The Frustration of Misunderstanding

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To be misunderstood can be the writer’s punishment
for having disturbed the reader’s peace.
The greater the disturbance, the greater the possibility of misunderstanding.

Anatole Broyard

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Lilacs

I read agents’ blogs for several reasons. One is to learn as much as I can about the publishing industry. Another is to learn what separates one agent from another as an author’s representative. I’m naïve enough to believe I’m eventually going to find the agent that God has in mind for me – that one person who believes in my work and wants to help me refine it, then be an advocate for it with publishing houses.

The agent/author relationship strikes me as being much like a marriage. There’s need of good communication, mutual understanding and appreciation, trust and commitment, and the willingness to apologize when necessary.

Until this past weekend I don’t think I’ve ever come across an agent who said, “I messed up royally,” but those are the exact words of Books & Such agent Rachelle Gardner, along with “I completely miscommunicated.” Personally, I didn’t think she messed up at all, but her blog post entitled “Will My Publisher Let Me Self-Publish Too?” in which she attempted “to explain the publishers’ concerns in this new age of hybrid authors who are both traditionally- and self-published,” set off an explosion among her readers. Several of them misunderstood her stance and took offence.

Such an outcry! But rather than show frustration with those who clearly missed her point, with her usual grace Rachelle accepted the blame for miscommunicating and took the time to respond to several commenters and write a second post* to clarify her words and correct the misunderstanding. What a wonderful example of Christian humility and patience!

Human nature often makes us want to defend our choices, to justify and argue. It’s not easy to take criticism, or to say, “I’m sorry. Let me try and get it right this time” when you weren’t wrong in the first place. In an industry that’s all about words, communication and relationships, Rachelle Gardner has demonstrated the qualities that set her apart as an extraordinary agent and author advocate.

What’s the one most important characteristic you would hope to find in an agent representing you and your work?

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Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating
than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

A tender answer turns away rage,
 but a prickly reply spikes anger.

Proverbs 15:1 (The Voice)
 ~

 SolomonsSeal2

* EXCERPT:

“On Monday I wrote a post in which I attempted to explain the publishers’ concerns in this new age of hybrid authors who are both traditionally- and self-published. But I messed up royally.

“In my effort to illuminate the publisher’s perspective on things, I inadvertently came across as completely defending the publishers’ viewpoints, and somehow being on the side of “Big Pub” (as some commenters put it) rather than being an advocate for authors. That was my mistake. I badly miscommunicated, and I regret it because it led to so much misunderstanding.” (Rachelle Gardner)

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Are we poisoning our chances for publication?

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Common snowberry, or Symphoricarpos albus, is a deciduous shrub in the honeysuckle family. It grows wild on shady hillsides and woodland areas but its attractive clusters of white berries have also made it a popular ornamental shrub in many gardens.

It grows in wild abundance on our family’s Okanagan property and provides winter food for quail and pheasant. In other areas it’s also browsed by deer, bighorn sheep and bear.

On a recent visit I admired the shrub and came home to research its name. Despite its innocuous appearance, I found one source (Wikipedia) that said snowberries are considered poisonous to humans. “The berries contain the isoquinoline alkaloid chelidonine, as well as other alkaloids. Ingesting the berries causes mild symptoms of vomiting, dizziness, and slight sedation in children.”

We have a lot of wild berries in BC, many of which are edible, but some are known to be poisonous while others are of doubtful edibility or are just plain unpalatable. Around our property each spring we have bushes that bear small red berries that I think are huckleberries. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s what they are… but not sure enough to eat them. I’m going to take a sample to our local nursery next spring and get a knowledgeable opinion.

In this case I think I’m smart to admit I don’t know what I don’t know. When in doubt, be cautious. Go do some research. That’s not a bad philosophy in writing, too. Barging headlong into unfamiliar situations without first doing adequate research can often cause irreparable damage.

A couple years ago agent Rachelle Gardner posted a “Friday Rant” about people who fall into her inbox looking for an agent. They pitch work that she doesn’t rep; they’ve clearly made no effort to read guidelines or learn about the querying process; they “aren’t taking the time to approach publishing seriously.” In their ignorance they alienate agents and effectively kill any chance of having their work considered.

That’s not very smart if their goal is publication.

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When tackling something new in life or writing, how do you determine the proper approach? Do you prefer to jump in first and ask questions later? And here’s another question: Do you think it’s unfair to be penalized for ignorance?

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One Writer’s Admission and a Giveaway

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Fifty-three. That’s how many books I have on a particular shelf in my office, and that doesn’t include reference books or any borrowed from the library. All of them tell me how to write a novel. I counted them because I thought it would bolster my confidence. After all, if I’ve read that many books about writing, surely I must know something about how to write. Right?

Then again, the more how-to books I read, the closer I edge to the precipice of information overload. I don’t like to admit the truth, but here it is: the more I read, the harder it is to remember what I’ve read, and that’s frustrating.

But this week I discovered an excellent check list on Rachelle Gardner’s blog — in fact, not one, but two extensive lists about what “an editor looks for when reading a manuscript.” The perfect refresher course for my foggy brain. On Monday her post was all about characters. On Tuesday the topic was the story itself.

I can’t begin to reproduce all the information, but please consider clicking over to read Rachelle’s posts for yourself. You shouldn’t miss them.

Then come back here and tell me which point you found the most valuable. From the comments left here between now and 11:59 p.m. (Pacific time) Thursday I’ll choose one person at random to receive their choice of one of the following books… ‘oldies but goodies’ that are either duplicates or I’ve read more than once and am finally willing to part with to make room on the shelves for new purchases. (What? You didn’t think I was going to stop reading, did you?)

Negotiating With the Dead: a Writer on Writing (Margaret Atwood) 2002

The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club (Maeve Binchy) 2008

The Writing Life (Annie Dillard) 1989

Thunder and Lightning (Natalie Goldberg) 2000

Writing Historical Fiction (Rhona Martin) 1988

So, what are you waiting for? Go click on the links to Rachelle’s posts, then come back here and tell me which point you found the most helpful.

I’ll announce the winner Friday morning.

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Fat Chance

If you’ve ever stood on a scale and cringed at what it told you, it’s possible you’re among the millions of overweight people who struggle with dieting. Ali Vincent, in her book Believe It, Be It: How Being the Biggest Loser Won Me Back My Life, says, “It’s a bigger issue than just calories in, calories out.” I understand that. A very long time ago I lost 80 lbs. and through the years gained it all back. I belonged to T.O.P.S. for seventeen years, getting moral support for that battle. Support is a big motivator.

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Knowing that others with a similar problem have waged and won the weight battle is also a big motivator and is one of the reasons that I am currently backing the weight loss and fitness regime that Joseph Dulaney is undertaking.

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It is also why I am looking forward to reading a new book by another of the Biggest Loser TV series participants.  Julie Hadden has written Fat Chance: Losing the Weight, Gaining My Worth. You can read about how Julie initially connected with WordServe Agent Rachelle Gardner here. The book’s release is timely – who doesn’t face the dilemma of what to do about those extra holiday pounds?

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I hope to be one of its early readers and be able to post a review here before the end of January. I also hope not to have too many additional pounds to cope with at that point!

Writing Delay Tactics Revisited

Yesterday Rachelle Gardner gave her readers an opportunity to share how they use (or don’t use) social media such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc., and how they cope with the resulting time drain. Responses ran from those who interact via blogging but see anything else as a waste of time, to those who utilize every possible opportunity for social networking.

The question keeps rearing up: as a writer, how do you make the best use of your time?

Then again, what do you do if you find yourself in that writer’s quicksand where you aren’t making any use of your time? Inspiration is just beyond reach and every little thing is a distraction that keeps your fingers off the keys and your brain focusing on non-writing essentials.

It’s only a Diet Coke, folks. Honestly, it’ll only take me a minute and I’ll be back at my desk. Oh, wait. I forgot. There aren’t any in the fridge. I drank the last one this morning. Drat. Now I’ll have to make a quick trip to the store. Oh, and while I’m out I might as well drop off these library books… and I should take along this fabric sample and look for new drapery material… and… What? Delay tactics? Of course not! They’re all things that I’ve been meaning to do; things I have to get done. I’m not avoiding my writing. I want to write. I just have to be in the right frame of mind to do it. Once I take care of all these distractions I’ll be able to concentrate again. No problem. Really.

Sound familiar? What about you? How do you cope when the essentials of life lure you away from your writing? How do you balance your everyday life with your writing life or is it even possible to separate them?

Serving Up Omelets for Virtual Breakfast

Have you ever been at a late night party and found yourself inviting everyone over to your place for breakfast? In the blinding brightness of the morning sunlight you look around and suddenly realize what you’ve done. Holy moly… when are they likely to start arriving? What if they all show up? Let me check the fridge. How many eggs will it take to feed 170+ people. I don’t have enough cutlery! Then I remember. It’s “virtual” breakfast. ::big sigh of relief::

 

Explanation. Over at Rachelle Gardner’s blog, Rants and Ramblings, readers were invited to her Friday Blog Party. By means of comments we mingled and munched (don’t ask my opinion of pop tarts with cheese dip) and introduced ourselves. It was an innovative approach to a blog roll – an opportunity to get to know each other and make a few new connections.  I’m looking forward to visiting all sorts of new blogs.

 

But you’ll have to excuse me now. I have to get started on those omelets. If I don’t answer the doorbell just come on in. You’re welcome to look around. The coffee should be ready in a moment.