Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Being a Pro: One Often Overlooked Issue

A popular post from August 2012

by Annette Lyon

Talk to any published writer, no matter where they are on the ladder of success, about their challenges, and you'll get an earful.

A truth: Every stage of the writing life, from your first story until you die (even if you hit the NY Times, get movies of your books made, and end up with actions figures from them) has its challenges.

One of those challenges is that, the more successful you become, the more of your time is sucked up. (I know; it's a problem everyone hopes to have some day!) But it's true: Suddenly, you don't have the luxury of taking five years to finish a novel; you have to turn the next one in by X date. And then there's revisions and edits and galley proofs. And after it hits shelves, there's promotion, and, likely, during all of that, new deadlines for the next book. It's a merry-go-round that, at times, writers feel like they cling to with both hands so they don't get thrown off by the speed of it all.

And this doesn't take into account trying to keep up with regular life, like being a spouse or parent or doing things like grocery shopping and making sure you have clean underwear.

I wouldn't call myself a major publishing success, but I've been published in one form or another for nearly fifteen years. I do freelance writing (articles, technical scripts), freelance editing (for Precision Editing Group and other clients) and, of course, I have my fiction. At any given time, I have multiple deadlines looming over my head.

I also have four active children who need their mom involved in their lives, a husband, and I'm the homemaker of the family.

In the last month, I've had two family birthdays (with another around the corner), two family reunions (one of which required travel and several days), a camping trip with one side of the family, summer school for two teenagers wanting to get ahead on their graduation requirements, family health issues, school shopping (oy!), and more.

I've also had at least twenty writing and editing deadlines of one sort or another (yes, I checked and counted, and no, I'm not making that up). I've been known to stay up late after the family is in bed to meet a deadline. On a family trip, I brought a portable battery to the wilderness so I could work on my laptop in the car on the road and then while camping. I still have multiple deadlines I'm trying to meet.

It's a constant treadmill. Yes, I chose this life. And I'm grateful for the blessings it brings to my family. But it's not easy, and it requires sacrifice. I used to be an avid scrapbooker. I used to watch television. I used to do a lot of things that I simply don't have time for anymore.

Unfortunately, I'm so busy that this includes having to say no to most writers who want favors from me. Even when I really would like to help someone out, I can't without dropping something else--and that "something else" could likely help me pay a bill, which means I have to say no to the other thing.

Without exception, I simply cannot do free edits, critiques, reviews, or blurbs for anyone not in my critique group and beta reader circle (two places where critiquing favors are always reciprocal; it's a must). I just can't do it for others. Sometimes that extends to my publisher nixing a blurb before I can even reply to it.

The crux of this post:
If you're an up-and-coming writer, and get a no, the person higher up on the ladder isn't saying no simply  because they're snooty and they think you're beneath them. They aren't being mean. They may have no choice but to say no. That doesn't make them arrogant or difficult.

I'm not the only person who is (really truly!) too busy and must, at times, say no. This is a topic that has come up with many of my writer friends, and they say they same thing, including the fact that they'd love to help more than they actually can. And that they help less than they used to, because they're busier now than (insert time period) ago.

What's particularly hard about this, though, is when someone asks for an endorsement or other favor and we must say no, but the other person decides to lash back. Even if it's sideways and not direct, it hurts. We're real people too, and we're doing the best we can.

As one of my writer friends said (quoting with permission):

Sure I'll read your book and do a write up on it, if you'll come over and play with my three-year-old, read for an hour with my seventh-grader, do algebra homework with my sixteen-year-old, drive her to and from dance, make dinner, clean the bathroom,  do a couple loads of laundry, help my mom with whatever she needs that day, and then babysit so I can spend a couple of hours with my husband. And that's all I'd ask because I'm a fast reader.

And that was said only sort of with tongue in cheek. We have busy lives, and what time we find that's not sucked up with professional duties is going to belong to our families, and, if we're really lucky, a nap to help catch up on our chronic sleep deprivation.

Knowing how to handle these situations--and being a total professional about them!--will actually help you climb the success ladder faster. Being kind and understanding with any writer, regardless of the rung they're on, will develop for you a reputation as someone who is totally awesome to work with. That may open doors for you, and it will definitely keep them open.

The flip side is that someone who talks smack about another writer (especially for something as small as a "sorry, no") will quickly see that their reputation isn't what they hoped it would be. (Bad form!)

I had an experience several years ago where I gave what I intended to be help to a writer, clarifying a common misconception about publishing. The other person attacked me, saying that they would hope that a "real" writer would try to help other writers. I was stunned.

What this person didn't know is that in the last year, I'd taught several workshops for free. I'd judged three writing contests (providing page-long critiques for each entry) for free. I regularly answered emails asking for publishing advice. I'd spent hours and hours, plus a lot of effort, in giving back. This person assumed I didn't help, judging me, ironically, when I was trying to help.

They have since changed their tune toward me, because they learned, I guess, that I really do help when I can and that I'm not an arrogant turd. But if I ever need to find someone I can totally trust to be a professional in a situation, you can bet I'm not calling them.

The publishing and writing world is pretty small; word travels fast in this sandbox. So be kind. Give back when you can, and say no when you need to. Don't talk smack (or even hint of smack) publicly, because chances are, the person you're talking about will hear about it. And so will their best industry friends.

When you're on the receiving end of a no, understand that if someone really can't fit you into their schedule, it's not personal.

It also doesn't mean they're suddenly less "cool" than you thought.

Remember that one day, if the stars align, you'll be the one who really has to say no.


Stephanie Black said...

Great post, Annette! And thank you for all the help you've given me over the years. I really appreciate your patience and willingness to share your knowledge.

Heather B. Moore said...

Great post! I've been on both sides, being told "no" when asking for an endorsement (many times!), and having to tell others "no" when I've been asked to endorse a book. But I've learned to be patient, and if there is an endorsement that I'm really hoping for, it still might happen--albeit a couple of years down the road with a different book.

Luisa Perkins said...

Well written and much needed, as always!

T.J. said...

Definitely one of my favorite blog posts you've written, Annette.

Have you ever been to the grocery store and seen the kid who doesn't get the candy he/she thinks he/she DESERVES just because he/she exists and throws a tantrum in response? (Not that any of us are that poor parent.) Well, this is what I think of when I see people react to a "no". I hope I'm not the one that's thrown the tantrum, but I've always tried to respect published authors once I learned how much HARD WORK AND SACRIFICE goes into publishing.

Okay, that's tooting my own horn there. Shoot, I've had to tell people no for writing on a blog because I just don't have time to be a regular contributor. I have 2 blogs I poorly write for consistently and I don't even keep the one that got my name out there up to date.

Even the uncontracted, non-published people have to say "no" sometimes.

Regardless of my self-righteous soapbox, bravo for your post.

CTW said...

Great reminders. Be a professional no matter where you are in your career.

Susan Corpany said...

Great reminders, Annette. I am grateful for the time you've spent just responding to my messages now and then. You have always been gracious and kind in my book.

Sometimes people have the attitude that "you're supposed to give back," but it is the giver not the recipient who ultimately determines how that takes place.

Great post!

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

Excellent post, Annette. Like you I give much of my time unpaid to help other writers, and teachers! I wish I could do more, but there must be time for sleep and seeing my husband and children sometime, and I am a school librarian now as well. I've learned to edit for clients and write my own books in tiny snatches of time, but even that is never enough for the long list of projects I have waiting. Someone once suggested I needed a clone, but I'm not even sure two of me would be enough, and anyone who writes probably understands that very feeling about their own lives.

kkrafts said...

Hi Annette, I too have been on both sides. I try to help others as much as possible, but when it comes to reviews for others I normally have to say no, but will do interviews, promos and let others do guests posts on my blogs, but at times even those can be time consuming with formatting and trying to find all the links. Great post! Thanks for saying what a lot of us are feeling. :-)

Katharine Emerson Parsons said...

I loved this post! I tend to treat requests for my free time the same as my paid time. I have found though that sometimes even with an email to a freelance editor that I want to *pay* it takes up to three weeks to get an acknowledgement. It doesn't take a professional long to reply promptly with a "I'm busy working to deadline and can't take on your manuscript for another three weeks." Professionalism is so important.