Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Can you handle the truth?

Remember Jack Nicholson's famous line in the movie A Few Good Men, where he explodes on the stand while being interrogated by Tom Cruise. "You can't handle the truth!" he delivered with the voice and power only Nicholson can muster, to the cross examination directive that he tell the truth.

Although most viewers would be on the side of Cruise's character, rather than the manipulative character played by Nicholson, I have to say that sometimes that's how I want to respond to people who ask me questions and then don't like the answers they receive.

I truly enjoy receiving writers' questions by email. I usually reply directly to the individual if my schedule permits. However, aside from time constraints, one reason I'm considering ceasing my personal replies and only responding in my blog or newsletter is because people sometimes get angry when they receive information they don't like and then get indignant and even arrogant about my reply. Worse are the ones who ask my advice and then go ahead and do it their way, only to experience what could have been avoided if they had followed the advice they sought.

The reason that I continue to answer questions is for the people who are serious about learning how to achieve their publishing goals and are willing to do whatever is necessary.

When Nancy Kaiser first contacted me last January, she said she wanted to self-publish her book, Letting Go: An Ordinary Woman's Extraordinary Journey of Healing & Transformation, but wanted the assistance of someone who could guide her through the process, something most POD services don't offer. When she sent me her manuscript to review, it was 180,000 words. I told her that was about twice as long as it should be for a first-time author writing a memoir. She replied it had just been cut down by half from its original size. I offered to send her a sample edit that would indicate how she could cut even more.

Nancy wasn't pleased with my suggestion, but she went back to her editor and together they managed to reduce the manuscript to a more manageable and cost-effective size. Through the entire publishing process, Nancy listened to the advice of the professional designer and editors she hired to help her. She held firm to the vision she had for the cover and the integrity of the contents, but she was willing to revise and improvise whenever necessary. She never argued or refused to comply, and often a compromise was possible.

The result? A book that tells a remarkable story cased in an absolutely beautiful cover that is receiving rave reviews from readers all over the world.

Whether you ask questions by email or in person at a writers' conference or author presentation, accept that the answer is given from the person's experience. We're not making the rules or inventing the process, so don't shoot the messenger. There's lots of things about this business that are frustrating, but I've found that many of the silliest-seeming procedures are there for a good reason, whether I like it or not. Publishing is not for the feint of heart or those easily discouraged. I'm reminded of one of my mother's favorite expressions: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." And for goodness sake, "Don't get saucy with me, Bearnaise." (Harvey Korman, History of the World, Part I)

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