So, if you’ve read my last couple of posts, you’ve met my warm, fuzzy persona (I hope!). Today, let me introduce you to my darker side, a facet of my personality forged by those types of experiences that make you want to knock your head against the nearest wall.
Or maybe slap somebody.
Don’t worry. I get over it. In general, the warm fuzzy me overcomes my darker instincts in short order. But there are some residual effects, sometimes.
Once upon a time, I had a friend who wanted to write a book. Because she was a friend, I gave her a LOT of advice. I told her about Writer’s Market and a wealth of other writers’ sites. I recommended my (fabulous!) local romance writers’ group, and told her about the wonderful resources it and RWA could offer. (She kind of looked down her nose at that. She wasn’t going to write romance.)
I should have known…
(In case you were wondering, what I did right there? That’s known as foreshadowing.)
A little while later, I found out she’d contacted a writer friend of mine that she’d met at a lunch we’d all attended and asked my writer friend if she’d introduce her to her agent.
When I approached her and informed her, in a friendly yet firm way, that she’d done something extremely inappropriate, she basically told me that my friend and I were being obnoxious and self-important.
That was the beginning of the end for us, though it took a couple of other similar conversations before I finally saw the light.
It’s shocking the number of such stories I’ve heard from people I know, published and unpublished. (Did you see that tragically hilarious video posted at the How to Write Shop a few days ago? You can’t imagine how often writers hear that type of thing…)
So if you’re thinking of writing books and don’t want people who know anything about the industry to run for the hills when they see you – or worse, write annoyed blog posts about you — here are a few slivers of advice:
It is not anyone’s job to give you advice. You will probably find that there are plenty of authors and near-authors who are genuinely happy to give you some (especially romance authors, because they tend to be very generous), but be advised and aware that they are under no obligation to do so.
If someone – especially someone who is published – does give you advice, understand that they are doing you a favor. Overly fawning gratitude is certainly not necessary, but simple appreciation is a gracious response.
If someone draws it to your attention that you have stepped out of bounds in some way, don’t argue with them. Yes, I know, I can hear the protests already. But what if I didn’t do something wrong? What if I’m right and s/he’s wrong? Well, there very well may be situations where that’s the case. Ultimately, you’re going to have to make your own choices on those. Me? I’d say err on the side of caution. Thank them for their opinion, and move on. Even if you disagree with them. Chances are arguing with them isn’t going to change their minds. And it might make them really annoyed.
It is unacceptable to ask a writer to introduce you to his/her agent. The relationship is a professional one, and those are things you have to forge yourself, through your own talent, research and hard work. If you are lucky enough to have a writer offer to introduce you to his/her agent, then accept, but realize it’s not a sorority where you get in because you have the right friends. The writer is offering because s/he trusts you emotionally and professionally, but it will still be up to you to make a good impression, write a good introduction/query/synopsis/book, and/or whatever else the agent asks for. Be grateful and be professional.
Having said that, I want to underline the following:
It is very bad form to ask published authors to read your work. Especially if you don’t know them. If you develop relationships with authors – and this doesn’t mean sitting in the audience of no less than 3 of their workshops, it means having real conversations with them, that they are engaged in; that they know your first name without having to think about it too hard; and possibly the name of someone who’s important to you and not standing right next to you as you’re talking (like a husband, or a child, or a dog)…Sorry, where was I? Oh, right – so, if you develop real relationships with authors, at some point it may be acceptable to ask.
And if you ask, and they say ‘yes’, and they read your work, and they comment on it, then the appropriate response is THANK YOU.
EVEN if you disagree with every word they said.
If you’re so sure you know better, then send it off to an editor and get it published. No conversation necessary.
I am friends with a number of authors. And many of them have read my work. And I am SO grateful! Once, when I asked an author I like personally and admire professionally to read a few pages, she agreed, with the warning that she would be brutally honest.
Okay. No problem. I’m asking for advice, right?
Boy did she bake my writing! I mean, she said a few nice things, and then she just slammed me.
Never got a better critique in my life.
Now of course it helped that I agreed with her, and I totally saw the flaws she was pointing to. But even if I hadn’t agreed with everything, I still would have sent a very grateful, appreciative note.
Because she’s one busy lady, and she has deadlines and more deadlines, as well dinner to cook and clothes to wash and carpool to drive. And she took valuable time out of her very hectic schedule to do me a favor.
After I sent her the e-mail saying ‘thank you’, she wrote back – to thank me. For being so professional. For not arguing with her comments. For allowing her to be brutally honest and not getting upset about it. For thanking her.
I was bewildered. Astonished. “Really?” I wrote back. “People do those things?”
“Really,” she replied. So much so, apparently, that she rarely looks at anything beyond manuscripts she judges in contests.
So be warned. I know I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth more often than I’d wish. I’ve been flip and come across as offensive. I’ve given advice that was taken poorly, or been so misinterpreted that I’ve felt we were talking about two different conversations.
But I try very hard to be respectful.
And when anyone does nice things for me – especially published authors – I remember to feel, and to say, THANK YOU.