At the SFF Seven this week we’re asking: What are your favorite and least favorite things about publishing? Come on over for my least favorite and very most favorite parts of being a career author.
You’ll hear this advice a lot in the publishing world: Don’t Burn Bridges. In case the metaphor escapes you, it means to avoid ending professional relationships in a way leaves a chasm between you that can never be breached. For my advice on cutting the cords on professional relationships, come on over to the SFF Seven.
Happy Mother’s Day to everyone, whether your mom was good or terrible, still with you or not, and whether anyone’s ever acknowledged your own mothering. Special love and gratitude to both my own mother – the blonde in our family photo there – and to my second mother, my aunt sitting next to her. I’m blessed to have you in my life!
I’m over at Word Whores – changing to the SFF Seven! – where we’ll be discussing all week the various publishing paths and what’s best for you.
My lovely agent, the vivacious and Bookalicious Pam, keeps a Tumblr where she generously answers publishing questions. I amuse myself by reading through it. Not long ago, an aspiring writer asked her a question about whether Pam wanted to see a book from a particular genre. The writer said:
Should I send it your way (you are my top pick from Foreward), or to one of the other Foreward agents? Thanks.
*minor note that the agency name is Foreword
This triggered a memory from college. One evening our apartment phone rang and I answered. Now, this was in Ye Olden Days and we had a landline phone with a verrry long cord. Six of us shared an apartment suite with six bedrooms off a super long hallway. We’d drag the phone into our rooms to talk. But we all shared this one phone. I just happened to answer this particular time.
A guy on the other end invited me to a fraternity dance. I only vaguely knew who he was, but I was flattered to be asked. Sadly, I had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t go. When I told him as much, he said “Oh, well how about one of your sorority sisters?”
I mean, not only was I more or less interchangeable with my sorority sisters to him, but he didn’t even specify which of them he might be interested in spending the evening with. Because, well, it ultimately didn’t matter to him, right? He needed a date for the dance and any girl would do.
I think my analogy here is obvious.
You know – I get this. I really do. I felt this way back when I was first seeking an agent. They all seemed pretty much the same to me. One big sorority of faceless people who could bestow the boon of their efforts upon me or not. I wanted to go to the Publishing Ball and I really didn’t care who escorted me.
I just wanted to BE THERE.
One of the things you learn over time, however, is that it really does matter how you get to the Publishing Ball. You can buy your own ticket and go. Maybe you’ll be invited as a special guest. But I can tell you this – if you go with the wrong escort, that can suck way worse than staying home alone. At best you might be miserable. At worst you might get date-raped in the parking lot.
Seriously. I don’t think I’m taking this analogy too far.
So, that’s one piece of it. Pick your agent carefully. It may seem that any one will do, but that’s just not so. And I’m saying this as someone who does not believe in the “Dream Agent” concept. Nor do I believe in True Love. Just as I believe any of us could find any of a number of people to make delightful life partners, I think any number of agents would work out great for a given author.
But don’t treat them that way, okay? I mean, that guy who called me up so long ago clearly didn’t care a whit for actually dating me. He never asked me out again or made any effort to get to know me. So far as I know, he planned to ask out whoever answered the phone in our six-sorority girl apartment. Now, WE all know that he missed out BIG TIME, but he wasn’t looking for a life partner. If he was, he went about it in absolutely the wrong way.
What if I might have been the girl for him? Maybe True Love did await us and we would have hit it off, found a delicious mutual accord and gone on to marry right out of college and have brilliant careers, a scintillating social life and a passel of over-educated kids.
(Hey – I write fiction, run with me here.)
The way he treated asking me out, that one incidental time, ruined that possibility forever. I couldn’t go that night – just as an agent might pass on your book because it’s simply bad timing – and by treating me like I was unimportant as a person and interchangeable with any of my random sorority sisters, he not only blew it with me, he blew it with everyone in my sorority. Because OF COURSE I told them about it. It became a running joke that this guy said this to me.
Agents gossip, too. Especially when someone treats them carelessly, as less than an important individual in their own right.
Something to contemplate.
Have a great weekend everyone!
For those who don’t know, that’s the Lyman Whitaker sculpture I bought with my first advance money last summer. Looks so awesome, particularly at sunrise.
And every time I see it, I feel a dual thrill of pleasure – in the beauty of the piece and in my own accomplishment.
At the time, I wrestled with whether to spend some of that money on a fun thing. Then, when I decided I should, it came down to one of these Wind Sculptures or a hot tub. I’m glad I chose the sculpture for this very reason, one that I didn’t consider. Seeing it every day reminds me of the work I put in to reach my goals and is a tangible, beautiful icon of that success.
So important, for all of us.
Because the publishing industry is a difficult one. There’s no doubt of this.
Yesterday I saw this article and tweeted a link to it, joking that the title should be “Authors Not Satisfied by Anything, Ever.” It’s one of those not-so-funny jokes, because the results show that, even after reaching some publishing goals, things aren’t all wine and roses for authors.
Lately I’ve been in the position of giving advice to aspiring authors. Just my karma? Perhaps. I participated in a panel (which I set up for my local chapter, but didn’t intend to be as advice-giving as it turned out), a couple of writers have emailed me for advice and I had dinner with a couple of my pre-pubbed local chapter gals.
One of the gals who emailed me asked about following up with an editor. She finished her email with: Gah! I hate waiting. Please tell me it gets easier?
I wish I could have. Of course, not to pull a Bill Clinton, it depends on what “it” refers to.
Does the waiting get easier? Yes, in many ways it does. Because, as I told this gal, experience helps your expectations align with reality. So when my New York editor says “I’ll send that next week,” I know full well it might not arrive for three weeks. That’s just par for the course. Also, I count on waiting times in ways I didn’t before, because I have so much more going on. For example, I sent book 2 of a trilogy to my New York editor by the 11/1 deadline and he recently confessed he hasn’t read it yet. Do I care?
Because I can’t possibly do developmental edits right now! In fact, I’m kind of banking on him not getting an edit letter back to me before mid-March. (Hear that, Peter? :D)
But, if I were, like the gal who emailed me, really waiting on those edits so I could get that going, I wouldn’t feel the same way. So, yes, Rhenna, in that way it does get easier.
Other things get easier, too. Once of the gals I had dinner with complained about how established and big ticket authors send in manuscripts that are riddled with errors (LKH – we’re looking at you), or that need extensive editing, while aspiring authors have to have every damn thing absolutely perfect, just to get in the door. She called it unfair.
I explained that it’s a test.
Is this a real phenomenon? Sure it is. But the reason is not to conspire against newbie authors. It’s because those established authors have a reputation and a loyal readership. The publisher knows what the author is capable of. Nobody asks me to do a revise and resubmit any more, because my editors have worked with me on several books and *know* how I’ll treat edits. They trust me. In fact, I can sell on ideas now, because they are familiar with my style and how I’ll go from idea to finished book.
Is this easier for me? Yes yes yes! It’s a great luxury for me and, believe me, I relish it. SO MUCH EASIER.
But it’s because I did the work to get there. With a brand new author, nobody knows how he or she will accept edits. Nobody knows if she can write that sequel by a deadline or if he can handle copy edits without pitching a creative tantrum. So, of course, they want it As Perfect As Possible. Just in case that’s as good as it gets.
That makes it much more difficult for aspiring authors, yes. The good news is, that’s part of doing the work. That’s learning important skills that will make it much easier down the road.
So, with a nod to Dan Savage and not to downplay the very important message of the It Gets Better campaign, yes.
It gets easier.