Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Becoming Flexible

lab_e01_01eMy writing friend Jody Hedlund has an interesting post today on being flexible.

Traditionally, I’ve not been the most flexible person, internally What that means is that, if I’m volunteering for you at school, or if you’re a friend that I’ve got a lunch date with, or if my child is coming to your house to play, and your plans change suddenly—I’m extremely pleasant and understanding about it on the outside. “It’s no trouble at all. No, I totally understand. We’ll take a rain check.”

On the inside, though, I’m a big mess. My day has changed in a way I wasn’t prepared for. Now I need to look at all my lists and switch them out. Figure out a new game plan. It stresses me out. Which is ridiculous, but I’m Type A . It’s just the way I am.

Writing, actually was the first place I learned to be flexible.

This, I attribute completely to the fact that even rats in mazes can be trained to recognize rewards for successes. They’ll remember the successful path through the maze to end up with the treat at the end. And every single time I was flexible with my writing, I ended up with some sort of small success or reward.

I responded to stimuli. :)

It started with my first editor. I’d actually hired an independent editor back in 2003ish. He was the kind of editor that took no prisoners and didn’t suffer fools lightly. I’d never, ever shown anyone my fiction, so this was a rough initiation into revision for me. On the one hand, since I grew up with my English teacher dad, my grammar and mechanics were in good shape. But there was all kinds of stuff that needed to be ironed out with showing-not-telling, etc.

I suffered through the process. It irritated me to make changes to a manuscript that I thought was good enough to sell. I made all his suggested changes, but saved an old copy that I didn’t revise. And, was astounded to discover that his suggestions made my book much better.

To this day, 9 times out of 10 I take the suggestion of first readers and my editors.

Then there was the querying process. Which took forever for an impatient person like me. I was absolutely bent on having a particular agent at this particular agency. I’d done the research and this person seemed like the perfect match.

Then came the rejection.

I remember actually thinking that I’d just write another book and try again to hire this particular agent. But I realized that wasn’t an effective Plan B. Instead, I was flexible and started sending out queries to many agents who represented cozy mysteries. And got another flurry of rejections. So I decided to change the plan again and send directly to targeting publishers.

And ended up with a contract. Another little reward for flexibility.

Promo was another area where I needed to learn flexibility. I wasn’t wild about promoting. I wasn’t happy about leaning social media. I don’t enjoy selling things.

Being flexible with marketing means that not only have I sold many more books than I would have if no one knew me, but means that I’ve also developed many online friendships along the way.

Now I’m trying to be flexible again. I’m trying to respond to a changing publishing industry. Which is hard—I worked hard to get published traditionally. But I’m quick to recognize change (even if I never like change), and so I’m preparing a book I wrote several years ago for e-publishing.

This hasn’t been easy for me, either. I’ve been used to having a publisher’s art department come up with concepts, having them to the interior book design, not worrying at all about the actual process of publishing a book. But I’m going with the flow again—why not publish both ways? That way I’ve got all my bases covered. Flexibility.

Now if I can only be flexible when my children’s plans for the day change! I’m working on it.

How flexible are you as a writer? Have you seen a payoff when you are?