She Was Trembling
Last week I was locked in the appointment room at the Glorieta Christian Writer’s Conference. Actually I had less appointment spots than many of the editors because I taught three workshops. Plus one hour of my fifteen–minute appointments had to be blocked because I was on a national phone conference with the board of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. While the participants at the conference are focused on attending and getting ready to meet the editors, the editors have a lot of other things in motion beyond the conference (something many participants forget but a reality of the work in publishing).
These fifteen–minute appointments were held in a large room of small tables with two editors at each table. The noise level at times was almost unbearable but it’s about the only place for such sessions at this conference. (BTW, some conferences only have ten-minute meetings so fifteen minutes is great.) During this brief time, I have a chance to meet the writer, exchange business cards and listen to their pitch—then see if I can help them. It’s pretty much of a marathon type experience with ten to twelve of these appointment sessions in a row without standing or anything. I enjoy the variety and the chance to help writers at different levels of experience with their work. It’s the one chance to give honest feedback and assistance. From my years of doing these types of meetings, I know honesty has to be gentle but it has to be present. You do nothing to help the writer if you have each of them send you the manuscript—even if it’s not ready—only to reject it four or five weeks later. Some editors can’t bear to disappoint the writer across the small table from them, so they do a disservice to those writers and give them false hope (in my estimation). As editors, we talk with each other—and know the editors who take this tactic of having everyone send their manuscript—then reject it later. Also the participants know it and look at you with huge disappointment and say, “Why won’t you take it? _____ (insert the editor’s name) is taking it.” (And they say it like it’s going to pressure me to take it. Right.)
I attempt to give honest yet gentle and specific feedback in the brief time that we are together for these meetings. It’s a challenge and I always encourage writers to practice the “grain of salt rule” You don’t take every last word from the editor as the absolute truth. Remember these meetings happen in a brief time period and the editor doesn’t have all of the information about your nonfiction book or your novel. I don’t care who is speaking to you, they can’t know everything. Yes, we have experience in the marketplace (value) but not the absolute last word.
Here’s what I tend to forget when I’m in these back to back sessions with participants: many people are attending a writer’s conference for their first time. It’s always a high percentage of people who are at their first conference. Some of these people have never met an editor and are worried about it. I could tell this one woman was nervous from the moment she sat across from me. She was trembling and her papers shook as she held them. She explained that she had never attended a writer’s conference nor met with an editor. I gently asked her about her story and as we talked, she began to calm down and feel OK about our exchanges.
If you feel like you are out of your element to have such meetings with editors, welcome to the world of writing. It’s important to begin and form these relationships with editors and others in the field of publishing—yet it’s difficult for many of us. We are much more comfortable behind a computer or at a keyboard alone—than in front of others. One editor from a well-known company told about all of them taking the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory. Of the large group of editors at this company—only two of them were extroverts. The rest of them were introverts. I suspect it’s pretty much the rule of thumb in the marketplace. People always want to me to be on the social committees and plan the gatherings—when the reality is that I will barely go to the event. I’d rather be tucked in a corner someplace reading a book than to be in the middle of a huge party.
So when you meet editors at conferences, just take a deep breath, stick out your hand in greeting and go for it. I’ve been interviewing strangers since high school for stories—so I’ve learned to rise to these occasions. For many, it’s a new experience—but a valuable one for them.