by Libby Malin
I just handed in the copy-edited version of my next Sourcebooks release, My Own Personal Soap Opera. I'm always so, so grateful to copy editors for catching my inconsistencies (uh, if the heroine's cell phone jingles in most scenes, maybe it shouldn't chirp in another) and my outright mistakes (like misspelling a major character's name).
I try not to beat myself up too much when I see these oopsies. What writer doesn't scratch her head trying to remember on page 170 what she called that secondary character mentioned on page 32? I've used the "find" function of MSWord more than once to doublecheck characters or word descriptions. Even though I try to be careful, mistakes still happen.
Mistakes were a big part of my heroine's life in Fire Me -- she was deliberately trying to make them, in order to win the pink slip and a severance pay package. Her rationale was that a little embarrassment was a small price to pay for the bigger prize.
But most of us aren't so sanguine about mess-ups, in manuscripts or in life. We turn red-faced or cringe when remembering past fumbles.
So, too, with memories of early writing life mistakes. I warm with embarrassment when recalling some of my goofs. Here are a few gaffes I made:
When I first started writing fiction, I thought all you needed to do to get a publishing house's attention was to send them a (query) letter. Uh, that's right -- a letter to the publishing house. My first query was addressed to Simon & Schuster, I believe. I'm not sure I even put "Fiction Editor" on the envelope.
Okay, so I learned quickly enough that was not such a hot strategy (but am grateful that someone at S&S had pity on me and sent me copied pages of a literary marketplace book with agent listings on it).
Next mistake: when I started writing romance, I actually wrote a few query letters that included this sure-to-sell-me pitch: "My sister, who is a huge romance fan, loves my manuscript."
I mean, c'mon, who wouldn't want to buy a manuscript from me after that? Really.
When I shared these embarrassments with a multi-published writing friend, she confessed to her own early goof -- she once wrote query letters that included her drawings of what she thought the cover of her book should look like.
Thank goodness the editors and agents who received these gems from us didn't laugh us out of the business. We've matured since then, and are both happy to share advice with beginning writers on the business side of writing.
I know we're not alone -- I once read an article in the Romance Writers Report by a successful author who, as a newbie, hadn't been sure what agents and editors meant when they said to send in a few chapters. She thought perhaps she should choose the best chapters out of the entire manuscript.
(I couldn't feel superior on that one -- it was something I, too, had wondered about when I'd received that request!)
So, are you willing to share some of your early stumbles? Don't be bashful -- we've all been there!