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Bouncing back when publication doesn’t happen

5 June, 2008

What link can I make between my experiences today and writing?

I had a phone call today from the guy who was to instal my new kitchen. Last week, he told me it was all systems go. How exciting — after weeks of planning a new kitchen, I’d finally see it. But today he told me the company had been sold. Now I have to go back to some of kitchen installers I didn’t select and ask them to re-quote. And after working out the plan for the new kitchen, I know the new installer–or designer as they now call themselves–will have different ideas of what’s doable and attractive. It could be a rocky road ahead.

Is there a lesson about writing in this experience? It certainly says something about handling disappointments, plus being prepared to make changes and keep going.

All writers have stories about publishing deals that don’t come off, broken promises, and big plans that go nowhere. Once a journal editor invited me to develop a series of articles on communication issues in the workplace. She was enthusiastic about the project and liked the synopsis I presented. But a few months later, she was impossible to contact. Instead of having the guts to tell me that a higher-up had vetoed the project, she let me dangle, wasting my time trying to work out what was going on.

Another time, a co-author and I sent a research paper to an international journal. The editor, a senior academic, kept the paper for over six months and hid behind his secretary when we tried to find out if it was going to be published or not. We eventually withdrew it and published it elsewhere.

A positive from my kitchen disaster is that I still have a plan I like. In the same way, if your publishing plans vanish over the horizon, you still have your manuscript. You don’t have to start from scratch.

And a bad experience can help in the long run by making you more hard-nosed about writing transactions. Such as?

Maybe the experience teaches you to ask more questions. Or ask questions earlier.  Or get an idea of a deadline. Or become more assertive about the fate of your manuscript. Or read the fine print in a contract.

The good that can come out of bad experiences in the writing market reminds me of the main character in Bonfire of the Vanities. He starts out thinking he’s invincible, a Master of the Universe. But then he has a string of bad experiences. However, by the book’s end, these troubling experiences has helped him evolve  into a street-smart pragmatist, a survivor. And we all need to become street-smart as we struggle to get our writing out there.

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