Debating, rebutting, justifying, explaining, reacting...and other ways to waste your precious time, energy, and potential at every juncture in your publishing career (and life)
None of us can whine, plead, or argue our way out of life's messiness and emotional pain. Understanding this is going to be vital not just to your sanity, but to your publishing success.
A surprisingly tough lesson you learn when you’re a literary agent is that there’s just one time and place for getting editors to offer on a book: within the submission itself.
I say this is “surprisingly tough” because on the surface, it sounds so obvious. You mean that in order to get book deals, we have to submit GOOD BOOKS IN THE FIRST PLACE? Pfft, you don’t say.
If you happen to be an aspiring or early-career agent, though, all I can say is: just you wait. Wait until every bone in your body yearns to scream “YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THESE PAGES ARE INCORRECT” at someone or someones.
Wait until you get the first boneheaded response from an editor so clueless about your book’s market and potential that you wonder if they are in fact a literal sea cucumber in a human suit and have been this whole time.
Wait until your submission is tanking and the mortified ghostwriter you brought onto the project — you know, the one who heretofore proved rather resistant to your editorial feedback — sends you and your client a frantic email: [agent], what are you doing?? Get in there and argue! Call every one of those editors right now and tell them why they’re wrong!! Do your job!
Wait until a brilliant author you love with all your heart is begging you to just get me in a room with those people. They’ll get my book if I can just talk it up in person.
Wait for the moment your client has actually made it into that room with those people, and the editor pursuing their project surprises them with a sweeping, bogus vision for reshaping what’s on the page. Like, bogus-bogus. Whack to the max.
Worst of all: wait for the editor who has the audacity to pass on your project in a brilliant, thoughtful manner, making one or more really really good points about what’s missing. How did you and your author miss this? How could you have let them down this way?
In sum: No matter how many decades you remain a literary agent, no matter how good you are at it, and no matter how many times you ring that big ol’ sales bell, you are never, ever going to escape the occasional whack to the ego.
The same is true for all you authors. Womp womp.
None of us will never be free of those George Costanza “jerk store” moments: the ones in which you long for a rewind button and want to bludgeon yourself for not anticipating this or that reaction to your work or very being. That’s because none of us is ever going to be able to outmaneuver emotional pain and rejection — in book publishing OR in life.
No, not even you. Sorry.
We can only improve our immune response to ego injury. We can’t prevent it from happening in the first place; we can only prevent it from going septic and causing lifelong disability. We do this by cultivating self-compassion, self-awareness, self-respect, and self-care.
Is this a publishing newsletter, or are we in some kind of twelve-step meeting?
It’s a publishing newsletter, DENISE. And we’re getting to the publishing tips now! I just wanted to put you in a nice warm wetsuit of vaguely Buddhist spiritual insight here before I upended an ice cold water of tough love on your head.
Here’s why understanding all of the above is so important if you’re an author or agent: if you don’t — you give in to the temptation to cajole, litigate, persuade, plead, coerce, or whine in the face of other publishing professionals’ oppositional feelings — things will backfire on you spectacularly.
If you do this, will end up in a distinctly worse professional position than you would if you had restrained yourself.
You will look at best naive, at medium-blurst emotionally immature, and at worst like you have some kind of personality disorder.
You will give off Big Toxic Energy and lose rather than gain opportunities and allies.
DO NOT TRY TO “CONVINCE” OTHER ADULT HUMAN BEINGS THAT THEIR FEELINGS ARE WRONG. EVER.
Try this instead: Do your best and most rigorous work on the page. Do not rush to submit your proposal just because you’re anxious to. Fight with yourself to do the best literary work you can. Listen to your literary agent and/or trusted peers as to what that entails. Then let go and let God.
That is truly how you maximize successful outcomes in publishing.
Let’s walk through exactly what this looks like in a writing career.
You WILL receive one or more of the following specific ego injuries (probably all of them) at some point. Thither you will face a choice: react in a way that is momentarily satisfying and professionally idiotic OR in a way that is emotionally healthy and professionally wise.
Let’s walk through these and do a little outcomes tree of possible choices and their consequences: