If I make little sense in this post it’s because I’m still suffering the effects of Conference Hangover – a condition that comes from having to be witty, smart, and charming for far too long. As a cranky editor who slithers about her batcave for weeks, rarely coming up for air, wit and charm have their places, but certainly not in my life. Anyone who has met me can attest to this. Though in this case, my hangover could be more than just charm overload since Andrea Brown has made my list of Very Cool Hostess With the Mostest with her free-flowing drink-de-choice in her after-hours Whine and Wine party in her hotel suite.
The whole weekend reaffirmed my belief that the nicest people in the world are in the publishing industry. And yes, I am taking full note of the irony. But it’s true; we don’t come to these conferences because we have nothing better to do. Nearly all of us do this for free. We do this for the love of writing and to meet marvelous authors. It’s no easy task for those who stick their hearts and dreams out there for us to critique and workshop, and we honor each and every one of them.
Even the crankymeisters.
Which brings me to another pet peeve: Attitude
As I wrote in my Ego Check post, authors (and agents and editors) must check their egos at the door because it gets in the way. We (agents and editors) aren’t The Great Cosmic Muffin, and our opinions don’t come from on high via a burning bush. Our opinions are like bellybuttons – everybody has one – and it could be that parts of our advice won’t be comfortable for you. I will say that our opinions come from an experienced, informed perspective, so I’ll allow that authors would be wise to give our words some serious weight.
Which brings me to Ms. Tell-Me-I’m-Great-or-I’m-Out-Of-Here. Ms. Tell-Me came into my room for a private consult. I didn’t get past the first line of my crits when she reared back in shock and dismay. No one has ever said these things about my writing, says she. I’ve had many people read my work. Hmm, methinks, who are those people – her dog groomer and mother?
Why the work was inferior doesn’t matter; it was her attitude that bunched up my Victoria Secrets. I readily admitted to her that I don’t publish YA, to which she injected with drippy acid that her work wasn’t YA, but middle grade. Ok, sez I, you know what I mean. I certainly do, she fires back. I have no idea why Andrea stuck me with you.
I think this is where my blood pressure spiked. “Stuck?” methinks. I know I’m not Random House or Donald Maass, or any of Andrea’s lovely agents. Nor am I the lovely Andrea, either. And this is what I think got her goat. She didn’t want to be “stuck” with a small house editor who doesn’t produce her genre. She didn’t want crits – she wanted a contract or representation. Screw the writing quality, show me the money, baby.
I leaned forward and tried to look intimidating – which is sort of a joke in itself – and said, “Just because I don’t publish your genre doesn’t mean that my critiques aren’t valid. I bring an experienced, informed perspective that you lack. Now, you can either act like a professional and listen to what I have to say, or you can pick up your things and go somewhere else. Your choice.”
She thought about it for a nanosecond and made a career-ending decision; “I’ll go somewhere else.” She picked up her things while I sat on my hands so they wouldn’t reach for her throat. “I’ll have to talk to Andrea about this,” she coughed out. Great idea, sez I. She yanked open my door and told the author who had arrived early for their private, “You’ll have plenty of extra time.”
My point for telling this story isn’t to fish for hugs and offers of chocolate. I’m a big girl and able to withstand an ass-kicking. My point is that not only did she miss what could have been a very fruitful discussion on how to improve her work, but just like Mike Myers’ Coffee Talk with Linda Richman, WE DO TALK AMONGST OURSELVES, and this women committed hara-kiri with her ego-driven outburst. The entire faculty was horrified an author would behave like a spoiled brat on crack, especially when one stops to consider that these conferences aren’t free.
“There’s always one,” Andrea told us at her Wine and Whine party. And she’s right; there is. Every conference has someone who simply wants to be told they’re bloody mahvelous, while holding out their hands so we may we kiss their gilded quills. Yessiree, I got yer gilded quill right here, Ms. Tell-Me.
Subsequent workshops with other agents and editors verified that the author required a ton of work. The vindication was nice because I did second guess myself. Did I blow it, even though the organization and development of a story is the same, regardless of genre? Apparently I hadn’t. But I realize this author has a bigger problem. Herself. She is her worst enemy and the canyon between improvement, encouragement, and rejection.
How damnably sad. Not only will I remember her – which amounts to the dust gathering on the head of a pin since it isn’t my genre – but every one of those agents and editors – who DO represent her genre – will remember her.
Even if her writing is vastly improved, she will never get a chance with any of them for what she pulled on me because agents and editors are no longer putting up with problem authors. Life is too damned short, and there is too much great writing out there from writers who know how to keep their egos in check.
On the flip side, I just received a lovely email from an author from one of my workshops thanking me for pointing out some of the flaws to his writing. He went on to say that he felt like he finally had a solid direction after floundering for a while. Ahh…good stuff.
And that is why we love these conferences. There is nothing sweeter than watching that “ah ha” moment flash on an author’s face after you’ve offered them some help. It’s not about stroking our egos by blessing someone’s work with our mahvelous insight – cos it may not be spot on, yanno? We give our time at these conferences share our knowledge and experience in hopes that an author can rekindle the pilot light of their personal stove and fry up a great omelet. If you’re so busy aiming a flamethrower at anyone who doesn’t agree with you, then you’ll never improve, and everyone will remember you as the token ass.
If you’ve paid for a conference, then be sure to get as much bang for your buck because regardless of who workshops your writing, they know more than you. If you want to be loved and coddled, stay at home and let your dog groomer and mother read your work.
Gee, sorry for the long post. I guess I was more awake than my brain let on.