Monday, November 28, 2005

Listen to Your Own Heart

A few days ago, I wrote about the publishing beginnings of Dr. James Dobson from Family Man, a new biography by Dale Buss. The book contains a lot of information about how Dr. Dobson perceives of his writing and practices his craft. In the book, Dr. Dobson has just published his first book. I was fascinated with this paragraph: “Dobson also set his own publishing agenda in the wake of the success of Dare to Discipline. The subjects of his books follow the timeline of Dobson’s own experiences as a husband, parent, and ministry leader. “One thing I failed in doing early on,” says [Wendell] Hawley [the former Tyndale executive who first worked with Dobson], who retired in 1995, “was that I’d come to him with some of my own ideas about great books that he could do. It took me a while to realize that he had ideas of his own and that it was whatever was percolating strongest in his own heart that he’d turn for his next book.” (p. 49)

I want to draw several points from this paragraph. First, I’ve met Dr. Hawley and he’s a terrific editor who has worked with some remarkable authors on bestselling books for years. Yet Dr. Hawley freely admits to Dobson’s biographer that he was made mistakes. Writers tend to set their editors on pedestals and the editor does have power to a certain degree (understanding that publishing is a consensus building process).  Because we are human, we make mistakes and some times guide authors in the wrong direction. Instead, Dr. Dobson was wise enough to listen to his own heart and write about issues where he had passion and could see the felt need for the reader. I’m certain Dr. Hawley had great ideas to propose to his author, yet Dr. Dobson went in his own direction for his next book. It was a successful course of action. For other authors, they gain great encouragement listening to their editor and following the editor’s direction and ideas.  Once again as I’ve written about before in these entries, there is no exact formula for the publishing process. There is this strange combination between art and science.

As a writer, you may be getting tons of rejection these days.  I’ve got to send out those rejection letters to a number of authors and literary agents. I’m reluctant to do it because I know the news will not be well-received—yet I do it because at least these authors hear from me. I’ve only got a few spots to fill—and they are mostly filled for several years out. Rather than hang on to a manuscript, it’s better to let the author know and they can look elsewhere.  With the mass of submissions, I can’t even tell the author why I rejected it but simply send the form letter. To tell them (as I did with one author this past weekend) only invites more dialogue (and I have no time to dialogue via email—no editor has time to dialogue with unpublished authors—it’s simply a matter of time management not desire). Keep honing your craft, growing in your storytelling abilities and persist in getting your work into the marketplace.

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