Sunday, June 20, 2010

More Deadly Attitudes That Kill Writers’ Chances

by Katherine Swarts

My last guest post discussed five “Deadly Attitudes that kill writers’ chances,” attitudes closely related to the mechanics of writing and selling. This installment presents one more, plus four additional “DAs” in the “pure attitude” range.

6. Deadly Gimmicks. No story ever sold solely because the text rhymed; plot and characters are what count, and most writers have enough to do mastering those. In any case, never get cute with the physical manuscript: no neon-colored text; no computer-animated introductions; no glitter sprinkles that drop from a hard-copy envelope (probably to stick to an editor’s best suit). The “gimmick” approach gets attention, all right, but not the kind you want.

7. Deadly Arrogance. If you want to create an instant image of yourself as impossible to work with, just say any of the following: “I know you don’t normally publish fiction/poetry/two-part stories, but my work is so good I’m sure you’ll make an exception.” (No, they won’t.) “My children/mother loved this story.” (Readers who don’t love you aren’t likely to be equally receptive.) “God gave me this message.” (God probably hasn’t warned anyone to buy your first draft or be struck by lightning.) However good your work, you don’t rate special favors before you prove yourself.

8. Deadly Humility. Don’t say you’ve “never published anything”; people will wonder why not. And no one will buy your work out of pity for your unpublished state. Focus on why you’re qualified to publish this thing: note your expertise in the topic area, or your access to knowledgeable sources; and to prove your writing ability, make sure your introductory letter is interesting and typo-free. When approaching agents and editors, projecting self-confidence is vital.

9. Deadly Defensiveness. The dream of writing one’s way to fame and fortune brings out the spoiled brat in many people. They demand that publishers reconsider rejections; they scream “You got that idea from me!” when a remotely similar story appears; they get as far as being accepted and then fight every suggested change in plot or wording; they openly protest every negative review. Such behavior gains a writer nothing except black marks on the reputation.

10. Deadly Quitting. Have you heard of John Kennedy Toole, whose book A Confederacy of Dunces won a 1981 Pulitzer Prize—but who wasn’t around to see it because he’d committed suicide in 1969 after repeated rejections, leaving his mother to carry on the work of finding a publisher? While few writers go to such extremes, thousands give up too quickly. They edit their work over and over but never submit it; they put a manuscript away forever after the first rejection; they stop writing new stories when their earliest efforts don’t sell; they dismiss “we can’t use this, but we’d like to see other examples of your work” comments as token politeness (editors don’t waste time on personal communications unless they see genuine potential). You can be innocent of all other Deadly Attitudes and still kill your chances with this one.

If you harbor any of the DAs and still sell your work, you probably are a celebrity. Or a publisher’s nephew. Or just luckier than the average lottery winner!

Katherine Swarts is a professional writer specializing in corporate blogs/newsletters and other articles. Her Web address is


  1. Thanks, Joyce. And thank you for stopping by.

  2. Thanks for all this great advice, Katherine. It's not as if I'd deliberate make any of these mistakes, but seeing them in print has me making darn sure I don't by accident. Thank you.

  3. Hi Clare. Your response is exactly why Katherine is doing this. Thanks!

  4. But my mom, my grandma, my best friend's sister's brother's niece's cat just loves my story!! You have to publish it b/c God said it would be published by a publisher with the letter T in his name. :)) Nah, that didn't work for me either. tee hee. good post!!

  5. Love those Deadly Gimmicks. :) As deadly as the neon-coloured text is equally bright paper. I've actually heard of writers who've queried on bold-coloured or specialty paper so that it stands out in the slush pile! As Katherine says, it's not the kind of attention we should be looking for.

    Great reminders here, thanks!

  6. @Kim -- hi! Thanks for giving me a chuckle. If only we could rely on our family's responses.

    @Carol - glad you stopped by.

  7. Good post, thanks so much to both of you for sharing this. Appreciate the info!

  8. Great advice. Isn't stapling a twenty to the first page of the manuscript also a no-no?

  9. More good advice!
    Thanks for sharing!

  10. Thanks to everyone for your comments! I never thought of the "stapling a twenty" example, but I've heard of writers who try other "bribe" methods, or the super-pushy approach: nagging everyone they know who works for any sort of publisher to "put in a good word for me"; going to writers' conferences with twenty copies of a completed manuscript and ambushing editors in the bathroom with demands to read it; telephoning the publishing house a week after mailing a proposal to ask if anything's been done with it yet. Again, it gets all the wrong kind of attention.

  11. @Karen, I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for commenting.

    @Chris, if you sent me $20 bucks I'd definitely be your agent. LOL. Guess that doesn't count, eh?

    @Carol, great to see you again. Happy writing.

    @Katherine, it is always such a pleasure having you as my guest. You are doing great things for so many writers. Bravo.

  12. Wow, Katherine! You have hit on my biggest problem as a writer! I have to constantly consciously (double adverb-yikes!)check myself to make sure I'm not getting preachy, especially with my 'near future' stories. Thanks for a great & helpful post!

  13. Patti, on behalf of Katherine, you are very welcomed. I've made a few of these mistakes, myself -- okay more than a few! But isn't it great to have a checklist to follow? Katherine is a big help.


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