It’s three weeks post-SCBWI Nationals, I’m still feeling buzzed by the Morning-Afters. I haven’t quite yet moved all the way back into my life. It is rare an hour goes by that I don’t have some flashback to a speaker or workshop, or even one of Lin Oliver’s fastbreaking witticims.
One of the sessions that has packed a punch for me was Elizabeth Law’s PROtrack session entitled “How to Broaden Your Audience, Navigate Different Houses and Other Thorny Questions.” Elizabeth Law is the VP and Publisher of Egmont Books USA launching its first USA list this Fall. Egmont, based in Copenhagen, celebrated its 130th birthday recently and it a non-profit publishing company with supports children’s charities. (Anyone else out there want to drop everything and go get a job at Egmont?? I'll drive.)
I took very few notes from this session because Elizabeth was blowing my mind with her answers to said “thorny questions”. I can’t recall if we ever got around to the “broadening” or “navigating” part of her presentation. We were derailed on an issue that many of us appeared to have trouble with—fear of bothering our editors, otherwise known as Editusphobitus. The assumption behind this phobia is that all editors are busier than God Herself, and we shouldn’t interrupt them in their Very Important Work. Unlike our own work, which is leisurely and less important-- merely creating the books that they are very busy with.
We were all shocked by the number of us that were caught up in this mind game. It isn't just me? Elizabeth heartily encouraged us to get over it, and recognize that our editors (and agents!) are our business partners.
Business partners? Wow. That really hit me. Not demigods? She said she welcomed hearing from her authors, as it gave her a needed break from the left-brained side of her work. She reminded us that editors do have modern technology at their disposal, and can easily let their calls go to voice mail and ignore their email/TM/Twitter, if they don’t want to be disturbed. Oh! Right.
I’ve been chewing over my own reticence and reluctance in this matter. It has a eerily familiar feel to it. In the five or so years that I’ve worked with my editor, I can’t think of a time when I have ever spontaneously called her, unless we had a phone date set up. I’d be just as likely to pick up the phone and call Michele Obama or Oprah, or Stephanie Meyer.
Would I have liked to talk with her? Yeah. There have been a number of times when I’ve been perplexed by an editorial direction, and I bulldogged my way through it. Even though she has continued to extend herself to me in the most gracious way possible over the years. Or, I've contacted her on email because calling just seemed so hard. Though, I would have loved to do some of the kind of brainstorming that doesn't translate well on email.
The eerily familiar piece? While I know that there are some funny, perceived inequities in the author/editor relationship supported by the historic language of the process, e.g. submit, reject, solicit, acquire, rights for sale, work as slush, payment in royalties-- I don’t think that is the whole story. This isn’t the first time I’ve been actively practicing avoidance with someone. In fact, it is the once dance that I have completely mastered. Heck, I’m ready for Dancing with the Stars! Any other agile and accomplished avoiders out there want to be my partner?
I know I've shared here that in my lifetime I've been afraid of Santa Claus and my own grandmother, but I've also avoided a host of others that were important to me... teachers, bosses, people I've had crushes on, and my college advisor (that was such a bad idea). Needless to say, this has caused problems, and more than a few misunderstandings. Now I'm doing the same thing with my editor. Why? I know better. It's because I'm shy, which seems like such a funny thing to still be saying at this decade in my life. It's as true now as it was when I was three and hiding in the closet. Not all introverts are shy-- I just happen to be both. But because I have to live and work in the world, when I need to, I can behave as if I'm not. Some days, though, it is like walking over hot coals in a pair of Crocs. Safer to stay in the shadows and corners.
Marketing and promotion begin even before we sell a book. It begins when we choose this profession, and type Chapter One on a blank page, or pick up a paintbrush. It continues when we attend a conference, a book-signing, a critique group. Yes, New York is overwhelming, and its inhabitants seem so very sophisticated and glamorous. And busy. I suspect some of them might be just like us-- introverts that worry about interrupting writers and artists in their Very Important Work. It always comes back to the advice that we give here time and time again. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. New York is huge. My editor is not. Nor is yours. She or he is just one person in a giant building making books for kids. They're a lot like us.
If you're not talking to your editor or agent and bookseller and you need to, or you're not following up on a query that's nearly geriatric, let's borrow from the collective strength of the tribe here. We owe it to our work to make sure we get the input and attention we need for success. As introverts, one of our most important self-care skills is knowing where and when to invest the finite energy we have for engagement. New York and the members of our current or future publishing team is THE place. Elizabeth, thanks for the wake-up call!
Dare me to call my editor this week? Double dare me, and I just might. (Just so you'll know, I'm going to need a lot of dares to do this.)
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Lastly, a number of you sent me your book launch information, and I'll be posting that in the sidebar each month. I think we have a couple of you with September books ready to be heralded so stay tuned. Appreciate all the info. Keep it coming!