Thursday, May 24, 2012

Speak No Evil, Or: Learning When To Shut Your Mouth

In this, the third and final installment of my just-because series revolving loosely--like Pluto--around the old adage, we turn our attention to the final bit of sage advice, Speak No Evil. While my thoughts are directed toward writing, I believe the following applies to any professional endeavor.

A.K.A. Shut Yo Mouth!

As a writer struggling to break into publishing, one of the traps that's easy to fall into (and of which I have been guilty on many an occasion) is bad talking agents and editors who reject a manuscript. It feels supportive to tell a friend, "That idiot doesn't know what they're talking about!" or "They'll be sorry they rejected you when you hit the NY Times bestseller list!"

But are such remarks really supportive? What about those statements offers comfort to our friends or ourselves? The fact is, those "idiot" agents and editors generally do know what they're talking about. Maybe you haven't actually written a heartbreaking piece of genius. Maybe that manuscript really isn't a good match for that particular agent or publishing house. Maybe, just maybe, those rejections come from a place of professional expertise.

Discretion really is the greater part of
valor. I'm not even kidding, you guys.
It's momentarily satisfying to shove blame for our hurt feelings onto someone else. But that's a passing rush, like the thrill of eating half a birthday cake in one sitting. It might be yummy, but those are empty calories and you'll regret it later [I think this metaphor actually just reveals I'm jonesing for birthday cake. Again. ANYWAY.] Behaving this way doesn't help us grow as writers, either in craft or professionalism. Learning to take rejection gracefully is part of the process.

Just like the occasional piece of birthday cake is fine and dandy (mmmm... cake), it's ok to engage in the occasional vent session when you get a disappointing rejection. What's not ok is ranting every time you're rejected. It's not ok to call everyone in the publishing world an idiot. If you do that, ask yourself why would you even want to become professionally involved with a bunch of idiots?

Also... why would the publishing industry want to involve itself with someone who calls them idiots? Dun, dun, duuuuuuun.

"But, Elizabeth!" you say. "I only ranted about Sally Agent on my writing board! She'll never know!" Oh, won't she? The truth is, anything you put on the Internet may come back around to nibble on your derriere.

WARNING: Cautionary Tale Ahead!

Once upon a time, dear readers, I was a young and foolish novice writer. I had some writing friends, and a great online community of writers I loved. One day, one of my buddies got some nasty commentary on their manuscript from a reader at Big Publishing House. I was shocked and appalled on their behalf. How could my friend be treated so cruelly?

"Hey, isn't that the guy who called you a jerk and said your
turban makes it look like you've always just left
that spa in Fresno?"
"Oh, yeah, it is! I hate this guy! Screw him."
Now, what would you do in that situation? If you're young, foolish me, you'd have run straight to your online writing board and reported the incident there, where you could rock everyone's world with news of Big Publishing House's treatment of your friend.

I bet you wouldn't expect the senior editor of Big Publishing House to post on your thread. I bet you didn't stop to think that someone, ANYONE, associated with Big Publishing House would see your remarks. After all, it's just you and a bunch of other struggling writers on this board, right? Wrong.

You don't know who's lurking on writing boards. You don't suspect that the very first impression you give the senior editor of Big Publishing House would be that you're the kind of person who spreads unfavorable gossip about their highly regarded company when a summer intern does something stupid like let their snide remarks about a manuscript get back to the writer. But that might be exactly what happens.

The moral of the story is to be smart. Think before you open your mouth or let your fingers fly. Don't post anything in a public forum you wouldn't want the object of your remarks to see. Don't say anything in a public venue you don't want passed around.

Believe it or not, the publishing industry is a pretty small world. Don't burn bridges before you've even had the chance to cross them. Keep it professional. Next time you or your friend is rejected, try to find a way to express your feelings without insulting the very people you hope someday to be working with.


  1. Yep. That would have been me. Burning with shame. The wonders of the Tubes have their evils!



  2. Gosh, for a moment I thought it was me! LOL Gosh, we SO want to rant when we feel slighted. Excellent post.

    Lowcountry Bribe, Bell Bridge Books

  3. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was "Don't put anyhting on the Internet that you would not like to see as a front page headline in the morning paper."