Two inalienable rules which you break at your peril

October 21, 2010

Aha, you have leapt to my blog believing you are going to be given two outstanding tips for writing success, both of which you will be able to pin above your laptop as you pound the keys.
Sorry to disappoint, but today’s rules are not quite like that and have been dragged from the earthenware pot of practicality and from my sorry pounding head (see below). I feel too grotty to write much today (see below again), but here are two proven aids for a happy life.

The first is this: Always be polite when you answer the telephone

One of the things that drives me crazy about living in the USA is SALES CALLS. I immediately see all you Americans nodding madly, and Brits looking a bit baffled. In the course of any working day my phone will ring many, many times with dropped calls (some machine has decided another sucker picked up before me), mortage services, information about preferential rates on credit cards, charitable collections, political schmoozing etc etc etc.

When you’ve run for the phone ten times in one day only to get this nonsense, your temper starts to fray (just how many times CAN you say PLEASE TAKE ME OFF YOUR DATABASE I AM A BUSINESS!). In fact, a cold caller hung up on ME last week because I was curt with him. Unbelievable!

But when you have a manuscript out on submission the stakes get even higher. Every phone call could be THE CALL – either good or bad. The one that makes or breaks a writer’s dreams; the game changer. And you never quite know which it will be.

It would be nice if the phone display forewarned you. A hint like THIS PHONE CALL IS CRUCIAL would help enormously, but sadly Verizon and Cox haven’t yet offered this service. So meanwhile all I can do is look for the magic number – which is usually 212.

212. The code for New York. The Code of Destiny.

And so it was last Friday, when my phone rang in the morning, the magic numbers popping up on the display. One deep breath and I pick up, suddenly measured and charming. A very hoarse-sounding Donna Bray (Balzer & Bray, HarperCollins) came on the line. Hoarse because she was in the throes of a whopping cold (see below yet again), but couldn’t admit defeat and go home to her bed before she had called me with a preemptive offer on the thrilling debut novel I had sent her – SLIDE by Jill Hathaway.

This phone call was everything a writer and agent might dream of. A great editor and publisher passionately wanting an author and leaping in with a two-book preempt that was on the table that day only.

We had other interest – I immediately visualized several VERY disconsolate editors looking at me reproachfully – but we had to go with it. It was the perfect ending, the dream ending, to the rollercoaster of submission and an amazing affirmation of all Jill Hathaway’s hard work and commitment to her first novel, which will be publishing early 2012 (look for more info on this site very soon).

One phone call is all it takes in the business. Always be polite when you pick up because you never know what news might be waiting on the other end of the line!

My second tip is this: If you feel poorly, do not go to meetings

Last week a bunch of guys met for some meetings the other side of the state. One of them (I have purposely forgotten his name, but may a pox be upon it) wasn’t feeling well. After the event, about five of the other guys went down with the same thing. They then all went home to their families. One of them came home to ME. Three days later I went down with it too. And now I’m thinking, Am I really going to be OK for the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic conference on Saturday????? For all those critiques and the agent-panel moderation? I HAVE TO BE ALL RIGHT! I MUST BE ABLE TO TALK ALL DAY!

The problem is, we all feel we have to soldier on, whatever. As my son says, everyone thinks you’re ‘a big girl’s blouse’ if you let a bad cold stop you.

Er, WHAT? I hear you Americans say. What on earth is a ‘big girl’s blouse’?! Look, I didn’t invent the expression, I am merely a cultural conduit. It’s Brit-speak for when you’re soft, you’re feeble. (If it makes it any better, I think the ‘big’ bit refers to the blouse rather than the girl.)

Anyway, may I just say that you are not being a big girl’s blouse for staying home when you are poorly. You are possibly doing those of us who live hundreds of miles away from you but are on SCBWI faculties a great favour!

Oh, and I also have a third tip for the day: Always remember to turn off your house alarm BEFORE you let your dogs out.

Just sayin’.

Have a good week.

Sarah, the queen of Kleenex and Day Nurse.
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