Trading Places…with Maryann Miller

Maryann Miller 3Today, you will find L.J. over at my blog doing a guest post. We thought it would be fun to trade places for a day. I’ve never met L.J. in person, but I know her from The Blood Red Pencil blog. I’ve also read her book, Secrets to Die For, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and she was kind enough to read and blurb my new mystery, Open Season. (Which Dani Greer won in this giveaway!)

BTW, I did not pay or bribe her to give me a blurb. She was just kind enough to do it for me, and I hope to pass that kindness on one day when perhaps a blurb from me will mean something. [Note from L.J.: It’s a great story, no kindness necessary.]

In thinking about what to write about that would be helpful to other authors, I came up with the idea of sharing a few tips under the heading: Don’t Make These Mistakes.

Early in my career when my enthusiasm sometimes overran my common sense, I really blundered when I didn’t listen to an editor and do what she said. She was interested in a children’s book I was working on and wanted to see just a simple outline. I thought the first few pages of the book that I had already had my daughter illustrate would be good to send along, too, so I asked the editor if she wanted to see those. She said, “No. Just send the outline for now.”

Well, I kept looking at those lovely pictures and decided it wouldn’t hurt to just include a few with the outline. Certainly they would charm the editor and make her more receptive to my idea.

Silly me. What it did was show that editor that I did not know how to follow directions.

Don’t react like a petulant child the first time you are edited by a professional. When my first book sold, I was horrified when I got the manuscript back and the editor had changed up my chatty style to something quite a bit more academic. My husband convinced me to let it be for a day. Don’t call the editor and scream. Just have a glass of wine and look at the galleys tomorrow. “It’s about the book,” he said. “Not you.”

Good words to keep in mind as we experience feedback from critique groups or editors. It’s about making the book the best it can be. It is not an indictment of our writing ability or our talent.  We really need to resist the temptation to huff and puff and blow some publishing house down, just because we don’t like what some editor said.

Those aren’t the only mistakes I have made in my career, but I decided not to bore you with the rest. It did take me a while to learn that I had to be professional on all levels of this writing business, especially on the business side of it, and I hope it doesn’t take you as long.

What mistakes have you made that others can learn from?

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Open SeasonWho is Maryann Miller? The author of nine non-fiction books, including the award-winning Coping With Weapons and Violence in School and On Your Streets. Her fiction includes: Play It Again, Sam, a woman’s novel, One Small Victory, a suspense novel, and Friends Forever, a young adult novel.

Here’s the tagline for her newest book, a mystery called Open Season: Set against a backdrop of racial tension and deadly force controversy in Dallas, Open Season introduces Sarah Kingsly and Angel Johnson, homicide detectives who are unlikely and unwilling partners. When people start dying in area shopping malls, the detectives find themselves up against a killer who has his own race card to play.

“Try this debut mystery by a journalist for its open treatment of current urban problems, clean prose, and realistic depiction of women working together. For readers who enjoy Robin Burcell and fans of police procedurals.”—Library Journal

“Miller  spins a tight tale that’s a cut above the average police procedural…. Readers will want to see more of these engaging female cops.”—Publisher’s Weekly.

17 Comments
  1. I’m feeling really lonely over here, folks. LOL

    On a more serious note, I’ve decided to give an electronic copy of One Small Victory to a lucky winner drawn from those who leave comments here. I will keep the contest open until Friday to give people plenty of time to come on over.

  2. Hi, Maryann,

    It’s been a while. delighted you’re with us again. Even more delighted to read the wonderful reviews your new book has garnered! I see lots of library sales in your future. Congrats!

  3. Hi Maryann — What you say is absolutely true. But you can raise the stakes a notch higher, and say that part of being a professional is knowing when to take advice and when (politely) to disregard it. I depend enormously on both my writing group and my editor for good and useful feedback (and for ideas about things I’ve never thought of). Most of the time, I take the advice. But sometimes you get conflicting advice–and sometimes you just have to say, no, I’ve thought this through and I’m trusting my own instinct. Even when you do that, though, you’re benefiting from criticism, because it requires you to think through what you’re doing and why. And sometimes you’ll realize the criticism is pinpointing a real problem, but you need to find a different solution from the one others suggest.

    Jeff Carver

  4. I do want to hear about the other mistakes, Maryann! I promise, I will learn from them 🙂

    Let’s see…what mistakes have I made. The ones I can think of have to do with the road less traveled. For instance, when I signed with my second agent, I had another one offering to rep me. I thought of the one I chose as Jerry in Jerry Maguire, and the other one as Sugar. However, Jerry wound up not selling my work. Was that a mistake? Should I have gone with Jay Mohr’s character?

    Mistakes are how we learn, but they’re dreadful when you can’t take a concrete lesson from them, and just go round and round, wondering.

    I do a lot of things that are bolder or edgier than I am really comfortable with because I fear *not* doing them and later regretting it. This isn’t a recipe for making fewer mistakes. But it is a recipe for staving off regret.

    At least you tried, you can always say.

    I say that, anyway.

  5. Good points, Jenny. Sometimes I wonder if I ever learned anything without making a mistake first. LOL

    And I agree with your, Jeffrey, we need to be careful about which critiques and editorial comments to heed and which to ignore.

  6. I was confident I’d turned in a near perfect manuscript to my editor when I got the contract for my first mystery. Imagine my shock when I received the editor’s copy back with comments and Track Changes, and every page was full of corrections. We simply do not know what we don’t know until we let an editor tackle our manuscript.

  7. I’ve read all of LJ’s books, but none of yours, Maryann. What does that say? I have no idea if you can write, that’s what! ROFLMAO. You do follow instructions rather well at this point your life, I can say that with enthusiasm!

  8. I love finding wonderful quotes that help me to see something from the “other side of the fence.” Here’s one that suits this topic perfectly, from Harold Ross, founder of The New Yorker: “Editing is the same as quarreling with writers – the same thing exactly.” Me, I try to quarrel in a civilized manner, as long as the basic intent of my work is not compromised, I’m willing to listen – and sometimes I even learn!

  9. Joyce, I love the quote. Thanks for that quote. It is so perfect here. Since I have been on both sides of the editing table, I have come to understand how to accept editing with a little more grace. I also understand the importance of good negotiations with an editor.

    Dani, maybe you will be the lucky winner in this giveaway. In the meantime, you can sample my writing on my Web site. There are excerpts there free for the reading. And thanks so much for the endorsement of my ability to follow directions. I am much older and wiser now. SNORT

  10. Loved your topic. I once had a new editor who handed me the first few pages of a book she’d loved, after she had done her line editing. I was appalled she had essentially rewritten my book and told her to erase the mess or I’d pull the book. She grabbed an eraser.

  11. Egad, Phoebe, did she even know what it means to edit? Sounds like she wasn’t very experienced.

  12. Maryann and LJ, great article, and it’s great to learn more about you.

  13. thanks for stopping by, Susan. Glad you enjoyed the article.

  14. When I was just beginning to sell articles to magazines, an editor told me she thought I had written two stories and she was interested only in the first one. I was so eager to please that I sent a revised version with the part she was interested in almost by return mail. She bought it.

    Then I revised the other half of the article and sold that one too. When an editor gives advice, I listen – at least part of the time.

  15. Good for you, Marilynne. BTW, I love the spelling of your name. Quite different from the norm.

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