider if you agree with their creative direction and ask yourself if what they are asking you to do will indeed make your work stronger and will you like the changes...but if you do agree, by all means, make the changes! Take your time with it and avoid at all costs the temptation to cut and paste your edits - your patch job will be clear to that agent or editor the second time around. Not to mention, it isn't writing. Most importantly, if you are stuck mid-way and lose clarity with their direction, ask them if they wouldn't mind clarifying their feedback once more so you totally understand how to proceed. They would much prefer you asking them a few questions than re-reading a bad or lazy editing job.
The payoff - You show an agent/editor/publisher that not only can you take editorial direction but you have the talent to masterfully re-craft your work, making it better than ever. Instant credibility points for you! Well, not instant...the revision process takes time, but if you execute your revision well, you'll look like a star!
2. Arriving late to important meetings, lunches, calls, etc.
Nothing bugs me more than waiting 15 or more minutes past the time someone is supposed to meet or call me. The cherry on top is when that tardiness is met with loads of excuses, usually involving the word "crazy" in the chaotic or sheepish rundown of the culprit that kept them behind. I've heard it all. I should clarify...I don't mean the occasional oops I'm late event (we all do that from time to time), consistently keeping people waiting is what I'm talking about. Not calling or emailing the person you're meeting or having a call with to let them know you're running behind is what I'm talking about. I've had my share of waiting...it's something I no longer tolerate. I value my time and the time of others. And you know what? The writers who can't seem to organize themselves well enough to show up on time consistently enjoy the least success. After all these years, that's the sad fact in publishing that remains the same. Their lack of alacrity is a symptom of something greater - general lack of organization and focus. If this is you, address this now. Plan ahead. Organize. No excuses. Everybody is busy.
p.s. Yes, some of the people you'll work with in this industry have this issue as well. Shame on them. The best you can do is make sure you're consistently delivering your most polished, on time self.
p.p.s I once had a client who was late for a scheduled phone session...but she kindly emailed me on her smart phone that she was quite stuck in an elevator! I was happy to reschedule another session with her.
The payoff - You'll look totally invested in your career if you're on time and well prepared! And those you meet or speak with on the phone will be so appreciative you've valued their time they just might want to work with you in the future (or continue to do so). You're presenting yourself as a professional or at least someone who knows what they're doing.
3. Not turning in your work by the due date.
Once your publisher sets a publishing date for your book, the editor then has a date on their calendar for when they need to turn over your polished manuscript to the copyeditors. They have a date on their calendar for when they need to turn over the totally typo-free manuscript to the design department for a book jacket and then, you know, they've got to have the book actually printed...which is yet another date set on the printer's calendar. Everything is planned ahead. In each department you have a window of time that the focus will be all on you. It's your moment! All they're waiting on is you.
When you sign a book contract (and I hope you do soon if you haven't already!), you are contractually obligated to turn your finished manuscript over to your editor on an agreed upon date. Your editor will work diligently with you to make sure that happens. Make sure you're pulling your weight by following their suggestions and implementing the changes necessary to make your work amazing. Again, you've got to agree overall with their direction...if you feel your editor is leading you off track (which is rare), speak with your agent about it. If you don't have an agent, kindly ask your editor if you can set up a time to chat about their direction. Barring that, consider you and your editor a dynamic duo working for the greater good of your work.
What happens when you're not on time? Little old you will keep your editor waiting, the copyeditor waiting, the design department waiting (and the marketing and PR departments waiting) and the publisher waiting. This is not a good thing, my dears. If they wait too long for you to finally turn your work in (and maybe the major authors get away with this but certainly not the new authors), they will simply forget about it and not publish your book. They may also demand their advance money paid back. Yes, they can do that...you've failed to hold up your end of the contract. Word will get out and you'll have a very difficult time finding a new publisher. So turn that manuscript in on time, writers! Your entire publishing team will LOVE you! Extra bonus points if you send thank you notes to all these folks for all their efforts...let me tell you, your sincere acknowledgement and appreciation will go far.
The payoff - Sticking to your contractual agreement to produce a finished manuscript is expected. Your publisher expects you to follow their lead. The payoff here is they'll be glad to work with you on your subsequent books if all goes well.
Your Action: Even if you don't have a book deal in hand, or even an agent, learn from this message NOW! I want you to be ready for what lies ahead. I want you to be prepared, polished and ready to rock that book even before you have an agent! Get a leg up on your competition by showing not telling, being on time for everything and sticking to your writing schedule as much as possible. Consider this your conditioning for the big race.
By the way, I give due dates to those who contribute to this blog. So far about 97% of those who've contributed to TLCG have turned in their work on time. And I'm so appreciative of their efforts!
Have a fruitful, punctual, action packed week, writers!