Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Confessions of a crazed writer
Yes, you will be shocked. You will be horrified.
You will probably die laughing to think mild-mannered Myra could stoop so low.
See, it all began back in the days post-graduation from the Institute of Children’s Literature, when I wrote for kids and teens. I had several magazine story sales under my belt, plus a really cool middle-grade novel manuscript that I was oh-so-proud of. The characters were based very loosely on my daughters and their experiences as competitive swimmers, and as a U.S. Swimming-certified stroke and turn judge back then, I knew whereof I wrote.
Did I mention this was the late ‘80s, when I was much younger and much stupider (at least about the publishing industry)?
But I digress. In those days I was a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which was not stupid at all. This was and is a fine organization. Our area chapter hosted a conference every summer, and we brought in some really big names in children’s publishing.
At one such conference, a popular multi-published author in our chapter gave me an introduction to an editor from a major publishing house that I really, really wanted to write for. The very charming editor kindly invited me to send her my manuscript, which I promptly did.
And boy, did I have high hopes! An “in” from a popular children’s author, a manuscript that had already garnered a sizable amount of positive feedback--this was a sure thing, right?
Okay, so a few weeks went by. Then a few months. This was back in the dark ages before everybody used email, so I snail-mailed a status request letter, complete with self-addressed post card. And another, and another over the course of about a year. Always the responses were vague. “Your manuscript is still under consideration, blah, blah, blah.”
One year became two years, and with every day that passed, I convinced myself that no news was good news. I mean, if she really didn’t want the book, how hard was it to just say no?
I asked my multi-published author acquaintance for advice, and she said I should just telephone the editor and ask for an update. Not counting the fact that the very idea of calling a big-name editor gave me heart palpitations, do you have any idea how hard it is to actually catch these people when they’re taking calls?
Thus began a very un-fun game of repeatedly leaving messages until finally . . . one sunny afternoon . . . she returned my call.
After all these years I don’t remember the specific details of our conversation. What I do remember is that it started out civilly, me asking for clarification about the status of my manuscript, her hemming and hawing about how she was so swamped, etc., would I remind her who I was, which book this was, etc., etc. Eventually it got to the part where she flatly said no, she didn’t want to publish my book.
And that is when I lost it. Utterly, humiliatingly lost it. Few times in my life have I been that angry--and just ask anyone in my family about how angry I can get when things don’t go my way!
To my credit, I had kept writing during those two years, but that didn’t lessen my outrage that she took so long to reject this book. I may have given her a piece of my mind before hanging up, or I may have politely thanked her and said goodbye. I honestly don’t remember now.
The next thing I do remember is screaming at the top of my lungs and slamming around the kitchen with a big butcher knife (I was about to start supper when she called). I scared my middle-schooler daughters so badly that they phoned their dad at work and begged him to hurry home immediately because Mom had gone berserk. Heaven knows what they thought I was going to do with that knife!
I did calm down . . . eventually . . . and neither the cops nor the men in white coats arrived to haul me away to a padded cell. (In addition, no children, husbands, editors, or live animals were harmed during the making of this tantrum.)
There’s a lesson in all this, believe it or not:
Never, under any circumstances, pin all your writing hopes on one submission, much less one manuscript.
To paraphrase an old infomercial, “Send it, and forget it!” Go on to the next project. Keep writing, keep coming up with new ideas, keep getting your material out there to increase the odds of eventually getting that long-awaited yes.
So what is the proper protocol for following up with an editor or agent who just never seems to get back to you? First of all, check their submission guidelines for estimated response times. Allow an extra couple of weeks, and if you still haven’t received a reply, a polite email requesting a status update is perfectly reasonable.
If interest has been expressed but you know the person is extra-busy, exercise patience and allow another few weeks. If so much time passes that you start to think you’re getting the runaround and the editor or agent is never going to get to your manuscript, it may be time to move on--most particularly if this was understood to be an exclusive submission.
At this point you can send a politely worded letter or e-mail respectfully stating that X amount of time has passed and if a decision cannot be reached by Y date, you must withdraw the manuscript from consideration so that you may submit it elsewhere. When that date passes, if you still haven’t received an answer, feel free to do exactly that! (But keep copies of your correspondence as backup.)
In all correspondence, no matter how impatient you become, be polite and professional! As we’ve said before on this blog, the publishing world is a tight-knit community. Burn a bridge with one editor or agent, and you may find doors slamming shut in other offices as well. (Pardon the mixed metaphor.)
I wish I could say I learned my lesson and never lost my cool again with a publishing professional. The truth is I’m not always a very patient person, and I’ve had to work hard at accepting that the only thing I have control over is myself. The only way to survive the frustration is to keep the focus on improving my craft, writing good books, and staying abreast of industry changes and marketing trends as best I can.
Remember, if you hope to gain the respect of other industry professionals, a businesslike approach is essential. The Golden Rule works, too. Treat others as you would like to be treated.
Even if they take two years to say no.
What “writer crimes” have you committed in the course of your career? What lessons have you learned?
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