Monday, 1 September 2008

The Curse of Not Being A Bother

Further to Emma Darwin's comment further down the page about how lucky we MNWers are to have each other to share the publishing experience with, I thought I'd finally get up the courage to ask the question that's really been in my mind since day one of signing the contract.

How much of a bother are you prepared to be?

I'm desperate not to be thought of as hard work. Therefore I hardly ever speak to anybody at Macmillan. It's not that I don't have questions that I'd like answered about how many books I've sold and what exactly goes into marketing plans and so on. I'm just so paranoid that somebody will go, 'That Aliya Whiteley, blimey, worst of the bleeding lot. Never stops bleating on about something. And she obviously knows nothing about the biz, does she? Put a note on her secret file not to publish her again.'

Or, it occurs to me now, I could be at the other extreme of the bothersome author scale. Maybe they think I don't really care because I never say anything, and have decided not to tell me anything even if something important came up because, hey, it obviously means nothing to me.

So where are you on the scale? I speak to somebody at Macmillan maybe six times a year and am pretty apologetic then. I've always wanted to know - are you doing it more than me?


Eliza Graham said...

I tend to email more than call. In fact, I don't think I've ever initiated a telephone call. I had to ask some questions about German royalties and my emails all started in this doubtless annoying vein: I'm really sorry for bothering you/bothering you again but I was just wondering whether...

It's an English female thing. We don't like to be A Nuisance. Even though we know nobody is going to be rolling their eyes when we ask perfectly reasonable questions.

Frances said...

Aliya, I was so relieved to read your post. I'm exactly the same. I try hard not to bother Macmillan - I probably phone about as often as you do - and when I do get through to someone, and they aren't ecstatically pleased to hear from me, I think I'm being a nuisance (of course, they're probably just very busy). That's one of the reasons I think I'd like an agent; someone I can bother who also has a financial interest in any success I might have.

David Isaak said...

Well, shit. I was having a weird day already, and now Eliza informs me I'm an English female.

I can assure you that had I known I was an English female, I would have conducted my life differently. Is it too late to change?

Be that as it may: I've never called nor have I been called (which isn't surprising given the time difference), and I usually only e-mail in response to e-mails. And when I had an agent I did things pretty much the same way (in that case, to my regret).

[Sure, sometimes I wonder WTF; but I'm also sure that if Will knew WTF he would share it with me.]

David Isaak said...

PS to Frances--

A quote from writer PJ O'Rourke (admittedly from a very American perspective):

"My advice on dealing with publishers: Let your agent do it. Agents are more important than publishers. Agents are more important than anyone. Which brings me to my advice on dealing with agents. You can’t. They won’t speak to you. They’re too important."

Alis said...

OK, maybe MNW just chooses people like us because I'm no different to any of you. I email apologetically and rarely and I thought Aliya nailed it all so neatly with her worries about notes on a secret file...Having worked in the Health Service I know about people who are constantly on the phone and what happens to them... although there always was the sneaking admiration for the mother who just wouldn't let things alone until she'd got what she wanted... Hmmm...

Frances said...

Gee thanks, David. Very comforting. And Alis, I too have worked in the NHS as a practice nurse, and those patients you refer to are universally known as 'heart-sink patients.' Now I suppose I need to concentrate on not being a heart-sink writer. Oh dear.

Matt Curran said...

David, be bolshi. It works for me. Sometimes.

Honestly? I don't bother them much, but when I do I'm not apologetic about it. I guess I e-mailed Will/Julie about a dozen times over the last 12 months about queries relating to the new book, and I was pretty workman-like about it. After all you're in business with MNW so the relationship shouldn't be apologetic on either side – but then pestering is counterproductive (MNW has an extensive list of authors to deal with not to mention the 8,000 manuscripts they receive every year).
I think I’ve phoned only a few times since 2006 and that was always on Will/Julie’s prompting when an e-mail wasn’t practical enough.

The only time I have been a little meek is when I've asked about the print run for the first book - publishers don't tend to talk about this too much, nor about money (filthy subject) so when it comes to that side of things I kind of mutter it under my breath and they slide a note across the table with the information I ask for.

Faye L. Booth said...

If anything, when I do worry about my amount of contact with Macmillan it's more a fear of being thought of as distant, because I don't get in touch that often. When I do, it's nearly always via email (like many writers, I suspect, I write better than I talk), and the only reason I don't 'bug' them frequently is because I just tend to get on with my side of things and let them do theirs.

I will get in touch if I have a question, though, albeit frequently adopting the already-discussed apologetic tone ("I just I thought I'd ask!") just to make it absolutely clear that I'm not being a pain. I blame the medium of email, much as I love it - because we lose something of the tone in which things are said in an email, we then have to compensate with extra friendliness just to make our meaning clear. I'm sure that's how smileys/emoticons came about: they do make me cringe and I tend to avoid using them professionally, but they've helped me to avoid so many misunderstandings with friends simply because without them, my light-hearted meaning would have been lost.

Anyway, I'm rambling. Please accept my apologies. ;)

Doug Worgul said...

When my book was accepted, Will and I talked on the phone a couple of times. Since then we e-mail fairly regularly, which I would guess is pretty normal as the book goes through the process leading up to release (Feb. 6). I'm also guessing that our need for regular communication will diminish somewhat after release, and thereafter will be focused on sale of rights in new markets (hopefully the U.S!), etc. My second book won't be finished until early 2010, at least, so there's likely to be a long e-mail dry spell until it's done.

My day job is magazine editing, so I'm used to being hounded by freelancers all day/all week. Perhaps for that reason, I'm respectful of Will's time.

I'll admit that I'd love to have a Ernest Hemingway/Max Perkins kind of author/editor relationship. Problem is, though Will may very well be a Perkins, I'm no Hemingway.

Finally, I do find myself a bit jealous of those of you over there in the UK. At least most of you have actually met Will and the others at MNW.


(Don't you wonder what Will's thinking as he reads all our posts on this subject?)

Faye L. Booth said...

Doug, I try not to put myself in Will's shoes too often. I realised around the time we were debating synonyms for a certain part of the male anatomy that to think about the strange things he must be exposed to by the writers he works with would just be too weird.

David Isaak said...

"...and thereafter will be focused on sale of rights in new markets (hopefully the U.S!)..."

Good luck on that; something I'd hoped for myself.

Though Mister McGilloway's book has officially arrived in my neighborhood. Pix and comments soon, probably tomorrow.

suroopa said...

Sorry for popping in so irregularly! Physical distance gets translated into DISTANCE. David is closer on the map! And I am working to a deadline with my Palgrave book. But in my own defence I do read the blogs regularly and I keep track of every bit of news.

I found Aliya's post really interesting. I feel I need to talk about my own experience with MNW. There is no question of phone calls, given the cost, but I am regularly in touch with both Mike and Will. When I say regularly it does not mean how many emails, but my work is of constant interest to both of them. I have shared my current work of non-fiction. It was felt that my second novel did not suit a British audience, but I got detailed response on its strength, and advise from Mike on how I should try an Indian market. I have already discussed a third novel with Will, and hope to send in sample chapters so that I understand what kind of writing is suitable for the imprint. A few of my short stories were read by Will and forwarded to Picador India, since MNW does not as yet publish short stories. Its now under consideration. Somehow I feel that what a writer really wants is a long term perspective on ones abilities. Does an agent do as much? As for how many sells that is clear from royalty statements, isn't it?

There is a great balancing factor when you write an academic work. Your audience is targetted, and your work is contributing to a school of thought. I know that gives you an amazing sense of security. There is never a jostling competitive market. I never seem to brood at all.

But fiction remains a passion. As I was explaining to Will and Sophie my third novel idea, I realised how much of it spilled over from my academic writing. I am moving painfully slow with it but it keeps churning, like one of those footnotes I have to keep referencing.

The writer and the publisher - what do they share? Hard to say. Its so tough to launch your writing in the public domain. A sustained interest from those who took the risk in the first place is worthwhile I feel. Thanks to both Mike and Will, they never stop from letting me know.

Aliya Whiteley said...

Suroopa, that's really interesting, how you've involved Macmillan at the beginning of the creative process instead of just at the end. That's definitely worth bearing in mind. Thanks for adding that.

Eliza Graham said...

I'm calling you Davina now, David. Davina from Devizes.

Ann Weisgarber said...

What a relief to know that I'm not alone wringing my hands whenever I'm about to email Will. For me, it's a "If I'm a pest, he'll change his mind about my book" thing. Then too, there's the fear of writing a sloppy email which might result in the Will thinking twice about publishing my book.

Like most of you, I've never initiated a phone call. Will did call me once, and apparently I made reasonable good sense because I didn't get a termination notice in the mail.

There must be something about being writers that makes us shy. Or maybe we're just awestruck by the mysterious business of publication.

Doug, I recently responded to your query about getting published in the U.S. I'm sorry about the delayed response; I just recently saw that feature on the blog.

For now, it's back to my shell.