Things Authors Should Do: A List

written with Katherine Crighton, co-author of Salt and Silver by Anna Katherine

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1.) Proper manuscript format. People blow this off all the time, but it is extremely important. It is important not just to the editor/agent to whom you submit, but to the people who are going to work on your manuscript once it’s purchased and in production. Editors who want a format that is not the traditional proper ms. format will specify what format they want; with no specification, use this: 1” margins all around, double spaced, 12 point Courier New typeface.

2.) Do not put images in your manuscript. You might think it’s cute to put a heart at the beginning of each chapter, or insert an image of a star everywhere you have a scene change, but it is not. It’s just annoying for everyone who looks at your manuscript and has to do anything technical with it. (If you have a specific request for the type design—for example, if you want the published book to have a heart at the beginning of each chapter—that is something to let your editor know once the book is finished and going into production.)

3.) In the header, put your full name, the title of your manuscript, and the page number. In your footer, put the page number. Page numbers should be on the right hand side of the page always; that is where publishing people automatically look for them.

4.) Make a reference guide. This will be handy for yourself, your editor, and everyone involved in the production process. Kat and I, despite knowing we should do this, did not. This resulted in our bad copyedit being even worse, and made us feel totally stupid. So after we spent many hours wrestling our copyedit into submission (and scrawling STET—meaning “keep as originally written”—on everything), we wrote a letter to the proofreader, which you can read here.

Your reference guide should include:

5.) After phone conversations with your editor (or anyone at your publishing company), send a follow-up email to confirm the information you exchanged—and, if you have an agent, CC your agent. This will not only help prevent miscommunication, but it will also protect you in the event that your editor (or whomever) is a jerk. Written records are the best for keeping track of things, and email is awesome because it never has to go away. (Kat and I suggest for a free email account with nigh unlimited space for email storage.)

6.) Do not be an idiot on the internet. Editors (and agents and other people) not only search their own names, but have friends. Your editor (or agent) may not say anything to you, but rest assured: when you say mean things about your editor/agent/publisher/whoever on the internet, we know. And we don’t forget. Ever.

(Separately from being that type of idiot, check out RaceFail for many examples of authors losing current/future readers by being careless and/or malicious, and not apologizing for their mistakes, and defending their bad decisions. Please try not to do this, and if you make a mistake, don’t defend it—just apologize. Sincerely. If you’re not sorry, think about why.)

7.) Let your agent do hir job. If you have an agent, let the agent do what an agent does. Let the agent handle the business stuff with your editor and publisher. Let the agent negotiate the contract. When there is a problem and you’re upset, go to your agent first. Your agent can explain to you whether you’re overreacting to a normal publishing process or if you have a really valid point that the agent will follow up on. The agent is your buffer and part of the job is protecting your working relationship with the editor and other people at the publishing house. Use that.

8.) Relatedly, ask questions. If you do not understand something, ask that it be explained. The more you understand about what’s going on, the easier it is to participate in the process.

9.) Be proactive with your questions, but don’t be annoying. Let your agent be annoying. If you don’t have an agent, say to your editor, “I have all these questions. Here is my list of questions. I don’t want to be annoying, so please get to this when you have a chance, and if I don’t hear from you in a week or two, I will bug you about this again.” Be reasonable. Be practical.

10.) Have blog posts prepped in advance. Seriously. Even if you just have a document full of rough sketches or two line ideas of what you want to write about, it will help you in the long run when you realize that authors who blog successfully write entries more than once every eight weeks.

11.) NEVER TWITTER OR BLOG IN ANGER. Take a deep breath, take a step back, walk away from the computer. If you must blog about something that pisses you off, get a trusted friend who is clever to read it over for you to make sure that it doesn’t read like this: STUPID MEAN HORRIBLE AWFUL HATE HATE HATE BITTER ANGRY ANNOYED!!!!! No one wants to read that except people who want to cause or observe your drama, and that’s not why you want attention.

12.) Related: People on the internet are often wrong (whether with reviews, comments, history, whatever). You will see these people, and wish to inform them of their wrongness. Perhaps even loudly. DO NOT DO IT. Don’t engage, don’t talk about how you’re not engaging but you really want to, don’t send other people to engage for you—just don’t do it. You won’t be hailed as a modern-day folk hero, or the unlikely victim of a vast conspiracy—you’ll just come off as an ass. DO NOT BE AN ASS.

© Anna Genoese, March 2010
Please do not reproduce or distribute this text without permission.