What writers really wish you knew

By Caitlin Kelly

English: Attention Icon.
English: Attention Icon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a fun life being a writer, which is why so many people are lining up, still, to do it.

I just spent a fun/tiring eight hours in Manhattan at a freelancers’ conference. But if you make your living at it, (and or dream of it), some frustrations become routine.

Here are a few things writers really wish you knew:

— It’s not a hobby. We attend conferences and take classes, (or teach them), and network and spend time and money and attention improving our skills. Assuming it’s something cute we do “just for fun” is ignorant and disrespectful.

— Working alone at home can be really lonely and isolating. Come meet us for coffee or a drink!

— We need feedback on our material, especially works-in-progress, aka WIPs. If we get up the nerve to ask you to read or review it, that’s a big gesture of trust on our part. Please say yes, please offer specific feedback and please do it.

— We need blurbs for our books. If you have a connection to A Big Name who might help us, please make the call or send the email. Asking for blurbs can be one of the hardest parts of writing and publishing a book.

— If you ask me for help, do not blow off the phone call I booked time for. Let alone twice.

— If you ask me for help, be classy enough to offer me some as well, if not today, then down the road.

— Don’t ask me to hand over the names and contacts of my editors. If I feel like that’s the right choice, I’ll offer.

— Don’t ask me for an introduction to my agent. I may not think you’re ready for prime time. I may not think you are a good fit for their list or their personality. Don’t put me on the spot. If I think it’s right, I’ll offer.

— Don’t ask to “pick my brain.” It’s annoying and presumptuous.

— Don’t ask me how much my advance was. It’s really annoying. I don’t ask your salary!

— Don’t whine about how hard/lonely/difficult/poorly-paid it can be, especially at the beginning. I know. Go do something else…like retail or fast-food work. That’s misery, kids. Rejection to a writer is like blood to a surgeon; a messy, necessary part of every working day. Get used it or don’t be a writer.

— We’re insecure. Did you really like that story/pitch/book/screenplay? Say so!

— Repeat business is the sweetest. When you find a writer whose work you like and you enjoy working with, throw them as much work as they can handle. You’ll win our loyalty.

— If you’re a client, and we bill by the hour, don’t cheap out and ask us for a 30-minute consultation. It can take that much time to even read your two-page material thoughtfully, let alone formulate helpful ways to improve it.

— If you’re an editor, and like what we’ve done, say so! We’re hungry for praise and enthusiasm, no matter how experienced we are. The check is what we work for. A thank-you or other additional thumbs-up is what we hope for.

— Just like you, we’re all juggling multiple projects every day, some competing for the same time you think you’ve bought exclusively. Don’t demand immediate replies, revisions or turn-arounds on a moment’s notice. If you need our undivided attention, say so, explain when — and pay properly enough that we’re willing to back-burner other things for you. Snapping your fingers at us just means we’ll never work for you again.

— Pay us promptly with no excuses! There is nothing more irritating than meeting every deadline, even beating it, then waiting weeks or months for payment. You got paid. The lights are still on in your office. The office rent got paid. Our turn!

— Make the time to get to know us, even a little bit. We, too, have kids and hobbies and new puppies. The more we know, like and trust one another, the better our working relationship is likely to be. We’re not robots. We don’t want to be treated like one.

— Let us get to know you a bit as well. We don’t need or want to be your BFFs, but people work best with those they like and respect. You can’t like and respect a cipher. I recently found out all the jobs one of my editors is expected to do. Jesus, no wonder she sounds so stressed and tired!

— Follow up. If we’ve pitched you an idea after a meeting or phone chat, or we’ve been introduced to you by your boss or someone you trust, don’t ignore us. It’s rude! These weren’t cold calls. We’ve done our due diligence to get a good referral. You’re dissing them and us.

— Be explicit about what you need, expect and in what order. If your publication normally expects three revisions, say so at the outset and we’ll budget that time, or not work with you. But insatiably grabbing more unpaid time on a set fee is greedy.

— If you’re my agent, and we’ve agreed to work together, please answer my phone calls and emails promptly. I won’t drive you mad, but I expect you to pay attention; you’ll be claiming 15% of every check I earn from our books together, so I expect you to earn it.

— If you wish to sever our working relationship, do so. Don’t be passive aggressive and neglectful. Just get it over with.

Here’s a great post, from Freshly Pressed, (which inspired this post), by a theater veteran about what actors really feel but are often afraid to say out loud about their working conditions.

33 thoughts on “What writers really wish you knew

  1. I think I’m more happy than before I’m not a freelancer and get to just have fun on the side. Whether I had the skill (probably not), I wouldn’t have the drive it takes to do what you do.

    Now do one for statisticians … just kidding.

  2. Nice Caitlin. As a small (but significant to me!) designer in the apparel industry you could have been speaking for me. Change a few references like store for editor or rep for agent and we are all the same. All everyone really wants is respect…

  3. Very, very, very on the mark. So much of what you said can readily be applied to many professions. You make me appreciate more than ever that I am retired and not dependent on my writing for income.

  4. For the item about asking people for feedback, I would’ve added, “Please reply in a timely manner”.
    Btw Caitlin, remember a while back you did a post about ways to strengthen your readership? I changed my theme twice and I’ve noticed an uptick in followers and comments since I got the second new theme. Thanks for the tip.

  5. idrinkforaliving

    Very raw and blunt. Kind of like boot camp’s “Hell Week” The article almost says “If you can’t handle the truth, get out of the biz.” Admittedly, the portion about not whining created the pucker affect for me. I love to whine. Thanks for the wake up call!

    1. Welcome to Broadside…That’s pretty standard here! 🙂

      Having done this for a living since college, (a few decades), I know the deal. Many people are eager to be “writers” because it’s (and can be) perceived to be SO cool. It’s also a shitload of hard work, persistence and far more complicated than some people really understand. It may appear easy, but to do it well and earn a decent living and create a sustained national reputation? Not so easy.

      There’s some fantasy that you can do it if you just try hard enough. Not really.

      1. idrinkforaliving

        Agreed. To many Hemingway novels in your head and writing sounds like days spent in Parisian cafes and nights spent rubbing elbows at Le Chat Noir.

  6. tinemagpayo

    “Rejection to a writer is like blood to a surgeon; a messy, necessary part of every working day. Get used it or don’t be a writer.”

    “We’re insecure. Did you really like that story/pitch/book/screenplay? Say so!”

    ^Those were my favorites. I love this post! 3A’s Amusing. Amazing. Awesome. 🙂

    1. I think everyone who works as a creative faces much of this same ignorance or rudeness.

      People who have never (and could never) survive a single week without a paycheck, office and structure have no idea how we think and operate. I wish there were more interest in and respect for OUR skills in that regard!

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