Small Print

Andrew Lane

It’s unfortunately, but necessary, to point out that although I can improve your chances of being accepted by an agent or a publisher, or getting your e-book put up in a form that people will like, I can’t guarantee either acceptance or sales. There are considerably fewer books published every year than there are writers who are writing books. The odds are against you.

Every publisher and every agent is inundated with inquiries from people who believe they have a book inside them struggling to get out, who think they’ve come up with an idea that will be a guaranteed best-seller when translated into print or are incubating a story that desperately needs to be told. Amazon is filled to the brim with people who have uploaded e-books and are waiting for someone to buy them. Ultimately, what the public want to read is up to the public, and just because you think you have something, and have taken pains to have it edited and formatted to best effect, the public may decide to ignore it.

Equally, there are books published every year that are badly written, but which become overnight successes (I won’t mention the ones that particularly irritate me for fear of legal action. Buy me a pint and I’ll tell you). Good writing does not in and of itself lead to success, and bad writing does not in and of itself lead to failure. The world might be a better place if it did. You might decide you don’t need me, or anyone else., to help with your writing. You might be right.

Having said all that, publishers are put off by bad writing, and I know at least one agent who won’t look at a manuscript unless it’s double-spaced and in courier font, even as an electronic document, so it’s worth at least talking to a professional. And if I’ve proved one thing in my life, it’s that I am a professional writer. And yes, I did start two sentences there with the word “and”, because all rules can be broken. Trust me: I know what I’m doing.

What I will do:

I will respond to your initial query within two days, and I will maintain contact. I will not leave you hanging. I will schedule your work to be completed as soon as my own writing schedule allows, and let you know when that will be. I will not procede with anything until I have your agreement and approval.

I will read and comment on your manuscript myself, and not sub-contract it to some lowly-paid drone (I have nothing against drones, by the way – I just think if you’re paying for my services then you should get me).

I will read your manuscript in a professional office environment, at a desk, and not in Starbucks, at my kitchen table or wrapped up in a duvet on the sofa. I spent 27 years in the Civil Service before making the break into freelance writing – I know how offices actually engender a more respectful and formal way of working. I won’t, however, be wearing a suit. That’s just going too far.

I will not charge you for time spent on coffee-breaks, toilet-breaks, phone calls or wandering around stretching my legs.

What I will not do:

I will not, sadly, delay the delivery of my own books or scripts in order to accomodate any work I do for you on your manuscript. I have to honour my own contracts – and, frankly, if I’m not delivering as a writer then I shouldn’t expect you to trust me helping you with your own writing.

I cannot promise that you will be published after I have worked with you. I can improve your writing, but (a) there are some people who will never be able to write, and (b) even the people that can write may not be in the right place at the right time, or talking to the right person. Classic SF author Theodore Sturgeon one said, “90% of everything is bullshit,” and he wasn’t wrong.

I will not share anything I have been given by you, or learned from you, with anyone else. Our interactions are completely confidential.

I will not use your ideas in my own work. I shouldn’t even have to say this, but your ideas are yours, copyright you, and I will not steal them. In my experience, ideas are easy to have – it’s the follow-through, the writing, that actually takes the time and talent. I have enough ideas of my own to keep me going for several years, believe me. I don’t need anyone else’s. Having said that, it’s entirely possible that two or more people can come up with a similar idea at the same time: effectively, when we create stuff we’re all drawing water from the same well. There are plenty of examples in fiction of the same ideas occurring at more-or-less the same time. It’s what you do with the idea that counts.