Thursday, January 29, 2015

Being Nice: An Etiquette Guide for Published and Agented Writers


Have you heard about the girl who's caused a huge stir about her decision to stop wearing leggings in public with concern it may make men lust after her?

This post has nothing to do with that. :)

But it is about a similar question: what is the line between being considerate of others' struggles and unnecessarily catering to/coddling them?

Now, please know this post is meant as a fun, lighthearted look at a serious situation. I don't mean to point fingers or offend. I have been on both sides of the map as a writer with a fabulous agent and two published short stories, who is still desperately craving to see her novels in print. Therefore, with one foot in each "camp," so to speak, I feel qualified to look the issue from, well, both sides.

I've noticed that within the past few years, social media has taken a turn towards (sometimes heavy) self-promotion. I get it. Every published author needs to sell books, and aren't we all a little scared of not selling enough? But at the risk of giving advice completely counter to what your publishing house may have told you, sometimes self-promotion makes you sound like that friend who only calls to invite you to Mary Kay parties. There's a difference between building genuine relationships with readers and author friends via social media and using people for sales.

So I thought today I'd write a post that's a little different... some things to consider if you're a published writer as you engage in social media with so many hopeful-heart storytellers still waiting.

Do you remember when you were a little girl and you wore your mother's shoes around the house, wishing they would fit your tiny feet? I can remember this specific towel rack in my parents' old bathroom that I used to look at and think, "When I'm as tall as that, I'll be so grown." Blame Cinderella, but I used to dream about being old enough to go dancing-- really dancing, like learning to waltz and swing. Can you remember things you so badly wanted to do as a little kid?

Now that I'm an adult, it's easy to forget how deeply my childhood heart yearned for these things. In the same way, I think anyone who has been on the writing journey long enough may begin to forget the excitement and longing of those initial stages of writing... as well as the deep discouragement it can bring.

Photo by  khunaspix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I've heard so many published authors say, "Just wait and see! Things get so much harder after publication!" Please, do not say this to writers who are still waiting. It's like looking at that little girl in those big 'ol shoes and saying, "Just you want until you're grown-- then you'll see it's bills and sleep deprivation and never enough coffee, and really not all it's cracked up to be." But what about all the good things? What about all the travels and the grown-up beauty and the dreams?

I think published and unpublished writers have so much to offer one another, but I've noticed that sometimes unpublished writers get a little gun-shy approaching "success stories." You may not realize it, but if you're published, you're kind of a rock star. Like, really. You are in a HUGE minority. You have written words that are actually printed and in front of other human beings--whether that's a book, a novella, or a magazine. Many... even most... writers never make it to the point of having actual readers! If you do have readers, what an influence you have, what a ministry! Please don't take that for granted.

I write all this not as a critique of published writers, but as encouragement to reframe your perspective. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your deadline, or discouraged by a bad review, take time to remember the big picture. You have the dream in your hands. It may not look the way you thought it would, and it may not be easy. At all. But again, you have readers, and that is nothing short of a crazy, miraculous thing. These stories started in your imagination, and God is using them to touch someone out there in the world--someone you may never meet. Someone who may even be reading your story as you read this post. How cool is that!

I also want to encourage you to be sensitive to your unpublished writer friends and remember what it was like when you were on the waiting side of your contract. Don't forget the doubt, and the tears, and the desperate prayers to God as you wondered if this thing was ever going to happen or if it's a huge failure of a dream. Don't forget that while people celebrate with you because you had lunch with your dream editor or you made it big in a writing contest, with too much detail, these successes will inevitably remind others of what they have not yet achieved... and sometimes that stings. Don't cater to every overly-sensitive individual who needs to get a thicker writer's skin, but do remember that doubt hits every one of us, as well as feelings of insecurity. Do everything you can to encourage the writers around you in their callings and dreams, because you are a success story.

And let's face it. The world needs to hear more of those.


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Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

26 comments:

kaybee said...

Ashley, some very good points. The beauty of these blogs (I also hang out at Seekerville) is that it brings the published, contracted, agented and unpublished together, and at least on the Christian blogs, nobody has been anything but gracious to me. I love it when the multipublished writers are vulnerable and share the struggles they had -- or are still having. MAY GOD GRANT us graciousness when it's our turn.
Kathy Bailey

Camille Eide said...

Ashley, what a valuable message, and said with such grace. "Reframe your perspective." Love that approach, suggestion, and reminder.

To be honest, I often cringe when a newer-than-wannabe writer announces she's decided to write a book and plans to send it to a publisher... And hold my breath for the request to read a chapter. You've reminded me to not only be sensitive to the dream and budding hope, but to put aside my resistance and figure out helpful, honest but encouraging/positive things to say to hopefuls, because there were a few selfless souls who took time to partner with me early on when they certainly had better things to do. There is enough looking out for No. #1 in this world. Those of us who write (& are published) in answer to the call from the Author of all can relax our grip on our dream (which, as you've reminded us, we hold in our hand) and give a little bit to others.

Yes, I'm talking to myself right now, but thought I'd share that along with my thanks for your encouragement. God bless you and your writing endeavors, Ashley.

Tori Starling said...

Ashley, I always love your words. I'm a fan!

Although I am not published author yet, I do have a reputable blog about my son's speech disorder and as I've matured as a writer, I try to always take the feelings of my audience into consideration. For example, my son is talking now and while I want to shout it from the rooftops and talk about all the cute things he's saying, I refrain b/c I know it will hurt other mama's hearts. It will make them think, Why her and not me? Why does her child get to be cured, but mine is still in speech therapy 5 years later? I never want anyone to feel like that.

No matter what we write/share on social media, it really just comes down to one of the golden rules of writing ... take your audience's feelings into consideration. Write for them, not to them.

Ann McCauley said...

Thank you, Ashley. This is one of those blogs I'll keep forever.

Robin Mason said...

Ashley what an encouraging post! I am self-published, with the slow sales - it's hard not to be discouraged! but knowing that I DO have readers, who ARE reading my novel - and requests for a sequel [which is underway] - you've reminded me why I'm doing what I'm doing!
great perspectives, spot on, and timely!! thanks for sharing!

Cynthia Herron said...

Ashley,

A touchy subject handled with godly grace. Thank you!

Ashley Clark said...

Kathy, I completely agree! I think there's such value in diverse community, and that's one reason I adore the ACFW conference as well!

Ashley Clark said...

Camille, what a beautiful response! I have found myself guilty of the same thing at conferences-- when new writers get so excited about proposal requests, a little part of me tends to think, " just you wait and see." LOL! But yes, I think encouraging one another is so valuable!

Ashley Clark said...

For them, not to them-- I love that, Tori! And I am so happy about your son!

Ashley Clark said...

Thank you, Ann! Glad you stopped by today!

Ashley Clark said...

Robin, from what I've heard, self publishing can be so hard because you don't have that huge publishing team coming behind you and it can still feel solitary... But as you said, what a privilege, and how cool about your sequel! Congrats!

Ashley Clark said...

Thank you, Cynthia! I wanted to be sure I didn't offend because I truly have found myself on both sides! Glad you came by today!

Ana @ Butterflies of the Imagination said...

I loved this post, Ashley. I'm not published yet, but I'm not really in much of a rush because I'm still really young. However, I know a lot of writers online who say that they are now bogged down with work since they're published, and that can get really discouraging. Hopefully I'll remember this when I get published.

Rachel said...

I keep trying to comment but my computer is being stupid! :) this is the best!
Ashley is the best! this was delicate and sweet and really a wonderful post. Reframing perspective is a term that I want to use in real life from now on :D

Pepper said...

When I get young, I want to be like Ashley Clark ... or Rachel McMillian

With that said - this is such a beautiful post and solid reminder. Waiting is tough ... on both sides. And life is FULL on both sides.
Perspective is a valuable tool in the grand scheme of living and loving well.

And just like I would get bogged down in the 'waiting' and the 'rejections' in my prepubbed world - there are other things to murky up the emotions on the pubbed side.
Btw, I furiously read through all the texts we've exchanged lately Ashley to see if I said "Just you wait" :-)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Wow, Ashley. Great post. No matter where we are in the writing journey, we can be an encouragement. We all need to keep an accurate perspective and look at the people around us, not just keep our eyes on our own journey.

So appreciate your post today!

Kelly Blackwell @ Heres My Take On It said...

Ashley thank you for this encouraging post. Your words are so kind. Thank you for cheering everyone on.

Kelly Blackwell @ Heres My Take On It said...

Ashley thank you for this encouraging post. Your words are so kind. Thank you for cheering everyone on.

Kara Isaac said...

Thanks for such a refreshing post, Ashley.

I have a good friend who told me once that when she gets overwhelmed with deadlines and book promotion and everything else that comes with being a published author she reminds herself that, by God's grace, she's getting to live the crazy dream. I hope I have her perspective if I'm ever published :)

Ashley Clark said...

Ana, that is SUCH a good point. I think people are sometimes so focused on getting a story out in the world that they put too much pressure on a manuscript before they or the story itself are ready. I think there's definite wisdom in taking your time and learning your voice and the craft as much as possible. Also, it never hurts to have a collection of a few manuscripts built up in case a publishing house wants to buy more than one! :)

Ashley Clark said...

Rachel, I just love you. The end.

Ashley Clark said...

HA! Pepper! I promise this post was not about you! I've just seen it happen to a lot of friends and always cringe for them because I know it can sting.

Ashley Clark said...

Well-said, Jeanne! :)

Ashley Clark said...

Kelly, thank you for stopping by!

Kara, I love your friend's perspective! What a great way to remove herself from getting bogged down and instead look at the big picture dream! I think we all need to be more intentional about doing that-- I know I do!

Amy Cattapan said...

Great reminders about how lucky we are to write. I'm about to cross the border into "published novelist" territory. I hope I can always remember what it's like to be on the other side of the contract!

Ashley Clark said...

Amy, congratulations! What a great accomplishment!