Thursday, September 24, 2009

Play Nice with Elizabeth White

When people ask me for my number one suggestion for how to break into publishing—which happens quite regularly—they might be surprised at my answer.

Surgically attach yourself to the hip of a successful writer who has agreed to mentor you? Maybe number two or three.

Read how-to books by successful writers, editors, and/or agents? Certainly on the list.

Take a college fiction-writing course? On there, but down towards the bottom.

Join a professional organization for your genre and attend workshops and conferences? Definitely, but still not number one.

So what is it?

Well, it’s what your mama told you when you skipped off to the backyard swingset with your little friends as a preschooler.

Play nice.

And I’m not talking about the fake-smile kissing-up kind of nice. Shortly after I published my first novella with Tyndale and thought I was a rising star (boy did I have a lot to learn), I was invited to participate in a “live” on-line chat with readers and aspiring writers. It was a lively, fun event. More people participated than I’d expected, and folks asked lots of good questions. The hour passed quickly. When it was over, I said goodbye and went off to fix supper for my family. The next day I found out a transcript of the conversation had been posted on the “writers” page of Tyndale’s website. Curious to see if I’d made sense, I read through it—and was shocked at the conversation that had gone on between a couple of women after I’d left.

I can still quote it almost word-for-word:

“So how’s your manuscript going, Jane [we’ll call her, to protect the guilty—and if your name is Jane, it wasn’t you]?”

“Great! I’ve finished revising, and I’m ready to send it out to a couple of agents. This HeartQuest thing is looking promising too. In fact, that’s the only reason I go to these boring chats—to get my name out there in front of editors.”

Now granted, that poor woman would never have said something like that if she’d realized it would be plastered on the Internet. And somebody at Tyndale must’ve gotten a heads-up, because it was pulled down the next day.

But…really? “Getting your name out there” is justification for putting on an act of admiration and teachability? I still get the creeps when I think about the disingenuousness, the downright dishonesty involved in that experience.

Anyway, I learned my lesson about using people. It’s never attractive, and it’s never Christlike. And if I ever tell you I like something you’ve written, you can bet I mean it.

I said all that as sort of a disclaimer before I get to the main point of this article—which is what we in the South call common courtesy. Which, unfortunately, isn’t all that common. A few ideas come to mind, though I bet some of you are going to come up with some to add to the list. Let me give you my top three.

1. The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated, particularly in reviews. Gut-level honesty is indispensable in a critiquing relationship—but “relationship” is key. As my husband, who spends about fifty percent of his week doing marriage counseling, repeats to me often, criticism is a right that is earned only in intimacy—and I would add, in a professional relationship (like editor/author or like an aspiring author submitting to a contest judge).

Personally, I do not mind a review which points out flaws in my work. Well, I mind. But I can take it if the tone is respectful rather than contemptuous. And here’s where the wisdom of the Golden Rule kicks in. Don’t you hope that one day your own published books will be out there for review (if they already are—good for you!)? Think about how your words would feel if applied to your own work.

Also consider the practical ramifications of writing or speaking dismissively about another author’s work. Even if some particular writing style or habit isn’t your cup of tea (may even gets on your nerves), they’ve probably got fans. Maybe even lots of them, as unbelievable as that may seem. Do you really want to sound jealous?

2. Don’t burn bridges. Let’s say a contest judge or editor or reviewer gives you a hard time. Negative feedback. Seemingly excessive requests for revision. Rejection. All three of those scenarios are a regular part of writing for publication. A daily part of it even. Get over it, smile, and be nice. Pull up your big girl panties and keep writing.

Nobody likes a doormat, you say. I have my artistic integrity.

Absolutely true. But while wielding that artistic battle mace—hey, nobody’s holding a gun to your head and making you write for that publisher, but if you sign a contract you’re bound to do your best to satisfy their editorial guidelines—make sure all correspondence, both verbal and written, remain professional and full of Christlike humility. Refer again to Rule Number One.

3. Say thank you. I have found that a simple expression of appreciation to people who have helped me along the way—and there have been many—has sealed some surprising friendships and made lasting professional relationships. Write a short note of appreciation to contest judges, mentors, and critique partners. Email is fine. You’d be staggered to know how many times I’ve spent hours critiquing manuscripts for a contest and never heard a peep out of anybody afterward. No, I wasn’t paid to do it. And no, I didn’t pout. But I did notice, and I felt sorry for them because they didn’t have a Southern mama.

If you’re published, send a little Christmas “happy” to your main editor and agent (if you have one). Doesn’t have to be anything expensive, but thoughtfulness will go a long way. Nobody’s going to fire you or trash your manuscript if you don’t go this extra mile. But people who are easy to work with go to the top of the list, if the work is otherwise equivalent.

What I’ve shared here is nothing new. I’ve read versions of it in course of my own publishing journey many times. But it never hurts to be reminded. Get on that swing and have a great time.

But play nice.

Beth will give away a copy of her new book Tour de Force, winner of the 2009 Book of the Year award to one Seekerville guest who posts today. Winner will be announced in the Weekend Edition.

Beth White is the author of four novellas for Tyndale’s HeartQuest romance series, five books for Steeple Hill’s Love Inspired Suspense and Historical series, and five stand-along romances for Zondervan (which have won sundry awards that nobody but her mother cares about). She lives in Mobile, Alabama, where she teaches high school chorus and piano, puts up with her golf-crazy husband, and takes her Maltese puppy Zoë for daily walks. You can find out about her adventures in music (as well as upcoming novels) by cruising through her website,


  1. Elizabeth,

    What a pleasant commentary to wake up to. You've set my day off to a "nice" start.

    My mom isn't Southern but she considered training in manners as a high priority.

    One of my regrets is when I was a newbie, I didn't even know you could thank contest judges, (after all, their names were shrouded in secrecy) let alone that you should! Now, I did thank the coordinator of the first contest I entered, which came as a natural reaction to someone who had clearly done a ton of work which I benefitted from...

    Truly, it's best if you're not being nice just to get ahead, right? But whatever, as long as you do it.

    Thanks for this wonderful reminder of the importance of being nice!

    If anyone's hungry, I'm having a bowl of oat meal, sprinkled liberally with brown sugar and cinnamon (supposed to be good for your blood sugar, I think?)

    I'd love to win the book.

    cathy underscore shouse at yahoo dot com

  2. Did anyone else notice in the current eHarlequin e-mailed newsletter that Glynna Kay is the featured debut author?


  3. That was a wonderful post. Southern manners aren't always southern. Wen I lived in Japan, my mother visited me. My mother has heard about the "gift giving" practices of the Japanese and knew she neded to bring gifts, but was afraid of making errors. I told her to pretend my friends were southern. My mother didn't miss anything.

  4. Forgot my e-mail: wmussell[at]hotmail[dot]com.

  5. I work with young children and play nice is the number one rule at our house. I'm constantly reinforcing the use of manners, too.

    Do people really think they're going to get ahead by being rude?

    Thanks for the reminder!

    lisa jordan books at yahoo dot com

  6. What an excellent reminder, and not just for writers. I find the older I get, the less thankful I least outwardly. I get so caught up in life and the busyness, I sometimes forget to send those thank you's. Sad, really sad. So thanks for the reminder...I've got some thank you's to write!

    I LOVE the cover of the book! It is gorgeous!


  7. Lovely to have you in Seekerville, Elizabeth. The cover of your book is just beautiful.

    We have scones and tea and for the hardier among us, black java.

  8. Cathy -- I haven't received my eHarlequin newsletter yet. Would you please forward it to me so I can print it out for my scrapbook? THANKS!

  9. Good morning everyone! Beth is the first writer I ever met in person. We belonged to the Gulf Coast Chapter of RWA. She was so welcoming and encouraging while I was so nervous I could hardly find my way to the meeting. (If Sandra is reading this, she's giggling. I'm directionally challeged as she learned in Colorado last week.)

    Beth 'practices what she preaches.'
    Great post! Consideration of others goes a long way.

    Beth's a music teacher so at the moment she's at school. She's join us later today.

  10. Thank you for starting out our day on a positive note, Elizabeth! I've always written contest judges thank you notes--even ones who hated my stuff. :) I've judged contests and I know how much time, thought, and effort go into it.

    Last night I boxed up a fun "little something" to send my editor just to celebrate my first book coming out. Just a little thank you for her believing in me enough to offer a contract and help me make the book as good as it can be.

  11. What a nice reminder to start the day -- no matter who you are or what situation you're in, a little nice can go a long way. Thanks for the insights, Elizabeth -- and I'd love a chance to win your book. I've read some great reviews and am getting back into the dance world through my daughter. It will be a great story for her to read when she gets a bit older!

    leigh at leighdelozier dot com

  12. Hi Beth,
    Nice to see you here too. I am your fan, but I'm not stalking you. :-)

    Thanks for the reminder to play nice. I tend to stay a lurker and not "get my name out there". But Jesus' Golden rule pushed me to speak up when I appreciate someone's work or their humor or anything else because I'd want someone who enjoyed my writing to let me know they did.

    Anyway, since I already have Tour de Force (which I really loved), I don't need another copy but just wanted to say "Hi".

    Congratulations again, for your "Controlling Interest" for winning the Book of the Year award.


  13. Glynna,

    I'm happy to forward the eHarlequin newsletter touting your status as a debut author.

    Please forward your e-mail?

    cathy underscore shouse at

  14. Nice is nice; I so agree. Manners are taught and some don't learn or weren't taught. A little kindness can go a long way.

    thanks for reminding us of this.


  15. Oh, BRAVO, Elizabeth ... you deserve a standing ovation for this one (your 2nd in a week after your BOTY win -- congrats!!). Wonderful post on a subject that is near and dear to my own heart. Common courtesy. Kindness. Human beings who not only have the mind of Christ, but his gentle smile too. Gosh, girl, makes me wish I were Southern right now, I'm so proud of you!

    And I agree, honesty in reviews is important, but to me, the person's spirit and feelings are more important, so I tend to focus on the positive in a review, which I guess means I will never really be a reviewer. One of the best negative reviews I ever received took me to task on several points, but did so in such a gentle and kind way, that I was truly not offended. That's a true gift, to be able to speak the truth and be encouraging and kind at the same time, which like courtesy, is definitely not common enough.


  16. Very nice. Some of it seems like common sense, but as we can all see around us.... common sense has left the building!


  17. Such wise and true words. Thanks for the reminders today, Elizabeth.

  18. Hi Beth,
    I ditto Julie with the congrats for your BOTY win!!! Whoo-hoo!!! Loved seeing your photo up on the big screen when your name was called!!!

    Made me realize it's been too long since we've been together. (Beth and I used to bump into each other at conferences and readers' luncheons.) I'll be at the Birmingham event November 7th. How 'bout you?

    Love how God is blessing your work. He must give you extra hours in the day. Don't know how you fit everything in! You're one of those gifted people who can do it all and do it all so well!!!

    Thanks for the great post. Playing nice and saying thank-you are important points to remember!

  19. What a nice post.

    Eliabeth, common courtesy isn't geographical, or so my Harlem born and bred mother, who hammered that phrase into our little heads, would tell you.

    I've been writing book reviews for several years now. I can say, although I was never mean or malicious, that my approach has evolved as I've matured as a writer. Reviews are for readers so they should be from a reader's perspective, not a writer's. Authors are not asking for a critique, they're asking for a review. What's the book about? What's the theme? How was the reading experience? Would you recommend it to other readers?

    As far as the writer who was outed, although her comments weren't gracious, the Internet has changed the game, and we must all remember that you're never farther than a cell phone away from being made into a global spectacle.

  20. and I thought playing nice was just common sense. Great post for those that need to be reminded!
    Now I have my seekers inspiration for the day my goal is one chapter today.

    Enjoy the day!

    Kerri(who needs to get up a seperate blog so I don't show up as my farm lol. Not enough hours in the day)

  21. Hi, Beth!
    I never write a negative review. If I can't be completely positive and completely honest, I just don't write a review.

    I think pride is a big hurdle for writers to overcome, whether you're published or not. It causes you to be defensive, pouty, and a pain in the butt. Most published authors I've met have been very sweet and down to earth and nice, but I've seen a few cop a diva attitude from time to time. Not pretty. I hope and pray I'm never like that! But I'm human and so I have to keep reminding myself to get rid of any disgusting pride lurking in my heart.

    I liked the devotional given by Dr. Harry Kraus at the conference. He said, remember, you are small, and God is big. That pretty much says it all.

  22. I agree more people need to practice being "genuinely nice" not just "surface nice" in any career choice. And usually it doesn't take long to see through "surface nice" either.

    I will definately be taking your advise and sending a thank you note to the judges of a recent contest I entered, when the results come in.


  23. I just want to say that I wasn't talking about ANY Seekers in my last comment. They are ALL VERY sweet and wonderful and I've never seen any of them cop a diva attitude! And that is the truth.

  24. Maybe I'm just emotional today, but I teared up while reading your post. It's too bad folks need to be reminded to "play nice." Our culture has gotten so . . . snide and sarcastic and . . . unkind. Easy for a person to get her heart bruised these days. Thank you for the reminder, and the very practical suggestions for putting it into practice.

    lauramctx at yahoo

  25. What wonderful advice! Thank you, Beth! Congratulations on winning ACFW Book of the Year. I was cheering loudly for you! Did you hear me down in Alabama? : )

    When I first started writing in 2000, I read one of Beth's books and loved her writing. I contacted her, and she sent me a long email with suggestions on learning the craft of fiction, and she encouraged me to join a new group ACRW (Now ACFW). What great advice!

    I will always be grateful for her kindness and helpful suggestions. She took time to reach out and encourage me. Now that I am published, I try to follow her example and help others along.

    Thanks, Beth!

  26. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post! as a southern born and bred belle, i can definitely appreciate the "rule book" of how to play nice. :)

    The Character Therapist

  27. Ah, if only we all could play nice and be respectful to our brethern all the time. What a wonderful world we'd have. Your words are a beautiful start to my day. I will "pull up my big girl panties" and face all that comes my way today with a smile. Thanks, Elizabeth.

    nvgrams at yahoo dot com

  28. Bravo, Elizabeth

    Can I say I like that name, it's my middle name.

    Playing nice is important. Unfortunately for quite some time the only people who made it in the news were the ones who didn't.

    They play like children who say mama says to share and be nice while they're yanking the toy from your hand.

    At least that's changing some and people are beginning to look at the benefits of being around and doing business with those who are nice in all walks of life.

    It would nice to know that you could believe someone's smile and they're not out to get you. And when they say something negative about your story, it's to help and not sideline you so they can pass.

    kind of reminds you of the handshake our grandparents made, and knew it was like gold.

    It's good to be reminded from time and take stock in how we treat people.

    although I must say you should heed your play nice words, Elizabeth. I was kind of affronted by the 'big girl panties' quote, I represent that statement more than I care to admit...


    Thanks for your post.

    I'd appreciate it if you'd plop my name in the cache for your drawing

  29. Great article and a timely reminder. I'll be writing a post in a similar vein for the AuthorCulture blog next week and may quote some of your sage advice!

  30. How wonderful to have you here in Seekerville, Elizabeth!

    Great timing for your post! Especially after a conference, if you've met someone who lifted your spirits or spoke with an agent or editor who simply took a few minutes out of their busy schedule to chat, let them know! Gee, how basic manners is that?

    Wonderful reminder. My list of notes is growing smaller with each stack of cards I mail : )

  31. Great post, Beth! And as we know, "Play nice" is definitely not just a rule for kiddos to follow - - in fact, I think sometimes adults need to be reminded as much as children do, LOL! ~ Being a lifelong Southerner, I appreciated your references to the south*grin*. ~ Congrats on your Book of the Year! Blessings, Patti Jo :)

  32. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! There has been so much celebration recently here in Seekerville. It's so much fun! I congratulate you wholeheartedly on your success.

    Your post was really great! Like so many others have said, it seems to have come at a perfect time for me. I am in my high school's musical of Kiss Me Kate this year. There has already been so much drama in the first(almost) month of rehearsals. One thing that your post reminded me was to try and stay out of it. If I am nice and pleasant, hopfully others will respect that and treat me the same way. Maybe if I'm lucky, other people will begin behaving the same way!! : )
    Thanks so much!!


  33. Beth--Thank you SO much! I absolutely love the fact that 'play nice' is first on your list of 'how to get published'. I know what it feels like to 'used' and have my flaws pointed out without respect to go with it. I'm so grateful when others go the extra mile to encourage as well as suggest. An agent just sent me a list of weaknesses and strengths in my current manuscript. I did just what you said--wrote him back with a genuine thank you for taking the time and keeping the door open for a relationship after corrections are made. We never know what planks will build a bridge, do we? Or what words may burn it down. Your words are also encouraging because God honors those who seek to give and not take. And above all, I want His direction and will for my life, even if it doesn't look exactly the way I thought it would. Many, many blessings upon your writing, life and ministry to those around you.

  34. Oh Elizabeth,
    This was a wonderful post and reminder...and education. Things I can do as an 'aspiring' author to make sure I 'live' what I believe.

    To quote a well-known talking Vegetable "A thankful heart is a happy heart."


  35. I think nice is under rated. I like nice.

    That's why I'm a Seeker 'cuz they're all so NICE. :)

    Love you guys. It was wonderful to see you all.

  36. Beth, I'm so excited to see you here today!! And congrats on the BOTY!!

    Great advice. And it reminded me of a couple of thank you notes I meant to write today! :)

    You know, another thing that's disturbing to me is that you can google yourself and find comments you've made on a blog a year or two ago. That happened to me. I found totally inane chatter, and I'm always very careful about what I say. But still, it's unnerving to think it's still out there! :)

  37. I'm sorry for popping in so late in the day. I get up at 5 AM so I can be at school by 6:45. [Yawn] This is so sweet to come home to y'all's encouraging and INTERESTING comments! Thank you!

    While I'm here, I'd like to clear up one thing in the little blurb under my post. TOUR DE FORCE is my newest book, but it's not the ACFW Book of the Year Winner—CONTROLLING INTEREST is. But I'd be happy to offer another of my books if you've already read Tour de Force. Just let me know.

    By the way, thank you all very much for the congratulations on the BOTY win. I was truly astonished that I won, and it was an honor even to be mentioned in company with some of my favorite Christian romance authors. I'm sorry to have missed the conference—hope I'll get to be there next year!

    First, big congratulations to Glynna Kay on the debut of your book. That is a most awesome accomplishment! I hope you'll savor every second of this giddy time.

    It's really fun to bump into some longtime friends here. Cara Lynn has been a dear friend since she showed up at our Gulf Coast RWA chapter—I recognized her talent right away, and it's so good to share the anticipation of the launch of her career.

    Same with Carrie T. She's actually one of the first real "fans" I ever had, and we've shared a lot of ups and downs. Carrie, you've been a real blessing to me, and I'm honored to have had some part in encouraging you to keep on.

    Debbie, it's great to see you too. I think we sold to Steeple Hill right around the same time, right? I won't be in Birmingham because of being so tied up with school, but I hope y'all will have a great time.

    A couple of people commented on the cover of Tour de Force. It's my favorite of all my covers. Elegant and romantic and...girly, don't you think? I like the way it contrasts with the powerful, almost masculine title. Zondervan has got some awesome cover designers.

    Leigh, I know you'll have fun with your daughter's dance venture. I took dance when I was growing up, so it was really fun to research and write about it. Ballet is such a beautiful art. I could watch the NYC Ballet website videos for hours.

    Speaking of the arts, Hannah, kudos on being in Kiss Me Kate! You have a lovely name (it's my daughter's name too!). I teach high school chorus and I love love love working with high school students. I hope you have a blast getting ready for the performances.

    Speaking of which, the time has gotten away from me (it's taken me all evening to finish this post), and I'd better get to bed. Five o'clock will come early in the morning! Please come visit me at my website/blog. I'll do a random drawing occasionally there.

    Many blessings to you all, and best wishes for your writing ministries.

    In Christ,

  38. Carrie, I did the same thing. Years ago, after reading one of Beth's books, I emailed her to ask how she made me fall in love with her hero! She sent me back an email teaching me about characterization. Such a generous writing friend! :)

  39. Popping in late to say Hi to Beth!

    Hi, Beth!!!(accompanied by a big wave across the state line between us!!!)Missed you at ACFW. :(

    And for what it's worth, Seekervillians, Elizabeth White is one of the sweetest, playin' it nicest, people I have ever met!!!

  40. Hi Elizabeth!
    That is so cool about you teaching HS chorus!! I'm in the chorus and have been for all 4 years of HS. I love it!

    Speaking of chorus, I have two things that I would love to ask you all to keep in your prayers for me if you'd be so kind. The first is kind of silly, but important to me nonetheless. I auditioned for the jazz choir 2 days ago and I REALLY want to recieve some good news. *fingers crossed* Second, this is really big and terrible. My choral director's(at school and for the entire musical singlehandedly) wife was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this week. The doctors would like and are planning on doing surgery in 3-4 weeks, yes, that fast. Breast cancer is ALWAYS a terrible thing, obviously, but it's even worse when it happens to two truly amazing people and their family. It will interupt their lives completely, but as long as they can get through it, it will be ok.
    Thank you all so much,

  41. Hi, Beth! I am a Southerner, and I understand common courtesy. It is something much appreciated when given, and sadly missed when not shown. A little kindness goes a long way. A little meanness can go even further, but in the wrong direction. Thanks for your insights. gcwhiskas at aol dot com

  42. Hannah, I will definitely be praying for your choir director's family. Breast cancer is indeed something that turns your life upside down. I haven't had it, but several close friends have been down that road.

    Thanks again for the lovely comments. I'll put everybody's name in a hat tonight and draw for a winner of Tour de Force or whichever Elizabeth White book you'd like to have.

  43. Hey Pam Hillman! I missed seeing you at ACFW too! I'm gonna have to make that trip across the state line soon so we can hang out.

    Missy, I remember your first email to me very well. I was afraid I'd bored you with more information than you really wanted in my answer! I'm glad it was helpful. So many people have helped me along the way, I don't think I can ever repay it.

    Do y'all know who Vicki Hinze is? She was a member of our Gulf Coast RWA for years—wrote general market romance and romantic suspense, multi-published and award-winning author. She taught me so much. Well now she's writing Christian fiction for Multnomah. And still helping other authors. Check out her blog, it's amazing.

    Love, Beth

  44. Thank you Elizabeth and Missy so much. This is going to be hard for everyone in his family, friends, and students in class and in the musical.

  45. What wonderful advice. Too often we fail to remember where we came from and Whose child we are. But thank for the gentle reminder. And regarding other author's books--my cup of tea my certainly not be your choice, but we can all drink together in fellowship.
    Thank you for the well written piece.