Wednesday, August 25, 2010

One day in summer school (I was humiliated)

One day in jr. high summer school, I strolled reluctantly toward class, and stopped midstride. What was this? A crisp new dollar bill. What a lovely omen on an over-air-conditioned, stuck-inside-in-July day! As I bent over to retrieve it, my shirt peeled up my back, flashing my lilly-white skin. I reached behind with one hand to pull the shirt back down, and moved to grab the dollar bill with the other. 

A strong gust of wind blew along the ground, moving the paper--but, curiously, not my hair. I only chased it a few times before I noticed the boys with the invisible string laughing on the bricks nearby.

I can now tell this story without going beet red. Time lessens the shame of being duped, but you never really forget how it feels to be laughed at. Umm, especially if it happens in junior high.

Today, Nathan Bransford noted a common discussion on the writerly blogosphere about agents poking fun at real queries online. I've personally had a change of heart about this (in this post I link to slushpile hell and call mocking hilarious).

After reading his ever-polite words
"And, just FYI, my personal policy that I will never ever make fun of a query that is sent to me, nor will I quote from one without your permission. Query freely."
and the comments, I immediately thought of this episode with the dollar bill. I don't know why. It has nothing to do with the common dream of being a published career author. I guess it has to do with doing something wrong and not knowing you're doing something wrong.

It's the reason society as a whole frowns on mocking those who are mentally challenged. Americans, especially, are supposed to root for the underdog. It's in our DNA, right? After all, we were once the underdog, relying on the French to give us a leg up in our revolution.

So it's just ungrateful not to pay it forward by standing up for the underdog whenever it's in our power (which it almost always is). What does this have to do with poking fun at queries?

I guess my point is that writers--all of us--are kind of the underdog, even if we're published. Why? Because we have the least amount of power along the publishing chain (unless you self-publish, but even then you have a distinct disadvantage on the distribution end). And because more than anybody else working on a book, we put our heart and soul into every page. (Agents and editors are hardworking purveyors of awesome, but that's not what this particular post is about.)

Every published author I've met (we're talking about cyber-meeting here; I'm not THAT connected), remembers what it was like to be in the real slush pile hell. It wasn't usually funny. Maybe once or twice when an agent sent them a rejection letter with the wrong name--okay, no, not even then.

A sense of humor is necessary to survive as a writer today. I believe that.

But you know what? Even if junior-high-me had started laughing with those mean boys with the fake dollar bill and their dastardly invisible string, they would still have been laughing AT me, not with me.

I know agents and interns are swamped, and I sympathize. This is just the system currently in place, and it's frustrating on both ends. Because of that, I personally love to hear (read) the happy stories. Queries that work! Authors whose hard work and smart research pay off when they inspire a great agent to sell their stories.

As for cranky-pants people who make fun just to make fun, stop taunting me with the fake dollar bill! (Okay, I'm over it. Really, I promise.)

Educate, yes! By all means. I love my group of literary geniuses on twitter --Please, keep posting #queryslam and #queries in the spirit of education. From following along, I learn about agent preferences, the market, and what not to do in a query. Hold your bad query contests (also fun and harmless, since we're laughing at ourselves).

I only hope that this discussion spurs us all to kinder thoughts. One thing I love about writing is that it's not a dog-eat-dog business (always a gross thought). We can all help each other toward our goals of publication, of reaching our audience, of making a difference through our words. Wow, I sound idealistic. But I've seen it happen when people cooperate, collaborate, co-all that stuff. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for proof.

Some exciting things are going to be happening with Operation Awesome in the next month. Don't hold your breath! But do stay tuned. And follow OpAwesome6 on twitter for teasers--I mean announcements.

As always, have fun writing.       

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