Sunday, March 22, 2020

Confessions from a Reformed Diva by Patty Blount

On two separate days this year, each of my sons admitted that I was right and wish they'd taken my advice years earlier when they were choosing their college majors.

Despite their admissions that I was right, I took no pleasure in hearing this. Instead, I feel anxious for both of them.

The real value of advice is in using it when it's given. Admittedly, much advice that's offered is never asked for, but still... can we agree there's still value in advice not specifically asked for? People offering you advice -- unsolicited or not -- are doing so because they want to save you from enduring something terrible. Yes?

Groovy. Moving on...

I'm going to give you advice on how NOT to act.

When I was a baby writer just starting out, advice came in the form of craft books I'd borrowed from the library or blog posts from browsing the internet. I hadn't formed any connections yet. Then I discovered social media and found other writers online. (My involvement with YA Outside the Lines was born from those links.) Over time, those links to writers began to generate advice.

Lots and lots of advice.

Here are the things I learned and happily pass along to you new writers. I hope you'll follow these pieces of wisdom because, as I said at the top, they're offered to help you avoid growing pains.

1. If you're publishing traditionally, find an agent who's excited to work with you. You are literally putting your career in this person's hands and if they can't get excited about your work, few others are likely to either.

2. Write what scares you the most. Author Sean Ferrell gave me that advice almost a decade ago and it's served me well. The novel that scared me the most was SOME BOYS and it went on to final for a bunch of awards and became my most successful book to date.

3. Do NOT compare your process, your journey, your success to anyone else's. Almost ten years ago, before I was published, I remember losing my cool when Snookie landed a publishing contract. I mean, come on! A girl whose claim to fame was how much she could drink publishes before I do? That really stung. But a kind agent on Twitter set me straight and reminded me that publishing is a business and sometimes, publishing celebrities' works is the sort of no-risk investment that permits editors to keep the lights on, so more books can be published over time. And maybe, one of those will be mine.

Spoiler alert: It was.

4. Stay kind.  The publishing community is tight and things you say when emotional are remembered.

This 4th one is the piece of advice I forgot.

At a national conference in 2019, I walked into a Sourcebooks autograph event and was told "You're not signing today." I blinked in shock. I'd done this event almost every year since 2012 when my first book was published. But they had no books for me. I took out my frustration on a new employee -- went full diva on her. "What do you mean I'm not signing today?!? Do you realize I just won two awards this week?" I shouted at her.

Yeah. I was truly awful. Cringing just admitting this to you right now.

Why did I behave so terribly?

I was dying of mortification that my publisher didn't think I was important enough to include in an autograph signing event and couldn't bear for colleagues to know this.

I'm happy to tell you I rallied. I got my sh*t back together and even though there were no books for me to sign, I put out a sign-up sheet for anyone interested. Instead of screaming and crying and continuing my tantrum, I told people who came to that event that a delivery problem resulted in no stock for me to sign. Sourcebooks promised they'd ship books to anyone on that list. I signed scrap paper, bookmarks, and tote bags instead.

And to that poor employee, I apologized profusely and repeatedly for my horrible behavior. None of us is All That. We're all in this together. So no diva behavior, no trash-talking other authors because they finaled in a contest and you didn't, or they got a movie deal and you didn't. If you truly cannot be happy about someone else's five-figure advance, retreat and avoid because believe me, your tantrums, your catty remarks, and your diva attitude WILL be remembered far longer than your fiction.

If you TAKE NO OTHER ADVICE, take this.





5 comments:

  1. Neato, love the quick recovery when you lost it.

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  2. Great post! My favorite reminder was to write what scares me most. Working on it right now!

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    1. My editor always told me I write my best work when I'm angry. I think I write my best work when I'm scared.

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