Essential writing skills: the secret to getting the writing edge

Want to know the secret to standing out as a writer? I’ve said it before – and I’ll say it again. Professionalism counts.

My Adler Gabrielle 25 - on which I typed maybe a million words in the 1980s.
My Adler Gabrielle 25 – on which I typed maybe a million words in the 1980s.

I’ve heard stories of writing festival organisers having to rouse guest speakers out of their hotel room when they don’t show up on stage. Other writers, apparently, enjoy listening to the sound of deadlines rushing past. It’s an accepted part of the industry, and authors who do that aren’t exceptional. But it’s irksome to publishers, especially these days as the industry turns on its head.

Professionalism, in the publishing business, is all to do with timing, scale and quality. Time is money. The major publishing houses haven’t the time – and these days, often not the leeway – to deal with authors who swan in with contracted manuscripts, months late and twice the specified length.

Writing long might give an author bragging rights – ‘oooh, haven’t I got a big book?’ – but scale of book determines both likely market pick-up and cover price. Publishers work backwards from that to budget production costs such as printing and editing – all of which are affected by scale. Running over-length, in short, adds costs that won’t have been budgeted for.

I’ve heard of publishers requiring authors to ditch chunks of manuscript, purely to get the book down to length. Contracts have a clause in them giving the publisher right to do so.

The other essential ingredient is quality – making sure that the book is up to scratch. This, too, is contractual. If the book isn’t up to par, the publisher can reject it – or hire an editor to bring it up to scratch.

None of this has been dislodged by the self-publishing revolution. On the contrary, if an author is also publisher, the need to be professional is doubly true. And that’s without talking about the professionalism needed for marketing.

So how to get that quality – and scale – all within time? That’s the essence of writing.

More soon.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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4 thoughts on “Essential writing skills: the secret to getting the writing edge

  1. The image of an author in a swan as he/she finally deigns to hand in a manuscript is a wonderful one! Thank you for that, Matthew! As for self-publishing, it seems professionalism would be even more important but I also suspect that for many new writers it is a matter of simply not knowing. Looking forward to more on this.

    1. Yes, the big issue with the democratisation of publishing is the problem of ‘unconscious incompetence’ – that alluring supposition that everybody can write books, because they can write letters and diary entries and emails. A while back my wife went to a course on writing childrens’ books, presented by one of our most prolific (and richest) kids’ authors. Most of those attending were retirees from lifetime careers elsewhere who’d decided to ‘become’ writers, and the questions flowed around whether to get contracts read by solicitors and the like. ‘No no,’ the presenter responded, ‘you have to learn how to write first’.

  2. Following through on commitments seems pretty basic. But. as you said, it is not the norm. It’s easy really. You as a writer expect to get paid. The Publisher then has a right to expect you to provide the agreed to MS. No MS, no $. Should be a no brainer.

    1. I agree…it’s basic integrity. But it’s one of those things that seems to get lost occasionally in ‘the arts’. A disconnect between the impecunious demands of ‘the muse’ and the realities of everyday living.

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