February 27, 2007

Professional Courtesy...

I apologize for yet another long silence (except for my comments on TadMack's posts). I have this problem, which is that my writing confidence is easily bruised, and when it is, I don't feel like I have anything worth posting on a blog, even if it's just news tidbits. Which I'm also behind on. And being behind makes me feel even worse.

So I thought it might make me feel a little better to write a mini-rant about one of things that tends to bruise my writing confidence. That thing is the gradual disappearance of professional courtesy (which isn't only limited to the writing world, of course). I'm not referring to any one incident or offender in particular, but I have to say that it really bothers me when I send out a query (especially via e-mail, where a response postcard is physically impossible) and I do not receive an acknowledgement or a reply. When e-mail is involved, and I don't get an acknowledgement--even a terse "thank you, I will review your materials and get back to you"--I start to panic about whether my query was received at all, or if it ended up in the spam filter, and how soon is too soon to verify whether the e-mail was received, etc. etc.

When it's a hard-copy query...let's just say that it's REALLY BOTHERSOME (and I am actually thinking of somebody in particular here, a local newpaper which shall remain nameless) when you go to the effort to send in a query AND a very polite follow-up letter and receive absolutely not one word in reply to either. (Of course, I've long given up on submitting anything more to them anyway. They lost their chance!)

To me, this implies not just a lack of professional courtesy, but a complete invalidation of the work put into the sample(s) and the query itself. It makes me feel like my work wasn't even worth acknowledgement, like it was so bad that it didn't merit a reply. I realize that this is more and more the norm in the publishing world, and that big publishing houses are even starting to post in their writers' guidelines that if you don't receive a reply in X amount of time, consider it a rejection but don't expect a letter or your manuscript returned. Fine. But when you don't have this enumerated in your guidelines, I think a reply--no matter how short or how mass-produced--is appropriate. I'd rather have a quick no than wait around forever for somebody to say no.

Anyway, that's my rant on the subject. As you've probably guessed, I get a lot of noes....


TadMack said...

I wish I could say something to make you feel better, but I'm pretty sure I can't. It seems to me that since the dawn of the 'reality show,' people have become narcissistic to the point of ridiculousness. Most editors and publishing houses are absolutely swamped with more and more people just certain they have THE novel that will set the world on fire. This accounts for the terseness, and what basically boils down to discourtesy.

In my opinion, the delete button is too easy to use, so unless there is no other way to contact a publisher, I still use stamps and the post. In my experience, people generally have someone employed to open mail, this at least gives a better chance of my query getting seen. I also think that editors work at home at night (MeiMei is an example of that!) and so if their work email isn't at home, they won't see your query in their after hours - but if it's on paper, it probably gets stuffed in the briefcase.

I find solace (of a sort) in reading The Rejector, the notes of an anonymous New York assistant at a literary agency, or in reading Miss Snark, the thoughts of an agent. There's a lot of information on what works and doesn't in getting "in" with publishers, and a partial explanation on the discourtesy that seems to be the norm.

It is very difficult not to take it all personally, but according to Our Jane's blog, she still gets rejections left and right. Of course, people respond to her in good time now, but as you've seen in my situation -- even having an agent doesn't always help!

It's just the business, I guess. And we chose to be here...

I know this doesn't help at all, but I still believe that you are an excellent writer, and I still believe that it will happen for you -- if for no other reason that you haven't stopped trying.

Writers write.

Bruce Black said...

You are so right to point out how silence can undermine a writer's confidence. It happens every day to other writers, myself included, and, if we're not careful, we can fall into the same trap of doubting ourselves and our abilities.

As you know, it's not that far a leap from anger at not receiving a response ... to doubts over one's ability ... to outright certainty that one has nothing to say ... to the deepest fear: that, even if we have something to say, no one will ever read our work.

Learning to suffer silence (and rejection) wasn't included as part of the writer's job description when we set out on this path, was it?

But I've come to think of silence and rejection like stones that we encounter on our way, hidden until we trip over them or bruise our toes (or egos) unexpectedly. Again and again, we must learn to move past them if we are to continue our work.

It's that simple... and that hard... which won't make you feel any better, I'm afraid, but, if you accept these things as part of the writing process, it will make you a tougher, more resilient writer in the end.

Why? Because you must learn in time (if you're going to stay on this path) that it's essential that you ignore the silence and rejection, and keep digging (despite the silence) for what feeds your soul.

Rarely do we learn why someone fails to respond to our work. The silence is pretty much impenetrable. We can only know when we hear the words singing beneath our pen... and that's about all we can ever know, I think.

All the rest--the responses, the outside encouragement, the publishing process--it's all extraneous to our ability to take pleasure in the sound of our own voices, and the music that we hear when we put words down on paper.

This is just a longer way of saying what tadmack said: "writer's write" ... and anything that interferes with our ability to write, well, we need to find a way to ignore, if only long enough to get the words down.

Thanks for sharing a problem that every writer has to come to terms with eventually, each in his or her own way. Good luck!

a. fortis said...

Thanks to both of you! I wanted to also reiterate that, as a rant, it was simply an expression of one of the frustrations of being a writer, NOT a personal attack on editors, as one anonymous commenter seemed to feel. I'm sorry he or she felt that way, and trust me, I do understand that editors are swamped and are often subject to just as superhuman expectations as writers. Despite my list of publications being small, I'm not a beginning writer, so I do understand that this is just one of those things I need to deal with; but sometimes ranting just makes you feel a little bit better... ;)