Saturday, December 18, 2010

Just Say No

Currently re-reading - Storm Front by Jum Butcher

One thing that sucks about American culture is we raise our women to be people-pleasers, regardless of the cost to themselves.  I see this with actresses like Winona Ryder, who got hooked on uppers trying to keep up with demands.  I see this with customers when I ask if they have our store's frequent buyer card.  The customer then comes up with some convoluted story about how they used to have one, blah, blah, blah, in a weird attempt to spare my feelings when a simple "No" would suffice.

Folks, and especially the ladies reading this, it's perfectly okay to say, "No."  Tap into your inner two-year-old and practice.  "No."

"No, no, no!"

See?  Wasn't that easy?

So what does this have to do with writing?  You need to know when and how to say "No," to certain projects.

Take a writer named "Mildred" for example.  (Yes, names have been changed.)

Shortly after Mildred received her first book-deal, an editor from a small press called her.  The editor wanted Mildred to write a short story for an anthology she was putting together for charity.  The theme of the anthology was a cause near-and-dear to Mildred's heart, so her first inclination was to say yes.  Furthermore, the editor kept pressing how this would be terrific exposure for Mildred since she was such a new writer.

Luckily, Mildred said, "Let me talk to my agent."  Mildred's agent works in the vicinity of a major east coast city where "No" was generally replaced with "Fuck off!"  The agent had no problem getting to the nitty-gritty of the details of the deal which were:

a) No advance.  Not even a token $1.

b) No royalties.  Not even a token $0.01 per copy.

c) No flat fee.

The agent told Mildred (as gently as a New York agent can tell a client), "Honey, you told me your goal was to write for X Publishing House and to make Y money.  How the hell can I help you do that when you're giving your shit away for free to some pissant house no one's ever heard of?"

"But this is for charity!" Mildred wailed.

Agent sighed deeply.  "Wouldn't you be able to donate a lot more yourself if we sell your next project instead of screwing around with a freebie?"

So despite the tears and the anger at her agent, Mildred realized she was right.  Mildred gave the editor a polite, "No, thank you.  I must decline."  The editor then screamed invectives over the phone with dire predictions of Mildred's career tanking.  Mildred repeated herself with an extra helping of polite and hung up the phone.

These are the types of decisions we must all make as writers.  Not every decision we make may be the right one, but that's the chance we take.  And we definitely need to keep our eyes focused on our goals, or we will never reach them.  That sometimes means saying, "No."

So what happened with Mildred you ask?  She's still writing away years later.  She still has the same agent, though Mildred's learned to say "No" occasionally to her as well.  Her latest advance check had a lot of zeros after the five.  Her favorite charity is ecstatic when they receive her donations, also with lots of zeros.

The editor who called Mildred names even I won't repeat?  She lost her job when the small press closed six months after she threatened Mildred for saying "No."


  1. There's nothing wrong with charity benefit anthos, but an editor who has no problem burning bridges with writers by cussing them out and threatening them when they politely turn down an opportunity? Umm, yeah, that person needs to get into a different (and much less stressful) business. Hopefully one where they interface with other people as little as possible. Forest ranger working fire-spotting duty way out in the woods, maybe...?

    But seriously, someone who'll pull that kind of crap has no business telling someone else how to manage their career. :P


  2. Angie, honey, that's true in EVERY profession. LOL I've had so many male attornies shoot themselves in the proverbial foot by pulling that crap on me.