Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Do Your Family a Favor and Talk Some Sense Into Them

My sister wrote and illustrated a short picture book for my mother as a Christmas present. Now my parents want me to bring the book to my editor and see what she thinks. I know exactly what she'd think: "No. Thank you, but no." Oh, the story and the drawings are cute and fun, but I don't think the story can be stretched out to fill 32 pages (or whatever the length of a picture book is). However... I am not an editor. Is it possible that I'm the short-sighted one?
Well... you never know. I've said 'hell no' to manuscripts that went on to thrill the socks off of another editor and were published very nicely. (I still say 'hell no', but clearly some people love that stuff.)
I don't think my editor needs another picture book submission from a) someone who thinks their relative is brilliant, or b) someone who thinks they have an in because they know someone at the publishing house.
That's true.
Then again, it would take 30 seconds to read.
But how long to say no to it, and graciously? That's the time-suck.
Am I refusing my sister a fair chance? Or, should I just tell her to re-write the story until it's good enough? Also, is there a way to let parents down gently, without making it sound like the gift was terrible?
I don't know your family members, so I don't know what will make sense to them. You should at least try to bring across to them that editors field a LOT of friends-and-family manuscripts and they don't appreciate it. So while (of course) you are willing to do your sister as many special favors as there are stars in the sky, your editor isn't.

Editors are often sympathetic, patient people at heart (though overworked), but I know they all wish that more people understood that when one asks one's author friend to do a favor and send a manuscript to their editor, one is not asking the author to do you a favor-- emailing something takes very little time, and no energy. What one is really doing is asking the editor to do you a favor, and you don't get to ask strangers for favors.

Still, your editor likes you and wants to be kind, so sending your editor one manuscript from your family is probably ok with her. You may want to let your sister know that this is the only special favor you'll be able to ask of your editor-- so is this the manuscript she wants to use her golden ticket on?

And as far as your parents: I don't understand why, but it's clear that many people can't believe something is wonderful unless everyone else agrees. Which, in case anyone reading is feeling low on logic, MAKES NO SENSE. Publishing a manuscript is about appealing to thousands of people. There are lots of wonderful manuscripts that would make dozens, or scores, or even hundreds of people happy. They can't be published. They would be cherished, and they would sell, but they would not sell enough.

Publishing is about appealing to people who spend money on books. Publishing is about appealing to strangers. In terms of the story that a daughter writes for her parents, there is simply no excuse for any conclusion besides this one: if the parents think the story is wonderful, then it has appealed to the only important people in the world.


Myrna Foster said...

Maybe she could recommend a nice writer's conference or workshop to her sister and let someone else explain why the manuscript isn't ready for an editor. If the picture book is amazing, the sister might find her own editor.

Or she could give her sister a current Writer's Market and ask her to read it.

Ebony McKenna. said...

"If the parents think the story is wonderful, then it has appealed to the only important people in the world."

To quote Broadcast News: Oh there I go, dropping the lead again.

Anonymous said...

"Am I refusing my sister a fair chance?"

Well, is it fair to the folks who have to go through the slush pile to find an agent or publisher? She has the same opportunity to try that route as everyone else does.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I'd use the opportunity to set some groundwork for future clashes. And, with family, there are ALWAYS future clashes.

"You want me to talk to my editor about (say) Sue's picture book????" Insert over-the-top level of disbelief in voice. "Do you remember what you said when I told you *I* wanted to be a writer? You said," sing-song voice now, " 'oh, darling, when are you going to get a *proper* job', 'but how will you pay the mortgage?', and 'well, now that you have all that free time...'."

Go back to putting some strength into those tonsils. "And now! Now, you want Sue to just crawl on my back to some pinnacle of success that took me [insert appropriate number] years to achieve just because she drew a couple of pretty pictures? Do you remember how much hard work I described just to get where I am? Did you think I was joking??"

C'mon now, don't lose it, we're in the home stretch. Tap your toes, it'll give a nice effect. And narrow your eyes. Always remember to narrow your eyes at this point. And put your hands on your hips; it'll give you a bigger silhouette, which is all important in these sorts of games. Falter now, and you'll lose the whole box and dice. "So, what is it you wanted me to do again?" Make sure your tone of voice conveys that you're not about to do anything that's going to be suggested.

I don't have any brothers and sisters but I've used it to great effect on similar situations with extended family. Yeah, I doubt you'd like me very much if you met me.

Steve MC said...

Well said. It's like if she made them a blueberry pie, they can enjoy that without telling her she should market the recipe or get it on Paula Deen.

I once wrote a story for my niece for Christmas, and everyone they showed it to told me I should sell it, when I knew a story about my niece and her cat just wasn't going to sell. It got so I wanted to say, "Just enjoy it!" But to some people art ain't nothing unless it sells.

To be more polite, one can always say that one's editor just bought a book just like it, for a three-book deal, and so doesn't need any more just like it any time soon.

Chris Wolfgang said...

Beautifully expressed. You've given everyone a fair out. The author, the sister, and the editor. I especially liked the question: "Does she really want to spend her golden ticket on this particular novel? This one right here? Are you SURE?"

Anonymous said...

Maine C., I sew for my family as a hobby, and people are always telling me "You should sell these!" or "You should have an Etsy shop!" I smile and thank them, because that takes less time than to say, "There's no money in sewing because, for better and worse, I'm competing with women in developing countries who work for twenty-five cents an hour or less. There's some money to be made in mending, alterations, or home dec sewing, all of which I hate doing, or in teaching or designing, neither of which I'm interested in or qualified for. And I barely find time to sew for my family, and definitely wouldn't have time to reproduce anything in quantities, not to mention that mass reproduction gets very dull."

So, yeah. Outside observers often just aren't equipped to know the difference between an amateur and a professional or what the market can really bear, and educating them can be more trouble than it's worth. (But it might be worth it if they're family members and pestery.)

Joelle said...

Perhaps you can suggest a compromise to your sister. Ask her to prepare the manuscript for submission and send it to your editor herself. Your part will be emailing the editor and mentioning that your sister is submitting a picture book to her - a sort of head's up - and ask her to watch for it. The editor can then respond as if she would to any manuscript submission (assuming she accepts submissions without an agent - if she doesn't, then your sister will probably want you to send it to your agent and I'd go the same route there too!).


Thanks for the excellent advice! I've had several acquaintances ask for an intro to my agent, and that's always awkward to deal with. Your suggestions fit the bill for those situations as well, so I appreciate it!


Allison Williams said...

Maine Character - I like your point about "for some people, it isn't art if it doesn't sell" -

I think many people believe they are being complimentary by saying, "this looks like professional work, and it's as good as other things I like. You could sell this and others would like it, too." Unfortunately, they compress it to, "you could sell this!"

I'm a trapeze artist. What I get is, "You should be in Cirque du Soleil!" I finally learned that no-one wants to hear my dissertation on why that's not the path I'm on, so I answer the compliment they *meant* - "You're as good as other professionals I've watched" with "thanks, I'm glad you liked the show."

Steve MC said...

myimaginaryblog - thanks for making me feel less lonesome. I can tell you really have a handle on your work - both the job market and what it means to you - and I wish you many years of enjoying your sewing.

And Allison, you're absolutely right. And I do get that, how they're often complimenting you in the one way they know how, and that sort of validation is great. It just gets old really quick (especially if you start to dread it), and that's when I shut out everyone but my niece, when I read her the story and she points and says, "Read again." That's priceless.

Anonymous said...

Introductions to my agent are easily handled because he requires everyone to send a query the normal way, even if it's a recommendation by one of his clients. So I say, "send a query and I'll let him know to watch for it." Then, if I don't know the writer (or work), I just tell my agent, "So and So is going to query you, and probably mention me. I don't know them though." And that's that.

Anonymous said...

Good post, thanks EA. The only saving grace is that most relations can't even get it together to write the ms that they threaten to, but it always strikes fear in the impossibility of saying no and the impossibility of saying yes.

There is such a disconnect between the reality of what it takes to make art, actually working commercially in the arts and other people's [usually those with no experience in any aspect of the arts] rampant fantasies of how it all works. It is like "get rich quick" meets "do what you love" meets "connections are everything" meets some kind of naive matchmaker impulse. Oh yeah, and we all know "everyone has a book in them".

Besides people wanting connections, as an author/illustrator I get told over and over how I "should" have movies made of my books, make character based products etc etc, as if I simply lack the initiative or forward thinking. The same people may then even offer to act as "my agent" [zero applicable work experience of course] since my explanations of how reality works make it clear I don't have vision like they do [ie, magical mystery tour to the field of dreams].

I feel for the commenters who relate stories like doing trapeze and everyone tells them to be in Cirque du Soleil, like as if you'll hit yourself in the head V8 style upon hearing the two things connected. Or that sewing automatically means easy big bucks on Etsy without say, the reality of turning your home into a factory. I knew a guy who was a great cook and loved throwing dinner parties. His relatives would tell him to be a caterer and so on - and he said but the reason he loved it is because it's NOT a job for him! Some things really are better left as passions to fully enjoy as is, while other people love the business challenge aspect of how to adapt ones art to a particular marketplace. But for people that don't even begin to understand the reality of those business challenges? I'd love to have a nifty comeback because my explanations tend to merely sink me deeper into their pep talks. Saying things like "the best thing for me right now is to concentrate on building a body of work" doesn't seem to compute.

Allison Williams said...

Nifty comeback - I'm channeling what I imagine Miss Manners might say here - how about,

"Thank you so much - my agent has that in the works, and I'll keep you posted when they're on the shelf - I know you'll want to support me!"

They don't have to know that "in the works" really means, "if it's the right time and place, it will happen in a completely different way than you imagine or that I can be bothered to explain to you."

Anonymous said...

"Thank you so much - my agent has that in the works, and I'll keep you posted when they're on the shelf - I know you'll want to support me!"

Hee-hee... what is good about that is that it has a built-in conversation ender: "I know you'll want to support me" when the merchandise comes out.

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