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