(With apologies to that much-underrated 80s group, A Flock of Seagulls, for using one of their song titles as the title of this posting)
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned in passing that an intern at our company asked me to give her my best piece of advice as an editor. Using my own post as inspiration (not at all self-centered, eh?), I thought I would ask that same question around the office and share my findings.
ADVICE FROM EDITOR #1: Make sure you get the right books into the right reviewers' hands, and keep them out of the hands of people who don't like that sub-genre. Explanation, more info, etc.: It is always a good idea to read a reviewers' other work before deciding whether to send that person a review copy. Editors must have a realistic sense of the objective pros and cons of the books they publish and must accept that reviewers are a very diverse lot who can't always be expected to give all books a fair shake.
ADVICE FROM EDITOR #2: If you want to get published in the commercial fiction market, you should write for readers, not for yourself. Explanation, more info, etc.: What you want to do as a writer is more or less irrelevant. A book is a commercial product that readers choose to purchase from their limited disposable income. There is a huge amount of competition, so you have to deliver a product that people want to buy. While we respect your goals as a writer, what the public wants is more important to us.
ADVICE FROM EDITOR #3: You have to know when to give up on a manuscript. Explanation, more info, etc.: Attempting for years to get a specific manuscript published isn't likely to work. Manuscripts have a shelf life, and they start feeling old very quickly. Maybe your character works but your story doesn't, or maybe your character just doesn't work. You have to be willing to abandon characters you may have grown to love.
ADVICE FROM PUBLICIST #1: Whether you realize it or not, you are a public figure. Act accordingly. In other words, always behave as if you are already famous. Explanation, more info, etc.: Bad behavior may not be commented upon directly, but it is always noticed, and a subtle revenge (in the form of unsold books) may be enacted. Be gracious, be kind, be polite. Don't be aggressive, obnoxious, or conceited.
ADVICE FROM PUBLICIST #2: Don't ever have the attitude that people should like and want to buy your books. Explanation, more info, etc.: Humility goes a long way in this business. The best combination is a quiet self-confidence + the ability to know when to keep your mouth shut.
ADVICE FROM COVER DESIGNER: Sorry, but you don't know the first thing about typography, art, and design. Please don't act as if you do. Explanation, info, etc.: 99% of the time, she's right. This is a perpetual struggle--authors want to design their own covers, use their own photos, etc., and most of the time the results would be horrific.
ADVICE FROM PRODUCTION/PROJECT EDITOR: Page proof is not the time to rewrite your book or make major changes. Explanation, info, etc.: Making changes in the proof stage takes not only a lot of time but also costs a lot of money. Many writers don't realize the ramifications for page make-up when they start making wholesale changes.
ADVICE FROM ROYALTY/BUSINESS MANAGER: We're not trying to cheat you. We're really not. Explanation, info, etc.: Many books are sold at massive discounts, and let's not forget about returns, too. (Some contracts write returns provisions into them.) And the number of free copies that we give away--which then find their way onto the Internet for sale--is much higher than you think. We can't pay royalties on copies we have given away.
ADVICE FROM LIBRARY/SPECIAL SALES MANAGER: Think about how your book would be received at your local library, or if you'd be likely to pick it up at the "New Arrivals" shelf. Library patrons are the world's most voracious readers. If you can't appeal to them, your odds for success in the larger market are quite limited.