More Deadly Attitudes That Kill Writers’ Chances

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 And no one will buy your work out of pity for your unpublished state.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