Saturday, December 6, 2008

It's Not Personal, It's Business

That’s a quote from one of my favorite movies. Not The Godfather, although I’m told that’s where the quote originated. But Tom Hanks says it to Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail. He’s the owner of a B&N style mega bookstore chain, she the owner of a small, local bookstore. She can’t believe he’s destroying her business; he can’t believe he’s falling in love with her. Sigh. Great movie.

But back to that quote. I think it applies very well to what we do here at TWRP. Most of us write because we have a passion for it. Writing isn’t a path you choose so much as one that chooses you. Most writers I know can’t not write. Even if they wanted to stop, the stories would keep coming. And when you regard your creations as your “baby,” it’s easy to forget to be on your best behavior when someone rejects—or asks you to change—that creation.

Which brings me to the point of this blog. There are two types of authors we deal with here at TWRP. The professional author. And the Unprofessional author. Let’s talk about the differences.

The Professional author makes it a point to know the romance industry. She reads trade magazines, may or may not belong to RWA, and reads within the genre she writes. She knows about POV, pacing, showing versus telling and conflict. She critiques, either with a group or a partner, takes their criticism objectively and is always ready and willing to learn more about her craft.

The Unprofessional author doesn’t pay attention to any of those things because that’s not her style. POV, pacing, showing and conflict are unimportant to her because she has written The Great American Novel (her mom even said so!). And so what if the hero and heroine don't even meet until page 345 (of a 700 page book) she wants –no demands!--an editor love her story just the way it is. She doesn’t critique. She’s tried that before, but everyone she met was an idiot who didn’t “get” her story.

The Query.

Professional Author reviews the submission guidelines to ensure that the story she is planning to submit fits within the guidelines. When the editor requests a partial submission and tells her she will hear back in sixty days, she marks her calendar and moves on to the next project. Should day sixty come and go with no response, she sends a brief note to the editor, because it is entirely possible, in this cyber age we live in, that the editor’s response was lost somewhere in cyberspace, or that she, the author misunderstood.

Unprofessional Author doesn’t care about the guidelines; when the editors see her story, they’re going to love it so much the guidelines won’t matter. She receives a request for a partial and an assurance from the editor that she will hear back within sixty days. Two days later, Unprofessional Author emails Editor to ask if she’s had time to read her story yet. Does she like it? Unprofessional Author is thinking of changing this, that and the other thing, and what does Editor think she should do? Editor politely responds that she hasn’t had a chance to look at the submission yet, and requests Unprofessional Author hold off on any changes to the MS until Editor can have time to look it over. The following week Unprofessional Author again emails Editor to let her know she has made major changes to the plot and would like to re-submit the new version. Editor agrees and the author sends it. Throughout the next sixty days, Unprofessional Author emails Editor at least 57 times asking if she’s read the story yet and what she thinks. When day sixty comes and goes and Editor doesn’t get back to Unprofessional Author, Unprofessional Author fires off a nasty email basically calling Editor every name in the book for not getting back to her, curses her first born and all future generations of Editor’s family and goes on and on about how she, Unprofessional Author, didn’t want to be published with some small time press where she’d probably only ever five dollars in royalties anyway. Editor responds that she actually requested the full four days ago and tells Unprofessional Author what email account the request was sent to. Ooops. Unprofessional Author forgot that she had used that account with her original query and didn’t think to check it.

The Rejection.

Professional Author, while undoubtedly crushed that her story has been rejected, politely thanks Editor for her time and her thoughts. Professional Author gives herself a day or two to wallow in her disappointment, then reads the letter again. Maybe Editor had some valid points. Editor did say that she’d be willing to consider the story again if certain things were addressed. Professional Author contacts her critique partners, asks their opinions and makes plans to re-work the areas of the story Editor mentioned.

Unprofessional Author fires off a nasty email to Editor, snidely thanking her for wasting her valuable time and reassuring Editor that she’s made a huge mistake because everyone who has ever read this story has loved it. Editor is missing out because when this story sells it’s going to make a lot of money. Unprofessional Author is going to tell everyone what a lousy publishing house TWRP is and she’s going out on all her loops to tell people not to submit here because we obviously don’t know quality work when we see it. How dare we ask her to cut 400 pages and change so much? The next day, Unprofessional Author sends the story back to the editor, having cut 390 pages and fixed the conflict, pacing and POV issues overnight.


Unprofessional Author proceeds to bombard Editor with a series of emails. Every time she re-reads the rejection letter, she finds something else Editor said that she disagrees with and repeatedly emails Editor with her angry thoughts.


Knowing full well that Editor doesn’t know what she’s talking about, Unprofessional Author waits a few months, then resubmits the unchanged story through the query process as a new query. They’ll never know it was previously submitted and rejected.

The Contract.

Professional Author understands that edits will need to be made to her story. She may not always agree with what Editor asks of her, but realizes that she has signed a contract and the edits are part of the agreement. Maybe that scene she loved so much really doesn’t move the story forward. Maybe the first chapter really is merely back-story and can be removed, even though she loved that chapter. Professional Author realizes that Editor is not trying to destroy her story, she’s trying to make it tighter, more marketable and make it fit in with the stories TWRP sells and TWRP readers expect.

When the edits are complete, Professional Author patiently waits for her release date, understanding that it’s something Editor has no control over. When she receives her final PDF copy of her story and her release date, she realizes something –the story really is stronger now. She mentions to Editor that she has two more stories she’d like to submit, one for Editor’s line, and another that may fit another line and asks how she should go about submitting them.

Unprofessional Author argues over every little comma, and sends links to websites and grammar resources to show Editor that she, Unprofessional Author, is correct and Editor is mistaken. She bristles at being asked to remove her adverbs—she really thinks all those “ly” words add flavor to her story-- that’s her voice, after all! And how can Editor ask her to remove that vital scene written from the point of view of the heroine’s cat? It’s necessary to the story! Meanwhile, Unprofessional Author is out on the TWRP loops telling her fellow authors that she has the worst editor on the planet and she never wants to work with this editor again because she’s so stupid (she doesn’t give Editor’s name, of course, but people will still know out who she mans). After the edits are complete, Unprofessional Author bombards Editor daily via email for a release date. She needs one fast because an elderly aunt wants to read the story and the old gal could die any day now.

When Unprofessional Author receives her final PDF copy and her release date, she complains that the date is too far away. Other authors she knows who are published elsewhere had their stories released much faster. She still hates that cover and she isn’t even sure she wants to tell anyone she has a story out with us because it’s so bad now that Editor made her take out those commas and adverbs. She then sends Editor, via email, six more stories that she has written recently. Just to get her opinion on them…

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. *G* And I know you’re thinking, Come on Nic, you’ve exaggerated some of this stuff just to make a point. Sadly, I didn’t. All the above examples of unprofessional behavior are things that I’ve either personally encountered, or my fellow editors have encountered.

I also want to stress that I’m not implying you can never disagree with your editor, or never email her to ask her questions. As you know, TWRP is one of the few publishers who encourage author input and we pride ourselves on communication. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel requested edits are unreasonable or extreme and don't be afraid to ask "what comes next?"

Editors aren’t out to “get” anyone, we just want to sell great stories. So the next time you submit, keep those five little words in mind: It’s not personal. It’s business.


MJFredrick said...

I'm sorry, because I know this is true, but this made me crack up:
After the edits are complete, Unprofessional Author bombards Editor daily via email for a release date. She needs one fast because an elderly aunt wants to read the story and the old gal could die any day now.

NicDarienzo said...

I swear on my sweet deceased grandma's grave it's true, Mary.

LOL I'm glad you appreciate the humor. Yes, it's true, but it cracked me up at the time too. *G*

Susan Macatee said...

Great post!

What editors have to go through! It boggles the mind.

Isabel Roman said...

I have to agree with Mary...this post cracked me up! Ah, to be a fly on the monitor to read all that. Actually, better you than me! *G* (And I suppose it never occurred to Unprofessional Author to print out a copy for that elderly aunt so she could read it before she croaked?)

Nic (and all your editors), you have my sympathies.

Anonymous said...

Good blog, Nic.
The title is sensible and apropos, but sometimes hard to remember when you need it.
Thank goodness, the longer we're in this business, the easier it becomes to remember it's not personal!
Mary Ann

Rebecca J. Clark said...

Now I'm feeling guilty for disagreeing with a few of my editor's suggestions on my recent round of revisions. Yikes. I swear, it was only a few.


Old Lady Saloon Keeper said...

Oh, Nic,
I knew there was a reason why I like you so much.
You've been sitting beside me at my computer as I read emails from authors. I thought we'd discussed that before!!
Great job, kid.
Kathy Cottrell, Senior Editor, Last Rose of Summer

Anonymous said...

Lovely, Nic. Thank you for a good article.


Emmy Ellis said...

That was one of the funniest things I have read in a LONG time because of the truth in it.

I have learned to spot an Unprofessional Author a mile off now and actually groan when the signs start to appear. Sometimes I actually want to cry.