I have had numerous conversations lately with people who have had questions about something related to publishing, something that their agent or editor might know, but for reasons including mental health issues, insecurity about writing, or a desire to not be that client, they have each paused and let the stress fester a little.
It can be a very scary thing to send an email to someone who you respect, but with whom you have some feelings of frustration, whether it be something that you don’t understand as well as you should, feedback that wasn’t provided when you thought it would be, or writerly imposter syndrome in general.
For these kinds of situations (and so many others in my life) I reach into the vault of brilliance provided by Brené Brown – this time from her book Rising Strong. In it, she states over and over about the importance of us acknowledging the story we are telling ourselves. Please note that this isn’t the story that is true or the story that is rational – it is the story we are telling ourselves.
For example, I endure depression. I don’t like to say I suffer from it, though sometimes I do. So, the voices that tend to visit me circulate around being enough of whatever the flavor is of the day. I talk to myself as I’m getting ready for the day, greeting those thoughts when I am able to recognize as depression thoughts by their name (our theme song for this meeting is The Sound of Silence. The Disturbed version is best for me). If I am able to tell when I’m in a depression cyclone and when I am having valid concerns, it helps.
Then, I choose key moments to share this reality with the professionals I work with. I do NOT recommend this conversation take place at the beginning of the relationship; however, it is something that I think should be shared in close partnerships, and a quality agent or editor relationship should be a close partnership.
With that out of the way, the courage comes in. There are some key things to keep in mind when starting such a conversation:
- DO NOT WRITE/CALL WHEN YOU ARE ON AN EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER. There are going to be times when the initial response to something sends your thoughts and feelings on unpredictable loops and that is not the time to talk. I have a colleague who has a sticky note on her computer that says “24 hours.” As soon as she has an email/voicemail/hears of a conversation that gets her heart racing, she looks at it and waits. This is wisdom for many situations. Practice it often and even in excess.
- Always, always, start with a humane greeting, a sincere inquiry into how things are going, an expression of gratitude for what has been done. Agents and editors work very hard for a lot of people, and you have the opportunity to be part of that. That’s amazing. Express your gratitude often.
- Lay the foundation for where you are coming from:
- “One of the things that I was wondering . . .”
- “I’ve always been the kind of person who . . .”
- “A question that I have had for a while is . . . “
One of the things to remember with this part is that you can come across as accusatory VERY easily. That is not what you want to do.
This is where Brené Browning comes in. You have to convey the story you are telling yourself. It can be incredibly scary. It can feel terrifying. But honest, true expression wins over and over and over.
- Present options for resolving the issues you feel need to be addressed. This can be asking for some particular document that you have heard about but not seen. This can be a request to talk more in-depth in the future. This can even be an estimated timeline to receive feedback.
Some candid advice about this kind of openness: one big course correction every once in a while is necessary, but equally necessary is that you, as the author, do everything in your power to make the minor modifications as the journey toward your publication goals continues. It is not healthy for individuals within the relationship or for the relationship in general to lock everything up, let it build, send an email full of courage and vulnerability, and then start over.
There is so much uncertainty within the world of publication – the relationship you have with the people who are help you meet your goals should not have that uncertainty. And if you aren’t certain if what you are sharing has the appropriate tone, ask a trusted confidant/friend/spouse to do a read through for you. For many writers (too many writers) these kinds of moments have made them realize that the relationship they have with their agent or editor isn’t what they thought it was. That brings a whole other blogpost for another time, but please remember that you are working together in a professional partnership. If the relationship you have with your agent/editor is as strong as you’d like it to be, vulnerability and courage will reward you with peace of mind, and that is priceless.
Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.