I actually like Halloween. And not for the usual reasons. I like the holiday it used to be and still is in some cultures--basically, a time to remember the dead, those who have gone before, ancestors. But I'm willing to go in for the whole scary Halloween theme because it's fun to be scared. By small ghosts holding plastic pumpkins. In real life, scary is rarely a good time.
And in publishing, would anyone ever choose a trick over a treat?
I haven't been in the industry long enough to have many scary tales, but there is one I will share.
It goes like this. When my first novel was heading out for praise, I had a few writers I hoped would be willing to give it a quote. One of those writers I particularly admired--and felt a kinship with through her work. Her work was also carried by the same publisher.
So I wrote her a letter. Sent it along to my editor's assistant so that it could accompany my book, and she would receive both at the same time. I don't remember exactly what I wrote in the short note.
I know it included a few lines of praise for the writer's work. I told her how much I enjoyed it. I said a few things about my novel, and I thanked her for giving it a read.
A few weeks later I received a concerned phone call from my agent. My editor was upset. Apparently, someone in the publishing house had opened this letter before it got to the author and returned it to my editor. It never did make it to this much admired writer. It didn't get there and I had a lot of apologizing to do. I had written a few words in the note about the title of my novel and how I didn't love it, and this was seen as reflecting poorly on my editor.
Now I loved my editor. It had never occurred to me that these few, brief, and not extremely emphatic words would have any effect--on anyone. It was mortifying. It reminded me of being a chastened child. I had many apologies to make. Of course I called my editor directly and explained that my complete ignorance of publishing standards was no reflection on her many gifts. Truthfully, I do self-deprecating humor all the time and considered this more of the same.
But the thought of someone reading that note?! That surprised and scared me. That's as spooky Halloween as I want anything to be. So is the chance of runing a professional relationship--or a career--because of a small, seemingly insignificant mistake.
It kind of made me want to retreat back into the touchy-feely-we're-all-good-people-doing-the-best-we-can yoga world. Things are a lot less scary there.
I've recovered now, of course! And learned something along the way. For example, that this reading of notes to writers is standard. Anything like this happen to any of you?
Sam is the author of THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME. A graduate of Smith College and Yale Divinity School, she is the full-time mother of three young children, an ordained minister, and a yoga teacher. Her next novel will be out next winter. You can visit her at samanthawilde.com.