Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sometimes Being Professional Only Gets You As Far As...

I have been holding my tongue. As a newly published author, I can't afford to mouth off about everything that ruffles me when it comes to the world of writing and publishing. Yes, we're allowed gripes now and then, but writers who slam the publishing industry at every turn are burning bridges. Not smart when you are hoping to move "up" in that industry.

I recently saw a video made by a fellow author (no, I won't mention her name nor provide a link) who was giving the virtual finger to the publishing industry for ignoring her work. The method had me baffled. How does she expect to *gain* respect by showing pictures of herself in outfits that are one step above lingerie, accompanied by music and text meant to accuse the publishing industry of being unfair?

To me, that is taking things too far. Way too far. But it begs the question: How far can we take things? What gripes are legitimate? How much do we voice our opinions and experiences before we have crossed a line?

A couple of weeks ago I experienced something I considered blogging about right away, because I was angry. I held back, thinking it would be in bad form. But the more I've thought about it, the more I realize people need to be aware of things--both writers and readers.

Here's what happened:

I was contacted by a local middle school reading coach, who asked me if I'd come speak to the kids for National Literacy Week. Despite the request coming only two weeks in advance, I said yes. Since I've never done a speaking engagement at a school, I asked about the procedure. I got an email reply describing, somewhat vaguely, what to expect. It included something about "presales" going through a local indie bookstore. I said that would be fine, awesome even, because I'd love to support an indie bookstore, but that being small press I'm not automatically carried at that store.

That was the end. The offer was suddenly dead in the water. I got no further reply from her.

I of course began to question myself. Had I said something wrong? Been unprofessional in some way? I read the email I'd sent over and over, searching for something to clue me in on how I'd killed the deal.

And then I realized it was not me.

My email was professional, polished, and positive. Error-free, grammatically correct, well-formatted, and clearly worded. I showed willingness to work with them, on their schedule, at the drop of a hat. I was willing to comply with any and all procedures, and I followed up quickly.

The reading coach who'd contacted me, on the other had, wrote her email in a cutesy font, in one-big-ginormous-paragraph, with no paragraph breaks at all. It contained improper grammar and punctuation, sentences that started with lower case letters, and run-on sentences. Not to mention it meandered all over in content. The one thing she did make clear was that this was a hassle for her, mentioning "red tape" several times. And she made sure to tell me that the "big names" who'd visited their school never charged a fee. Thanks. Way to make me feel small. Especially since I never brought up money in the first place.

Now don't get me wrong. I know teachers and pretty much anyone working at public schools are overworked and underpaid. But she is the *reading coach*--I would expect a better grasp on email writing. And I felt snubbed. She should have emailed me back and explained, or sent a "sorry, this isn't going to work" form letter, rather than just dropping the conversation like a hot potato.

The writing world is one of competition, of trying to shine above the rest. Of being bold and professional to prove we have what it takes. Yet, when we do work hard to polish and edit our books to perfection, painstakingly create and arrange original cover images, and step valiantly out of our comfort zones, we still get shot down. Because the local indie bookstore won't carry indie writers. Because of  "red tape."

And what irks me the most: Because of other people being unprofessional.

Small press publishing has a bad rep for being filled with bad writing, bad editing, and bad cover art. But many of the same people who feel it applies to ALL small press and indie authors exhibit those same things in their dealings with us. Slapped-together emails. Snarky replies. Patronizing statements. Unclear descriptions for procedures and parameters. Lack of organization and detail. And sometimes, flat-out rudeness.

Yet we are to clamp our mouths tight, except for the words "thank you for your time" and move on.

I'm not posting all this as a gripe, or a rant, or to vent. I am doing so because I think indie writers need to know what they are in for. You will be snubbed at some point, probably by someone with half your professionalism. You will have to take the high road, books tucked under your arm, unsold, and search for another venue.

And readers, you will be barred from reaching a lot of awesome books because there are unprofessional people who put themselves in the way. My books will not reach the kids at that school now--not because I was unprofessional, but because their reading coach was.

Time to finish the statement started in my blog title:

Sometimes being professional only gets you as far as the unprofessional people let you.

**Fortunately, though, there ARE professional people out there--like the awesome people at Bloomingdale Library, who are letting me speak and sell books THIS SATURDAY, Feb. 4th, at 3:30. The whole experience so far has been organized and detailed and clearly explained. The librarians have been immensely helpful and quick to answer questions, and for that, I am grateful!**


owo xD said...

This is sad. I'm sorry you had to deal with that, Kat!

There was an author who I was helping set up tour dates around my area a long while back, and I was snubbed by everyone just because the author is a Christian. He's toured everywhere and sold thousands and thousands of books, but just because he believed in Christ, people turned me down.

This isn't a fair world we live in! You have to be pushing the "right" agenda in the "right" way in order to get places. However, everyone has their own definition of what RIGHT is!


Caprice Hokstad said...

I don't understand why the indie bookstore had to be involved at all. It's a LITERACY event at a PUBLIC SCHOOL! What do booksales have to do with that anyway? Every school or "literacy" function I have ever been to has shied away from any mention of selling books because then they make reading sound like an expensive hobby which is counter-productive to encouraging READING. They always send people to the library, internet, or they GIVE AWAY free books. So what they're saying is that because you can't SELL books at a certain store, you're not qualified to speak or advocate literacy? Huh? That's just stupid.

Kat Heckenbach said...

It's Chris! Long time, no see, over here :). And yeah, that has to be frustrating. I haven't even gotten into *that* part of it yet. With Finding Angel not being overtly Christian, it hasn't been an issue. But I have lots of personal experience stories that are. I'll find out eventually if that influences people one way or another.

And, Caprice--it totally felt like the woman wanted me to say no. Like it was going to be so much work to have me there. I haven't been to any of these literacy things yet, but I won't be surprised at all to find what you're talking about there.

Jeff Chapman said...

Sorry, Kat. What an awful experience. I feel sorry for the kids to have such a "reading" coach. You would think people would go to an indie book store to find something different. But if all they sell are books from big-name publishers, why bother. You can find the same books at a chain or the grocery store.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Well, I've actually contacted the indie bookstore directly, and found out the reason they can't carry most indie books. It's a reason that does make sense, and I'll likely be blogging on that soon. Still, doesn't change the unprofessional way I was "dropped" by the reading coach. A simple, "Sorry, this isn't going to work," email would have sufficed.

Carol Linsky said...

Glad you at least found out what the reason was, but they should have been upfront and professional about it.

Congratulations on being asked to speak at the Brandon Library! I'd love to come hear you speak, but I wouldn't want you to be self-conscious, so I'll be a good mom and stay away:) Hope you gain some new admirers and sell lots of books!

Love you,