Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 2

Welcome back to Practial Meerkat’s etc, Week Two.  Today, we discuss Not Screwing Up (the things you can avoid).

A lot of advice to writers – very good advice – involves taking an active role in your career, standing up for what you want, and not letting anyone else put you in the corner.

This isn’t that advice.

I am here today to tell you that one of the most invaluable assets in your career is knowing when to sit down and shut up.

(necessary disclaimer: when I told one of my editors the topic of today’s post, she, um, smirked.   I say again: let my mistakes be your classroom.)

This post was triggered by seeing writers bitching about their career path in public, in each instance making assumptions that I knew were wrong.  And even as I empathized with their frustration, all I could think was “oh, no.  Just…no.”

The nature of publishing – the writer working on their own, and then handing the results over to a team of (mostly)  faceless individuals identified only by their function (“production,” “sales,” “store buyers,” “readers”) – can lead to both a sense of frustrating helplessness and,  occasionally, to ire directed against the individuals that we can identify: our editors .

And that is a mistake.

Don’t get me wrong: your publisher is going to do things (or not do things) that will make you fume.  It’s inevitable, and griping to our peers and loved ones about such things is a time-honored tradition.

However.  And yes, there is always a “however.”  Blaming your editor for these things in public  is risky, to say the least.  Why?

Because the nature of publishing is also that the writer is protected from much of the daily scrum of the business.  No matter how we educate ourselves on the process (and I strongly recommend that), we aren’t there on the front lines, hearing the daily battles.

And that’s how it should be.  Trust me.  No writer should be privy to the daily crap and conversations that tear us down to our basic sales elements.  What happens in the pub meetings, the sales presentations and the post-mortems, is brutal and callous and necessary for the machine to function.  And that’s true if you’re published by a megacorp, or your neighborhood small press.

Is that fair?  Oh hell no.  That’s why we have an editor.  Yeah, s/he is the one who gives you the bad news, the target when shit goes wrong, disappointments cluster, and you are filled with a sense of WTF at the world. S/he is the also the person who stands up for you, raising their voice to get you a larger slice of the pie, a better cover, a second chance at the promotion dollar, a second or third chance at the brass ring.

The point is – we’re not there when s/he does any of that.  We don’t see it.  We don’t know.  And most of us, all too often, don’t think to ask, or, often, don’t want to know.

I had a moment recently when I thought “okay, is the situation bad, or was it really bad and my people kept it from getting worse?”  And I did not ask, because in that instance, knowing would not have helped me stay sane.

So my advice, which is meant for writers but should be gospel for anyone who relies on anyone else to cover their back: don’t ever publicly bitch about/blame your editor.  Because it’s entirely possible things that went wrong might have gone worse, if s/he hadn’t been in there fighting on your behalf, and just not told you about it because, hey, it’s their job to fight for you, and let you keep on with your job, unruffled by doubt.

And we should never make them sorry they did so.

Next Week:  How I stopped worrying and learned to love my synopsis.

Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, most recently the urban fantasy PACK OF LIES, and WEIGHT OF STONE, Book 2 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy.  Her first collection, DRAGON VIRUS, will be published by Fairwood Press in Spring 2011.  For more info check her website , her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman)  And yes, her nickname really is meerkat

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About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at https://www.patreon.com/LAGilman Learn more at www.lauraannegilman.net, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.

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Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 2 — 7 Comments

  1. That’s very sensible. Indeed, in almost all similar circumstances, it’s much more sensible — and professional — to complain in private, when you have to complain.

  2. It’s also unprofessional, and dumb. I’ve only ever once gone public about a publisher (not an editor) and that was after severe provocation. Complaining, carping, bitching, whining and moaning are time-honoured pursuits in the writing community….but not where you can leave a paper trail that can come back and bite you.

  3. Liz – yes, exactly. I know people will say “but what about when something IS the editor’s fault? Aren’t you allowed to bitch about it then?” And my response is – no. You can bring it to public notice if all else fails (and I do mean ALL else) but that’s a different thing entirely.

    And we should never assume that what we -think- are private conversations won’t go public, if it’s online. Ask any politician…

  4. One of the things that makes me shake my head: the assumption of malice, as if an editor (or publisher or production editor or artist or whoever) got up one morning and said “Well, how can I screw up Leslie Ann Author’s book today?” Publishers want the books they buy to do well. They don’t have the resources to do a full bells-and-whistles launch for every book, or even for most of them, but seriously: they want the books to sell, because that’s what supports the company and the lavish lifestyles of all its employees. (Insert hysteria-tinged laughter here).

    People screw up. Or make a well intentioned choice that turns out wrong. Or something gets dropped between transmission from Moving Part A to Moving Part B. And the results can be heartbreaking to an author. But imputation of malice–especially at the top of your lungs–is such a bad idea.

  5. I think this is also excellent advice for the newbie trying to break in. It is a frustrating, dispiriting process, submitting time after time, waiting for glacial epochs, and then being turned down with either boilerplate or a quick paragraph.

    But bitching online about how editors in New York have no taste–all they want is commercial drek–they wouldn’t recognize genius if it bit them in the ass–yadda yadda, is not conducive to conveying an aura of professionalism.

    Not to say that all editors (or agents) have time to troll the net to read all the musings of everyone in their slush pile. But I keep hearing over and over that a project with a big “if” over it might get them to explore further, and if they encounter signs that the writer might be difficult to work with, it’s easy to shove the project in the return SASE and turn to the next on the pile.

  6. I’m in agreement with what everyone’s said.

    Also consider this: venting frustration is one thing (and there are more and less productive ways to do it, chopping wood and hand-kneading bread being two of my favorites). But sometimes we create the illusion of necessity of putting the public record straight. We take responsibility for aspects of book production that aren’t within our control, as a if a cover design that doesn’t meet our approval constitutes moral turpitude on our part. We feel the need to publicly defend ourselves. But no such need exists and our energy and time are much better spent in improving what is within our power — writing a better book next time.