Sunday, August 23, 2009

New York v. Introverts

Photo "Random House" by ChangeinCareer

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.)


Mary Hershey


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tanita✿davis said...

Wow, I *want* to dare you to call your editor, but then, I'd need to call mine. And I'm so not ready. Despite the fact that she's had a book of mine, without comment, since April.

Hm. April.

This... is some mental stretching. Gotta think about this.

Elizabeth Law (a.k.a. EgmontGal) said...

Tanita, how about a friendly email asking about when you might hear back from her, because you need to plan your work schedule? (Assuming the ms. is under contract). If not, drop a line and say you're just checking in, and when may you expect to hear?

I stand by what I said. We truly appreciate that you respect our time and our busy schedules. But being in communication with you is part of our job. And not knowing what's on your mind only leads to problems down the line.


jama said...

Thank you so much for this post, Mary! It takes courage to call an editor, when it shouldn't. Fortunately, emailing has made it easier to set the stage.

Anonymous said...

Mary, fantastic post. I know what you mean about "shyness," which, for me, has somewhere at it's root the "But they won't like me" feeling." It's amazing how much we carry around with us for TOO many years, isn't it?

Double-dare you. Gently. :)

Mike Jung said...

Wonderful post. Just so you know, this is my new favorite blog.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Okay, Mary. I'm sending out the letter today!

And I triple dog dare you to call your editor. You'll be glad you did =)

Boni Ashburn said...

Dare you.

Mary Hershey said...

Okay, I've got one dare, one double dare and one triple dog dare. :-) Thanks!

Hmmm. Not feeling too inspired yet. Might need a few more.


Jennifer J. Stewart said...

I dare you, Mary. Have faith!

Laura Resau said...

Thank you, Mary! This is EXACTLY how I feel... I dared to call my editor for the first time a couple weeks ago(and this after working on four books together...) and it took me days of self-pep-talking to work up the courage to do it. (Well, okay, in all honesty, a little bit of my nervousness had to do with the fact that I was asking for another extension on this manuscript... ;)


Elizabeth Law (a.k.a. EgmontGal) said...

Sheesh, you guys! I am going to start a national "Call your editor" day. The conversation here is very illuminating and I am going to reach out to my authors more because now you've got me concerned that everyone has questions they aren't asking me. But whatever your feelings, please do it. What about setting up a 15 minute phone call via email and writing down all your questions in advance?


Boni Ashburn said...

I vote we just call Elizabeth instead- Ha!

PJ Hoover said...

Fantastic post, Mary! It's virtually hilarious how on the head this is.
Oh yeah, and of course I dare you also :)

laurasalas said...

Love this post. Hate calling my editor (who is lovely and gracious and, as you said, has made herself very available). But I find myself awkward and tongue-tied. I hate talking on the phone to interviewees and other folks--not just editors.

Dare you, Mary.

And thanks for the food for thought!

Yat-Yee said...

Mary and Tanita: hope you've made your call. Imagine your violet friends cheering you on.

Hi Laura! *waving*

And I agree with Boni: let's just call Elizabeth.

Mary Hershey said...

All righty--

If my math skills are serving me (hysterical laughing in the background), I have:

Four single dares
One double dare
One triple dog dare
Total: 9 total dares

I'm going to need at LEAST five more... seriously, did I mention my editor is extremely glamorous???

Elizabeth, maybe you could call her for me?


Yat-Yee said...

I dare, dare, dare, dare, dare you.

Mary Hershey said...

All right! I GIVE! I'm calling my editor. Yat-Yee's five-fold dare has ignited the rocket! Look out--

Thanks, everyone! Wish me luck.