Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Dumb Career Moves


My editor, M, was bright and talented but also somewhat off-putting. At least to me. To show you how clueless I can be, M and I were having lunch at Four Seasons (where else?) after my first hard cover novel, Decades, was so successful—a NYT bestseller in hard cover, major paperback sale and worldwide foreign and translation sales.

"Your next book should be about my affair," M told me—he was married to wife #1 at the time—whereupon he proceeded to fill me in on the lurid details.

Did I take notes? Nope.
Did I write my next book about M's affair? Nope.

For one thing, Decades was about a married man having a hot affair (which might be one of the reasons M “loved it” in the first place) so I was sort of burned out on the subject.

For another, M rode his horse every morning before coming into the office and wore his riding boots—and horsy smell—to work. He dyed his hair several shades of blonde and conducted meetings lying flat on the floor of his office—"bad back." His efforts to turn himself into a fascinating character, I suspect, but hardly my idea of a hunky sex object who would energize a novelist in search of an inspiring new subject for her next book.

Had I written the book M wanted, he would almost certainly have promoted the hell out of it and I would most likely have had two major bestsellers, one right after another, and a different trajectory to my career. But I didn’t. Boy, was I dumb.

Or am I being too hard on myself?

What I realize in retrospect is #1, I allowed my subjective response to M to overly influence me. #2, even though I was now officially “successful,” I didn’t yet have enough experience to be confident in my creativity. After all, there are said to be only six or seven plots. M’s story would have been different from the story I’d just written: different people, different settings, different outcomes.

Am I the only one to have missed a good opportunity? Or the only one to look back and see an earlier turning point through a different lens? Please share. I’m interested in your experience.

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  1. Boy howdy, do I relate! I make dumb career moves all the time. Made one six months ago to partner with a techie who did not have my best interests at heart. Nearly sent me to the looney bin. We're always going back to Hard Knocks U to get a refresher course in dealing with weird people. I would have reacted the same way to your narcissistic boss. Yuck.

    1. No matter how experienced we are, there's always some new scam to beware of. Sorry you got ensnared by an evil techie!

      You are not alone. Many of the narcissistic editor's writers reacted the same way you and I did. He was super smart but—shall we say?—a bit odd.

  2. I can relate. I'd been shopping a nonfiction proposal of personal essays for almost six months and had turned down at least three lousy offers from publishers who wanted to either charge a sky-high price for the book or wanted ALL RIGHTS to my writer's essays. And then there was the agent who communicated with me in one word emails: Yes or No. The signs were there. He was feeding into every insecurity I possessed. Got rid of him. Am I sorry? Nope. I waited it out and now we have a wonderfully communicative publisher who's supportive and wants to publish the best book possible. It does get better. No regrets. I don't think you made a mistake at all. When you're done, you're done.

    1. Paul—Thanks for taking the time to comment. Your experience—unfortunately—is not uncommon. Writers need to be prepared for amazingly rude and dismissive replies and publishers whose greed is appalling. Glad you made intelligent decisions and found a publisher you will work well with. Whew!