Monday, January 24, 2011

Why I Don't Always Keep My Trap Shut

Many of you may have already read agent Jennifer Laughran’s awesome post about When to Keep Your Trap Shut. And, if you already have, you probably had the same panic attack that most of my writing friends have had. (Okay, and me. I’ll admit that I panicked, too.) We've all been bad kitties and have shared TMI online.

But as the week progressed I noticed the mood online (at least in my online circles) had changed, and I wasn’t excited about what I saw. Too afraid they were saying something they shouldn't, people stopped talking about anything important at all. Friends erased blog posts and bios that I had found uplifting, and even private emails I received from writing friends were full of fear and nervousness. It felt like the support structure I have relied upon the last three years had been wiped out by one innocent (and well-argued) entry on an agent’s blog.

This has distressed me. I’m not usually one to argue with those who know better than me, especially those I admire and trust (and I admire and trust Jennifer Laughran immensely), but I’ve thought a lot about this and I’ve decided I needed to say something.

We live in a well-connected world. With a few keystrokes, people can learn more about a topic (or a person) than ever before. So, yes, I agree that we need to be careful about what we share online. My agent advised me on what I should and shouldn’t say online way back when I signed with him. And so I’ve been careful about sharing anything. I never share names and dates and personal correspondence. And I always think twice before I post anything online.

However, and I’m probably killing my career by saying this , I haven't shut my trap completely.

And this is why:

When I first started querying agents, I didn’t know what to expect, and I had no writing friends who could tell me. So I turned to the internet for information.

What I didn’t expect, however, was the support I would need, too. This business is stressful. And no one understands that more than another writer. I was grateful when I found others who were sharing their progress (or lack of it) with the world. I lurked on their blogs or the message boards where they posted, and it gave me the extra strength I needed to push through the difficulties and keep going. Soon I started sharing myself. It wasn’t a lot (I’ve always been a little nervous about sharing too much online anyway), but it helped to join in the conversation with other writers.

And when I signed with my agent, it was a whole lot of fun to share the exciting news with others who really understood what an accomplishment that was.

But now I’m in that place where it’s shadows and whispers. Where I can’t say anything because it might make my agent mad at me, or might turn off an editor, or it might kill a deal.

Yes. I’m on agented submission.

And being on submission means you are supposed to put on a happy face for the world and keep your trap shut.

And I have tried. I promise.

Unfortunately I haven’t always succeeded. I’ll admit that I have sent out more than one poorly disguised plea for others to share their struggles. Because it’s hard when you know you’re struggling, but even harder when you’re feel like you're struggling alone. I’m sure somewhere I have shared what I think are basic, generic thoughts and feelings that some editors or agents would think is too much information.

But I am grateful to those who brave the backlash and publicly share their struggles. For example, about a month ago, I came across this post by someday author Natalie Whipple. I can’t tell you how much her post meant to me. Because I’ve been through some (most) of the things she described. And it helped to know I wasn’t alone.

So today I open my trap to plead for a little more understanding from industry professionals. Yeah, you might find out through Google that my manuscript has been on submission for a million years and you are the 400th editor/agent to read it, but cut me a little slack. A million years is a long time to wait…and after the first hundred-thousand years or so, you start to wonder if it’s just you or the industry in general. And when you find a group of writers going through the exact same thing you are, it helps.

More than you might realize.


  1. Gosh...great post! I must agree with you. I find it hard to "lie" and not always say what I feel, especially in this writing world. So I have learned, because as my father used to say "You have a big mouth." I would disagree my mouth is kinda small....anyway, I've learned that not saying anything can be just as hard as the backlash of putting something out there then regretting it.
    Truthfully, I think we are all needing a pick me up, and we just can't take it right we shut down, and shut up.

  2. I read that post and then emailed Josh and apologised for sharing personal stuff with him. He said "Don’t always believe what you read on blogs. If I were uncomfortable hearing about your personal stuff, I’d have told you already. I think it’s very dangerous to take one blogger’s opinion on anything as gospel . The most important thing is that you feel comfortable telling me what you need to.... In our office, we hope and expect to be very much part of our clients’ lives, and for a long time. Hopefully it’s one of the attractions of working with a smaller place (and, more specifically, with me!). Make sense? Just don’t sweat it. And you can tell the blogger that I said so!"

    I guess coming from a different country makes me more invisible. And, I always speak up - I'm an honest justice person. Bad mouthing anyone, however, I would agree is a big no no - whatever the forum

  3. I think you have to find the middle ground between spilling your guts all over your blog (as mothers, don't we deal with enough spills already) and being so tight-lipped you need a wrench to pry any information out. Too little information (TLI?) is boring.