I try my best to let other writers in Botswana know about opportunities available to them.
My hope is that eventually we will have a pool of professional creative writers in the country. Recently, though, I was disheartened by comments from an editor I’d directed writers to. He said the writers would promise to send a piece in and then never did or send pieces that have nothing at all to do with the publication, making it obvious that they didn’t trouble themselves to read the submission guidelines. I felt bad about this.
It’s tough being a writer in Botswana, we all know this, so why make things tougher by not behaving professionally? Many people try to use the term “artist” to whitewash a plethora of bad behaviour. I don’t buy it.
I get a lot of people contacting me through email or Facebook or even my cellphone. The other day a young woman pitched up at my house (!?!) when I had just returned from a very unpleasant trip to the dentist. She had no appointment with me. Almost without exception these people are contacting me to ask “how do I get published?”. I write a weekly, practical column on that very topic (this column), all of them available online as well as in print, and these people cannot bother themselves to read it. I think this is unprofessional.
So how do you behave like a professional writer?
1. Do your research.
You want to know how to find a publisher for a sci-fi book? Get on the internet and research which publishers want what. Go to the library or bookstore and find books similar to yours and check who published that book. Research the publisher online and find out what they’re currently looking for.
2. Follow guidelines
If the publisher says they only accept manuscripts by email, why send yours by post? Or worse still, by registered mail? If they only publish books between 80,000 and 100,000 words, why send your manuscript of 50,000 words? Most publishers have guidelines, free online. Read them. Follow them- exactly. Don’t send a sob story about how you should be made an exception. That’s unprofessional. Just follow the guidelines like everyone else.
3. Use language a publisher understand
I’m shocked at the number of writers who when you ask how long their manuscript is say, “200 pages”. What does that mean? The publisher does not know the font you chose, the size of font, the line spacing, or your propensity to use very long words. Publishers and editors talk about word counts, an easily found statistic on all word processing programmes. Use it.
4. Do not send your only copy
I sat in a meeting where a writer went on and on about how he’d been “cheated” by local publishers. He sent his only copy of his manuscript to the publisher, unsolicited, and was surprised when the publisher misplaced it. The publisher did not ask for the manuscript in the first place, they have no obligation to keep it. This is unprofessional behaviour. In this day and age, who does not have their work saved?
5. Edit and type your work
I find many writers who still think it’s okay to send off a short story or a manuscript for a book not typed. Also they don’t take the time to edit their work, numerous times, including reading it aloud, before sending it off. This is just disrespectful and highly unprofessional. If you don’t have a computer, get yourself to a place that does.
6. Realise that publishing is a business
A man once called me and complained that a publisher rejected him. He acted as if it was his right, “as a Motswana”, to have his book published. I was shocked at the hubris. Publishers are businesses. They will only publish books that they feel can make them money. They’re not a charity. If you’re a writer who cannot deal with that fact, and are unable to accept rejection, you’d rather choose a different career right now.
Either we want to be successful writers or we don’t. Successful writers behave professionally.