THINGS EDITORS/AGENTS SHOULD NOT DO TO AUTHORS PART 2: LIMPING IN THE FAST LANE© 2011, Vicki Hinze WARNING: This is a no-edit zone…
It’s been a busy twenty-four hours, beginning with the post I wrote yesterday. The response has been astounding. I’ve been blogging since before there were blogs, (since before OneList [which eventually became yahoo groups]). I have no idea how many years it’s been, but it’s been a long, long time, and I’ve written posts that have gotten a lot of responses. Stealing Joy received hundreds and hundreds, but I do believe yesterday’s post, 5 THINGS EDITORS AND AGENTS SHOULD NOT DO TO AUTHORS, might just beat its record.
Two things on that: First, thank you for your comments. I read them all and you kept me up late last night! Secondly, you said such lovely things and I am grateful for your feedback. Now to Part 2…
Life is moving fast for us all. Periods of enormous change are like that. And we’re all trying to get a fix on how things will shake out and what we must do to make sure when the music stops we still have a chair. One thing to remember: We’re all limping in the fast lane—whether we are authors, agents, editors or publishers.
Limping goes beyond those stated groups too. Talk to any sales rep, anyone in marketing, publicity. Talk to booksellers, or those who support books by creating covers, press, book trailers or shorts, run book clubs—anyone singularly involved in the process. We’re all limping, seeking our feet.
The problem is we can’t view the whole forest just yet. Changes are fast and furious. We’re viewing the trees surrounding us, and some of those are blurred. We need a little more time to gain insight and put things in perspective. Even when we do, be prepared: there will be no one-size-fits-all answer.
For some, the traditional route is best. For others, the independent publishing route is the best way forward. For still others, a combination of the two is ideal for that particular person in their defined role in this market/industry.
I know you all hate it when I say this, but truth is truth. Your best path forward honestly does “just depend.”
On what? (See, I can hear you.)
It depends on who you are, what you do, what you want, what most matters to you, and where you are on your specific publishing ladder, and with whom. So many factors weigh in on making a personal best-path call, but not the least of which are your own personal factors.
Too many underestimate the importance of personal factors, even personal preference. That’s a mistake. One this woman has made and can spare you discovering firsthand by simply telling you, “Don’t do that.” Your wants, likes, preferences, goals, objectives, mission and purpose—they all matter. Those are the very things that define your career and shape your success.
Success is self-defined. Regardless of how you define it, the whole of you must be engaged in it or you’re going to fail. So engage in ways that are relevant to you. They will be different, they might not register as success on someone else’s scale, but we’re not weighing in on their sale, we’re weighing in our own.
Our scale is the home to our fulfillment, our regrets, our failures and our success. So forget others’ scales. Watch your own. Measure your own.
I’ve been blessed with a long career in this business, and I’ve only had one rule: I will not write a book I do not love. That’s it. On everything else, I’ve been flexible.
Flexibility is a good thing because so many things have changed in so many ways it’d take books equal to a set of encyclopedias to discuss them all. I won’t repeat why change is good. If you don’t know, re-read yesterday’s post. I will repeat that I’m grateful for change. A healthy market must change and be flexible or get left in the dust. A healthy person must too.
Last night, I watched the political debate. The bickering was frustrating and annoying. Some of the candidates got so caught up in minutia they wasted great opportunities to discuss matters of substance and consequence. We’re poorer for their lack of discipline. But we can learn from their mistake. We don’t have to trudge through that same mud puddle to get the point.
In times of great change there are great opportunities. There are also many opportunities to make great mistakes. Naturally, we want to seize the great opportunities and avoid the great mistakes—and we can increase our odds of doing so if we take the lesson from last night’s debate. Don’t waste effort or energy on minutia while ignoring the 800-pound elephant in the room.
What do I mean by that?
Simply that to seize opportunities you have to open your mind to them. Just because something is unorthodox or hasn’t been tested doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. Evaluate and assess but look at the potential.
Secondly, understand that you’re going to view everything through the prism of you. You might do it unconsciously, but you’re going to do it. None of us can be wholly objective.
Why is that significant? Because if you haven’t bothered to get to know yourself lately (or ever), you can’t trust your prism. Is it seated in logic, emotion, experience—what force drives it? That’s handy info and important to know. It will help you avoid mistakes and see and seize opportunities.
A couple years ago, I signed with a new agent. In the past two decades, I’ve had several. I knew this one was different. How? In our first conversation, he asked, “What do you want?” During the conversation, he asked, “Why is that important to you?” And toward the end of the conversation, he asked, “What three things can I do for you today?”
Bluntly put, I was shocked—but only in the best possible way. This agent was gold, and I knew enough about myself to know he was the right one for me. He engaged, listened, and got specific. He’s the first I’ve had to ask those questions, incidentally. There’s a lesson in that, too.
Now if I didn’t know myself and know what I wanted, what was important to me and why, I wouldn’t have been able to answer those questions and I’d have missed that three-things to do opportunity. But I did know and could answer. I didn’t bog down in minutia. We focused on the substance. And that is the reason that I’ve shared this example with you.
Understand that it’s not all just about you. Those who invest in you and with you need clear, well thought out answers. But before you can give them—or before they can give them to you—you each need to arrive at those answers on your own.
This matters regardless which hat you’re wearing, or where you are in the publishing chain, or how you “think” you should move forward. Stop and really assess so that you factor in all that should be factored in before deciding your course. Knowing yourself truly is essential to your path to success—and it’s the best crutch going during this limping phase.
We will get through it. We will make hard choices. Some will be good ones, some won’t. The best we can do is stop and assess. Now. Today.
Where are we today? What do we want today? Not last year, not three years ago, not where should we be on that five-year plan we did four years ago. Today. We are not the same people we were then. We are not in the same situation we were then. Assessment has to be a fluid thing because we are fluid. We change.
In many of your notes you said essentially that this limping phase sucks dead canaries. True in part, but only in part. Limping in the Fast Lane gives us a chance to start fresh. Everything is changing, so if the applecart is already upset, we don’t have to worry about upsetting it. We can experiment and change too. That makes this a great time to pause, reflect, assess, and decide or discover who we are right now and what we want. Then we can develop a current plan for how to go about it.
If you need help on that, check out my WHY WE NEED A PLAN article. It’s on the blog, and on Kindle. (A note. I can’t put items on Kindle for free. They’ve got to be 99 cents or more. So they’re 99 cents.) But everything there is on the blog here.
One last thing. When in a state of flux (and we all are), and we’re limping (and everyone is), we tend to be a bit more testy. We’re out of our comfort zone, worried, fearful, unsure of what’s coming, and that makes us uneasy. Some get just plain mad. They think they’ve paid their dues and this should be an easy time in their life, not one fraught with challenges. I hear them on that, but life doesn’t work that way. It never did.
So let’s bear in mind that we’re all going through this together. Some of us are more afraid and unsure and worried than others. For some, this is a blip. For others, it’s an abyss. Regardless, it’s also an opportunity. As members of the publishing community in whatever capacity, we all want a strong, healthy industry. We better serve each other and ourselves if we forget the minutia and focus on the substance. And we best serve all if we do so with compassion, dignity and grace. Maybe the politicians will learn a thing or two from us.