Inspired by Nancy's comment to yesterday's blog, I've been thinking about career longevity, specifically why I've been able to keep writing for fifteen years, while others have not.
First and foremost, I was extremely fortunate to have, for my first editor, somebody who liked what I wrote the way I wrote it. Believe you me, if there is one thing more precious than gold, awards and good reviews in this business, it is that. I have a new(er) editor now, and she also really likes my work, and the way I write it. Not that she doesn't ask for revisions, but it's always about making the work even better. I never get the feeling she's trying to salvage some horror, or that she'd rather be working on something else. She makes me feel valued and appreciated, and that is truly more precious than rubies.
Which brings me to another point. I simply do not understand the "publishers are evil and editors are out to destroy us" attitude so many writers seem to profess. Without my editors and publishers, my books would not be published. They are not my enemies; they are my partners. To be sure, I'm not tickled by everything that happens, but I understand they are running a business, not an arts co-op. They must make a profit, or...well, good-bye my career, too.
I figure if I want something from them, I have to give them something in return. And preferrably more than they ask for. That, to me, is just good business sense and just about any book on how to succeed in business says the same thing.
And thus I come to another point. Deadlines to me are not some vague suggestion. They are part of a legal, binding contract, and there's such a thing as a "production schedule," to which editors are also bound. If you get a rep for being unreliable with deadlines...well, how keen do you think editors are going to be to work with you?
I've learned to pick my battles. If I'm upset about something and it cannot be changed, like cover art or some other production boo-boo, I don't have a hissy fit. Because nothing can be done. It's water under the bridge, so what would I accomplish? This doesn't mean I don't register my dismay and/or disappointment; I certainly do. I just don't go ballistic -- at least to my editor. My mom may have to endure some major whining, but she's okay with that. And my agent certainly hears about it, although I try not to whine to her. But I once had a hissy about something that couldn't be changed, and afterward, I realized I'd come perilously close to damaging the one thing that I should never jeopardize -- the excellent relationship I had with my editor.
I think there's one other quality that's kept me in this business. I don't take myself seriously, but I do take my work seriously. In other words, I can make jokes and complain creatively about writing as much as the next person, but I don't treat my work as anything less than important. I still agonize over scenes and characters. I still work very hard to get my books as good as they can be. I'm always trying to improve.
When it comes to first sales, there's an element of being in the right place at the right time with the right manuscript. That's true for many writers; it was true for me. However, there are things beyond the writing that will determine how long you're able to keep selling. I've touched on what I think enables me to continue, and you'll notice I haven't talked about how to write to the market, writing the book of your heart, PR, "branding" or the internet. That's because I believe that longevity in this business, as it is in any business, has as much to do with how you conduct yourself as it does with how you well you write. There may be writers who are miserable human beings who still sell, but in that case, the excellence of their writing makes it worthwhile to the people who are forced to work with them. And that writing must be excellent, because editors are people first, and who really wants to work with someone who treats you like the enemy, who whines and complains, and who can't make a deadline?
So unless you're a genius with words, unless reviewers and critics are falling all over themselves to praise your work, unless you sold the first thing you wrote to the first person who read it for a huge advance...well, consider the importance of conducting yourself in a manner that makes you a pleasure to work with, not somebody whose very name makes an editor roll her eyes.