First, you need to read. Some writers don’t. And, yes, it shows. The most original writers do not spend their time shut away trying not to sully their muse and protect their perfect prose. They want to see who is doing what well. And they have to know what is getting bought. If you don’t like reading, you are probably not a writer.
Readers are not idiots. They deserve respect. A friend of mine tells a story of lining up in a shop at a book signing by Thomas Keneally. He had just purchased the author’s latest work, as had all the others in the queue, to get a dedication or signature inside it. When my friend had secured the writer’s autograph, he then pulled out a bag with several other books – he is a fan – and asked Keneally to sign them.
This could have gone several ways. My friend knew he was being cheeky, but it was a chance in a lifetime. The great man duly signed the pile of books and then, to my friend’s surprise, stood up, shook his hand and said, ‘Thanks for being a reader.’ Needless to say, he is a bigger fan than ever.
In some parts of the business reciprocity is something devoutly to be wished. The evaporation of acknowledgements, the polite note, even the standard rejection slip, means unless a work is deemed good enough – as it is or needing development – silence is the only sound. As I have said elsewhere, it is a buyer’s market. But it is hard to learn what is appealing to the purchaser when there is nothing to go on.
It is complicated. I once read a leading publisher say that there were simply too many writers. To try to acknowledge, read or look over all that is offered is impossible. The slush pile – a terrible term that is almost universally used in the trade – can be daunting. That is why her firm only accepted overtures from agents.
But many of the rules of engagement for writers approaching agents are similar to those of publishers: don’t bother us if you have not heard from us, though we wont’ tell you if we have received anything from you; certainly don’t expect any feedback.
I have also heard an author say that manners only seem to kick in when there is a competing interest in what she had written. Manners is only one form of reciprocity. It is a shame I even have to remind myself of that from time to time.