Thursday, May 18, 2017

Being out in public while on submission

The Amazing and Brilliant conference is coming up in a couple of weeks.

Ordinarily I would wade through a writers' conference with happy anonymity, drink to my liver's discontent, and leave with a few new business cards (which I don't personally carry) go home, and report to my husband that I'm in the wrong career.

Then I'd boot up and carry on.

The good old days.

I'm looking through the attendee list, and seeing death traps everywhere.

For example, quite a few people from Publisher X are going, including Editor Mute who's had my manuscript for months.

Must I avoid him at all cost? Or, must I mention my novel has passed through his inbox?

How about this scenario: I encounter an editor from Publisher GotRox not the editor who passed on the manuscript, but a different editor. She politely asks about my work. Do I tell the truth? (Your colleague hated it) or do I pretend to be wait staff? (Me, a writer? Hahaha.)

Am I over-thinking this? I over-think everything, why not this?

You're a writer. This is par for the course.

Here's the horrible, terrible, no-good, rotten truth: most editors won't remember your name even if they read your manuscript recently. They will remember the plot points perhaps, but most of us don't keep names in our head like that.


Second, a conference is no place to discuss sensitive topics like submissions. If anyone asks how the submission process is going, your one and only answer is "GREAT!" because you never reveal your insecurities, or fears, or fretting to the reading public, let alone editors. That's for friends and family, or here on the blog under cover of OP anonymity.

If asked you say "my agent takes care of all that stuff. I keep her stocked with liquor so I never have to worry about those things."

In other words, you are not on the witness stand, and truth is not required. Most people who ask about the book or your submissions do so because they don't know what else to say. Go prepared with several topics you can steer the conversation toward. This is why you subscribe to the Washington Post. They will have all sorts of odd and wonderful news items that provide grist for the conversational mill.

Like the sea-monster story.

Or the skunk in a Coke can

and in a pinch, sex is always a good topic: and you thought Yertle was king of the turtles!

50 comments:

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ha, I don’t swim in salt water, I wade. I don’t drink Coke and skunks are cute. Sex is the number that comes after five and by the way, my agent handles everything. I paid her 6% at the closing and she gave us a bottle of wine along with the keys.
Oh...wrong agent.
I cannot tell a lie.

Colin Smith said...

So far this isn't an issue I've had to deal with, but I think Janet's strategy is sound. Just enjoy the conference, and get to know people. I'd also say, don't fret talking about your work, even to people you've sent it to. Leave it up to them to remember (or not) that they have your ms. Perhaps Mr. Ed Ittor has your ms and is on the fence. Ed meets you at the conference, and asks what you're writing. You describe your novel. Mr. Ittor recognizes the premise, but says nothing. Of course, you recognize Mr. Ittor, but don't call him out, just enthusiastically describe your story. Ed gets excited for your story, and hurries back to his hotel room that evening to make you an offer. It could happen! :)

AJ Blythe said...

Sex comes after five... didn't realise you were a Kiwi, 2Ns =)

Janet, love those news stories. I'm crook and have lost my voice so instead of sympathy from the family all I get is gales of laughter at the squeak that is my voice, but those stories made me smile.

OP, agents meet so many writers at conferences I'm sure they all start to blur together. Even if your name rings a bell they will probably fret they met you in the bar the night before and have just introduced themselves like it was the first meeting.

If you are worried, some good diversionary questions (like Janet suggested) will be all you need.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

AJ, Kiwi, I wish.
I'm something other than what I used to be before I was a compendium of something else. Regarding sex after five...it's five O'clock somewhere.

Donnaeve said...

Here's what struck me as funny. Writers go to conferences, and depending on the conference, so do all sorts of publishing industry types. What do you get to talk about at the writing conference, and how do you go about talking about it?

You talk about sea monsters. Skunk in a Coke can. Sex. And you get to lie.

Dang, I knew I was missing out by not going to more of these shindigs!

Seriously, just like advised, you don't talk about your submission, OR if it gets brought up, you downplay anything to do with it. It's early days yet! We're just getting started! My agent's handling it all, hey did you see Writer So and So? How cool sh/e's here!

Should you have that chance encounter, you'll know now not to say, "hey, how's my ms looking to ya, good, eh?"

Theresa said...

Yes, what Donna said. OP, remember not to do that and you'll be fine. And I think it's always a good idea to ask people about their work.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

So, this brings up a question on the same subject. I am going to New York for the WDC in August. My book is with a professional editor right now, and I hope to have it with beta readers next month, although that may be a bit overly optimistic. In this case, I will only be on the cusp of ready to query. I have signed up for pitch sessions. However, I do not believe I will be ready to query by August. I am certain I will still have further revision, based on beta reader feedback. Furthermore, depending on what the editor finds or recommends my revisions prior to handing the manuscript over to beta readers may take longer than anticipated.

Is it wrong of me to take advantage of the pitch sessions if I am still a month or so off from having the book fully revised? Can I have the agents at the pitch session simply look at my query letter? Our dearest, shark-toothed queen will be providing her expertise in her famous query class at the conference as well. Would she want to see my query letter as well so she can eviscerate it in front of the class? I would be totally cool with that. Any amount of pain so that I don’t die again in the query trenches is worth it. How do I best utilize the conference to get my query into the top possible shape without ending up back in Carkoon with kale and no friends?

And so the Game of Tomes continues.

RachelErin said...

I will need Janet's reminder to just say GREAT to all questions about subs, sales, and skunks.

I am So. Bad. At. Lying.

That's why I tell stories.

Amy Johnson said...

I guess this is terrible, but I was thinking there had to be someone else here who has also seen her/his share of children's television programming and also thought what I thought when reading the piece on the tortoise. But so far, nobody has mentioned the often repeated title line Go, Diego, Go.

Pardon.

Colin Smith said...

Elise: I would say Go For It! If you're concerned that an agent might request pages when your ms is still being reviewed, be honest. Tell the eager agent that the ms is currently with an editor/beta readers, but you will be happy to send it as soon as it is ready. Then when you do send it, reference the conversation in your cover letter, and include the query. That's what I think, anyway. :)

Lennon Faris said...

When I'm speaking to someone, sometimes my brain chuckles and throws to the forefront the most awkward topic I could possibly breach. I don't say it out loud, though. Don't give in! Have your arsenal ready. Ask them what's their zombie plan before you talk about awkward stuff.

Mark Thurber said...

This advice makes perfect sense to me. I was struck, though, by the more general admonition (perhaps partly tongue-in-cheek) not to reveal one's insecurities, fears, and fretting to the reading public. These days, writers have many forums in which to do so, and it seems many do. I was at an event last week in which a debut author was charmingly open about some of her ups and downs in putting the book together. Is keeping a distance more of an "old school" approach? But maybe still a good one at times? Personally, there are certain types of fear and fretting I would probably NOT air in public. I'll save them for this blog! (The fact that we don't leak shows we're family, right?)

Lisa Bodenheim said...

OP, a wee bit of anxiety coming through in your letter. I'd say go for the drink, to your liver's discontent! (love that phrasing) And if an editor shares the bar with you, have a great conversation while avoiding the minefields that Janet has pointed out!

This is great info for me as I've not yet made it to a conference.

E.M.: What an excellent opportunity. I second what Colin wrote. Go for it!

Karen McCoy said...

I'm with you, Rachel. I'd make a terrible criminal. "I did it! It was me!"

Which is why I need to tattoo You are not on the witness stand, and truth is not required to my forehead.

E.M.: Go for it. Any insight you receive will do nothing but help your novel on that final pass-through.

BJ Muntain said...

Many years ago, I pitched a big name agent - a dream agent, if you will - at a conference. He asked for 50 pages. I sent them. And waited. The conference came up again. I saw him there, and I didn't talk to him. Not that I really ever talked to him, anyway, besides the pitch session. I'm sure he didn't notice anything one way or the other, and didn't even remember me.

After the conference, I was going through my correspondence with this agent, and realized I'd sent my manuscript to the wrong e-mail address. That was a head-desk moment of great argggh. All that time at the conference, so nervous because I thought he had my manuscript and was reading it... Desks are hard, and I had to refrain from thinking about it as I was getting a headache.

I so understand your position, OP. I hope Janet's advice helps you around the niceties of this situation. It's really not as big a deal as it feels it is. Even if they really do have your manuscript.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Mark... (I may be wrong, but) I read Janet's advice about not revealing insecurities and fears as more of a "time and place" kind of thing. In other words: don't bemoan how gruesome the submission process is at a conference.

Every author I know shares self-deprecating anecdotes about the angst of writing and their journey to publication. Myself included. I definitely go through life with my heart on my sleeve... and much about who I am is revealed in my books.

Carolynn, As always, you make me laugh.

BJ Muntain said...

EM: Take advantage of the pitch sessions. Agents don't expect you to send your manuscript immediately. You go to conferences to learn. If you learn something at the conference you want to incorporate into the novel you're pitching, that's going to take some time. By August, you'll have a better idea of how much time it's going to be. If you're really worried, just mention that you want to do some polishing with something you learned, and that you'll be ready to send it out in a month or three. They'll nod, say 'great!' and forget you as they listen to the next pitch. Three months later, they'll be reminded in your query letter (because you'll remind them) that you pitched them, and they requested these pages. (Since I usually start my pitch session with my elevator pitch - to focus my thoughts - I put that in the query letter, saying, "As a reminder, this is the elevator pitch I used" or something like that.)

And definitely take advantage of Janet's class. She eviscerates in such a pleasant way that you won't even realize you no longer have your innards.

Rachel: You don't have to lie. You just don't have to tell the full truth. In general, everything is always going great. You have an agent? That's great. They're taking care of things? That's great. And that's all you need to remember. :)

Mark: There's a difference between telling the reading public, "OMG, my editor has my manuscript, I'm so scared they're not going to like me, buy my book anyway, 'kay?" and telling them, "Getting published isn't easy. This is what happened to me - but I did it!"

Karen: Don't tattoo that on your forehead - you'll never see it to be reminded. Tattoo it on your forearm. Then you'll see it every time you go to shake an editor's hand. :)

Steve Stubbs said...

I can empathize with OP for being terrified of writer's conferences. Having one ear hair grow too long is enough to condemn the eternally hopeful to eternal hopelessness. There surely must be book someone has written on how to navigate that field of pitfalls. If anyone knows one, please share. OP could consider traveling incognito and ditching her conference identity later if need be.

I know you made up the story of the skunk in a coke can. But there are true stories about dead rats found in sardine cans, live cockroaches in the coq au vin, and a woman who found a dismembered human finger in a bowl of chili at Wendy's. People who prepare food in restaurants are a lot of fun. The woman who found the finger tried to get rich off of that, but since she put the finger in the chili herself, her suit against Wendy's was dismissed dismissively. It makes great dinner time conversation anyway. I can still hear my last dinner date saying, "Somebody else's finger in my chili bowl! Haw haw haw haw haw." I am still trying to figure out how to take a conversation that started with "Whaddya write?" and somehow spin that to a skunk in the coke can without getting caught.

You can buy a plastic imitation turd from a novelty shop for the next time you go to an event where there is a punch bowl. You've heard the expression, "turd in the punch bowl" I assume. With one of those plastic things, you can make the hostess believe she really has a turd in the punch bowl for real. It really livens things up.

John Davis Frain said...

Couple quick stats:

Diego: 175 lbs.
Me: 175 lbs. (hey, rounding down)

Diego: 6'0"
Me: 6'0" (rounding up)

We look alike too! Yet, he has 800 kids while I stopped at 3. Wow, for a minute, I thought the WashPost was calling me Diego and all I could think was -- MEMOIR!

That's my "You know you're a writer when ..." story for today.


BJ Muntain said...

Steve: Janet didn't make that up. There's a link there to a Washington Post article on that. Poor skunk. Nice Canadian man who saved him.

As for answering, "Whaddaya write?" I say Science Fiction. If they ask, "What kind?" I say, the fun stuff, where people blow stuff up. Then I'll counter with, "What do you write?" Or, if it's an agent or editor, I'll just ask how things are going. If I know them at all - from Twitter or something - I'll mention something they said or something from their biography, or something. My memory for names and things I need to do is very flighty, but I seem to have an intense memory for things I've read on social media. It's a curse.

Mark Thurber said...

Melanie Sue and BJ- Thanks, I think you hit the nail on the head that it's a time, place, and approach kind of thing. We can save our free-floating anxieties for ourselves and the people closest to us, and try to be slightly more organized in front of a crowd. Personally, I always love it when writers open up in a thoughtful and constructive way about their own journeys. I've learned so much from that.

I hear a certain number of talks by energy executives at conferences and the like. It's typically the case that the higher-level an executive is, the less they actually say. One of the most open and interesting CEO talks I ever heard on campus was by Tony Hayward of BP, pre-Macondo-disaster. In the aftermath of the accident I realized that the same tendency to speak off-the-cuff that had made his campus talk interesting served him poorly in his interactions with the press. I guess there's a reason CEOs tend to say so little! I'm glad to be an academic/writer instead.

John Davis Frain said...

Not only is the skunk in a Coke can a true story, but the Canadian savior, according to the article, "said he doesn’t typically speak to woodland creatures."

So ... GOOD NEWS, OP: you won't have to worry about running into That Guy at your upcoming conference!

But ... BAD NEWS, OP: If a skunk shows up in a Coke can, the one guy who knows what to do won't be around.

Sarah said...

Love this post!

Mark, I wonder if the difference is that talking about one's struggles in a self-deprecating way makes others feel better- which is lovely. Yet there are ways of airing our insecurities that make others feel that we expect or need them to do something about it. Immediately.

The difference is how the person we're talking to feels.

I imagine agents get lots of the latter at conferences.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Thanks everyone. I thought I might be on solid ground. Now I simply must compose a pitch and a query letter. I think I might cry. I wonder if I could get a skunk in a coke for the conference - a real ice breaker to be sure. It could help OP too.

This post brought to my mind, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, my favorite children's book. I used it as my audition monologue that ultimately resulted in my going to school in London. I love this blog so much.

kathy joyce said...

You can never go wrong asking someone about himself, and being interested in the answer. If he doesn't answer: "It was nice to see you. Enjoy the conference." If he's rude, same response. Drunk or obnoxious? Move on. Fast.

Mark Thurber said...

Sarah- Also an excellent point! Are we trying to get something for ourselves or boost ourselves up, or are we doing our best to engage, have fun, and be helpful to the people around us?

Sherry Howard said...

Oooooo! Aw! Wow! The links were too tempting to pass up this AM.

My attitude about conferences. Go with zero expectations for personal gain, and be in the moment. Life is too short to worry about every possibility of a social stumble.

Joseph Snoe said...

Comment 1 of 3

Okay, I’m confused.

I would think the one thing you’d want to talk about at writers conferences is writing. Maybe not if you’re an agent or editor or publisher and you do it daily, but for writers like me a conference is a mecca of experiences waiting to be shared and learned from. I want to hear about other writers’ WIPs and their experiences and backgrounds. I could stay home and talk about things other than writing with people around here.

Joseph Snoe said...

Comment 2 of 3

The one time at a conference I talked about something other than writing and books was at a lunch table with a conference speaker and her husband, who was not a writer, but whose hobby was photography. I wanted him involved in the conversation so we talked about photography.

I qualify my answer by saying I don’t talk to anyone at the social hours and don’t stay long. I either walk around or sit at the wallflower bench talking to other wallflowers (about writing and their books).

Joseph Snoe said...

Comment 3 of 3

As a flashback, I clerked for a federal judge who was honored as the judge of the year (it had a fancier title). Supreme Court Justice Kennedy was there for the weekend festivities. At a social at the judge’s house, Justice Anthony Kennedy was talking with a former Judge Godbold law clerk who was a professor at Vanderbilt Law and Medical schools. I wanted to hear what these two brilliant legal scholars were discussing. They were discussing raising kids, a topic totally outside my life experiences. So I moved on.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Our general social contracts require us to lie a lot. Like, when your cashier at the grocery store smiles and says "How are you today?" you're supposed to smile back and say "fine, thanks" and perhaps add "how about you?" You don't regale folks with the real answer, unless they're in the circles of people who care about you.

Or, okay, most people don't regale folks with the real answer, good OR bad, to total strangers. As somebody who was once your cashier at the grocery store (and is currently a library clerk, another very public job), I an assure you, many people will tell total strangers an astonishing array of things.

I think skunks frequently get stuck in things. Coke cans, yogurt containers, etc. They're inquisitive little guys but don't see very well, poor things. And then when they bump around looking for escape, it turns into a Pepe LePew cartoon with everybody fleeing the scene.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

Knowing the polite answer is all that's expected is a relief.

I keep reminding myself--just because you can extrovert, doesn't mean you're not a writer!

(Although, I really need to work on making my answer to "oh, what are you writing" come out a little less like I'm reading off a crib-sheet.)

Donnaeve said...

Prayers for those in Times Square.


:>(

Julie Weathers said...

My day is so messed up I looked at my telephone and thought it was messed up. 10:30 am? Why is it so light out at night? Uh, I fell asleep on the couch and slept there all night. I guess two sleepless night catch up with you.

Cripes. No chance of beating 2N's to first today.

OP, truly, you're overthinking things. Relax and have fun. The manuscript probably won't come up.

I actually have had agents and editors ask me what I'm writing unsolicited while we were visiting in the bar. I tell them and sometimes they say, "And that's how you'll pitch that. I hope you'll send it to me when you're done." Then they hand me a card.

Sometimes just being pleasant and talking about them leads to other things.

A writer's conference is certainly no place to whinge about things.

Elise

Go for it. I'm going to pitch Rain Crow at Surrey if for no other reason than to get some feedback and practice because I detest pitching.

If a person is fortunate enough to hook up with someone at a conference, try to coordinate on workshops.If there are some that you'd both like to attend, but they're happening at the same time, split up and share notes later. The Books and Writers gang does that. We virtually get everything covered and then make arrangements to share notes later, but usually wind up discussing workshops at night gathered around the bar. Of course, topics meander like they might on a familiar front porch.

It's always better when you hook up with someone even if it's just a new friend.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I might go to Surrey this year. If only to see BC, Canada and to meet Julie Weathers in person. And for more feedback if I am still faltering in the query trenches. I am not terrible at the elevator pitch. It's the full query that falls short and then I want to nail those first 10 pages.

Is anyone else from the Reef attending WDC in New York or Surrey this year?

Colin Smith said...

Indeed, Donna. Wow. :( First Born and I walked under that scaffolding just a few months ago...

E.M. Goldsmith said...

My daughter is safely in Brooklyn, but those poor folks in the path of that idiot. Stay strong, New York.

Colin Smith said...

Of course, Janet, I'm presuming you and your colleagues are okay...? :-\

Janet Reid said...

I am at home reading mss today, safely far from Times Square. Most of the injured I'm expecting to be visitors to NYC; those of us who live here tend to avoid that area.

That said, this event started literally two blocks from our office and is very familiar to me.

Yes, this is scary.

BJ Muntain said...

EM: I'm hoping to go to Surrey this year, but money is even tighter than it was two years ago, when I couldn't go. I'm going to try, though. Not being able to go makes me start rethinking this writing thing, and I *need* this writing thing for my sanity, so not going is very depressing and demoralizing. Registration opens on June 7 this year.

Joseph: I enjoy talking about writing at a conference. I'm just very self-conscious about talking about my own writing. I'd rather hear about other people's work. :)

Prayers going out for those involved in that Times Square incident.

roadkills-r-us said...

EM Goldsmith _ WRT Alexander and the ... Day, !!! We got that at a library sale. It was fairly worn out. We wore it out more.
BJ Muntain - Ow. That one hurts.
Sharkly One - maybe you could answer BJ's unasked question on the blog one day: what should one do when one discovers much later that one sent the requested 50 pages to the wrong email address?

BJ Muntain said...

roadkills-r-us: What I did was I sent it to the right e-mail address, not mentioning anything about the wrong one. :) The 'wrong' one was for queries, only, and wouldn't let the e-mails with attachments through. Since I was told to send it in a Word document, no one ever saw the e-mail I sent to that address. :)

Colin Smith said...

roadkills: I would have thought the right answer is what BJ did--send it to the correct one! As Janet has said, we all goof up, and agents understand this. If the agent ends up with two copies of your submission, she'll probably take the last one you sent and trash the rest.

Steve Stubbs said...

Wow. The skunk in the coke can was real. I thought that was a great joke. I had no idea it actually happened. Many thanks to those who responded.

This may be helpful to someone. I found the answer to the question I asked earlier. Enter "writer conference" (in quotes) and the words survival guide into your search engine and numerous web pages come up that aim to help visitors. Obviously I cannot vouch for the quality of their advice. But preparation may help you avoid being transformed from a writer into a "wroter."

Joseph Snoe said...

BJ Muntain

You got me thinking back to the WLT weekend conference from a few years back. I was surprised (at the time anyway) to meet three or four women writing memoirs that could be lumped under “Growing up with a Crazy Mom.” When I heard their stories, I was fascinated. Each one truly had a rough go. One started, “My mother is buried 300 yards from here in an unmarked grave, killed by a drug dealer.” Yet all three or four grew up to be (apparently) normal. The only common quirk is they all (or 3 of the 4) were in professions having to do with psychology.

I met a young man whose wife bought him a ticket to the conference for their wedding anniversary. He was worried his genre (urban paranormal or something) was out of style. I met another who was writing a horror story based on a true event in Alabama and wanted to talk Alabama geography with me. I met several thriller writers, including a doctor writing - what else - a medical thriller. It was so exciting to hear about the creative stores being developed by enthusiastic writers.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

And if you get pressed about your book, give your short pitch even though you've been rejected.

One of two things will happen:

Editor will have forgotten she passed on it or has it on her desk, say "sounds great" and hand you a business card. Thank her and pocket it.

Editor will not have forgotten she passed on it and to cover the awkward moment, either say "sounds interesting, good luck" or perhaps hand over business card out of politeness. Thank her and pocket it.

You now have a funny story for your private group of friends and an excuse to go get a drink. This is win-win.

Terri

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I'm happy to hear Janet is away from TQ...

This is some of the best advice I've learned from the Queen: your one and only answer is "GREAT!" because you never reveal your insecurities, or fears, or fretting to the reading public, let alone editors.

Awhile back she talked about spin. I think there was a post about it but the topic comes up often.

Positive spin.

Open ears and positive attitude. No one wants to listen to a braggart or a Debbie Downer. Those good connects want uplift.

Think about how you want to feel after the conference is over. Write it down before you go.

Good luck, OP.

roadkills-r-us said...

I was under the impression that BJ didn't discover the error until long after the first email was sent. I must have misunderstood the timeline.

BJ Muntain said...

roadkills-r-us: It was about 6 months later. Not too late to re-send.

Janice Grinyer said...

I am glad that you are okay, JR. Reality can be horrifying at times; books are needed more than ever to escape this world to another.

And so we write.