The business of writing isn’t only about writing

Back in the days when I was a magazine editor, I often worked with people who were perfectly competent writers but who hadn’t quite figured out some of the basics.  For example, when I said, “Talk to a couple of experts about simple ways to organize your socks,” I didn’t mean that the writer should interview herself and list ten tips that came off the top of her head.  I meant she should talk to a couple of experts and list their ten tips. 

A journalist friend of mine mentioned that a couple of months back she got an assignment from an editor of a national business magazine who stressed that she would have to interview expert sources for her piece, so I guess it’s not just me.  My friend was amazed that an editor would have to point out that a journalist needs to interview sources in order to write an article (as opposed, for instance, to an op-ed piece), but apparently I’m not the only one who has received nicely written work without a single source attribution.

What does this have to do with book publishing?  Just as I never hired the “I’m the expert, why would I need to interview experts?” writer again, I wouldn’t want to work with someone who wasn’t willing to do the legwork needed to be a good book author.   When I’m looking at a pitch, my main question is, “Do I think I can sell this book?”  But when it comes time to sign an author, I have to be sure this is a person who is going to be able to deliver what’s promised.  So there are some emails, some phone calls, some getting-to-know-you manuevers.  And it’s clear to me almost immediately which writers are going to be able to do what they say — they educate themselves, they respond within a day or two to emails or messages, they clearly understand that there’s a lot of competition out there and they’re not going to get caught napping.

I love those kinds of writers.  Send me more.