You 've Got to Laugh


From time to time, I'll meet authors who're clearly juiced on their own grandeur. Frankly, I can't imagine how many layers of insulation it would take to lose touch with publishing's myriad humbling lessons. These puffed up peacocks must have legions of flunkies running interference and whispering sweet pull-quotes in their ears as they walk out the door.

These haughty types must never read snarkily superior Amazon reviews, either, or snotterati comments on so-called "review" blogs, and I'm sure they have never responded to gushing, sob-story requests for autographed books or photos (does anyone really collect autographed author photos?) only to find them for sale on eBay a few days later.

And clearly, these arrogant authors are not attending the same book signings as the rest of us. Such as the one a friend recently reminded me of, where a man rushed up to me holding a book open and asked me, somewhat breathlessly, to sign the inner liner.

"But I didn't write that book," I said, peering at him through stacks of books I had written.

"I know that," he said, looking at me as though I had the intellect of your average rutabaga. "But this is the book I want to buy."

For the record, I didn't sign his book (he was suitably indignant) but I did convert this minor-league humiliation into a funny story to share with other writers. Which, the way I see it, is the best way of surviving this biz with one's ego relatively-intact.

You've got to laugh.

And every day I try to, when I receive scam pitches fairly oozing with false (and transparently generic) flattery; when my dictation software transmutes my brilliant prose into gobbledygook; when my editor's assistant e-mails me a request for something she needed 10 minutes ago as I'm walking out the door to an appointment.

I laugh to keep from tearing out my hair, to keep from turning cynical, and because I'm not in this business as a sprinter, but a marathoner, and I want to be here -- sane and smiling -- for the long haul.

So what about writing keeps you laughing? Any funny stories to share from signings, critique group meetings, or the Internet? If so, I'd love to hear them. It's 10 AM already, and I haven't had my first laugh of the day.

Comments

Suzan Harden said…
It happens in every profession. Like the time I covered a divorce hearing for a friend. (Her mother was dying.)

Of course I'd never met the client, so over the phone, I told him to look for the nine-month pregnant white chick in a the black dress.

When he found me outside of the courtroom, he took one look and said, "Holy ^@*$, I thought you were kidding!"

What was worse - I forgot the poor guy's name when we got before the judge.
mamele said…
i gave my name --marjorie ingall -- to the maitre-d at a restaurant. he GOGGLED and said, "THE WRITER?" why yes, i said modestly. "i LOVE your work!" he gasped and i'm all, aw shucks. and he showed me to a lovely table even tho i was alone and i saw him pointing at me and whispering to the waitress and i'm all GAW I AM SUCH A ROCKSTAR. and the waitress came over and said, "ms ingall, we are ALL such fans of yours. i LOVED Little House on the Prairie!"
Okay, ladies. Now I'm really laughing! Little House on the Prairie indeed!
Speaking of name misunderstandings, one of the first things I'm usually asked is if I'm Gloria's sister. Uh, no. No relation. But the one that really gets me is when someone asks what I write. And when I respond with romance, they reply, "oh, I don't read those kinds of books." I've learned to smile sweetly and say, "You mean the ones with actual sentences? Yes, I can tell."
Katherine,
I once had someone ask me what I wrote. When I said romantic suspense, she said, "Oh, I only read *good* books."

I couldn't help it. I cracked up right there. Realizing how she'd sounded, she turned beet red and apologized. :)
This is funny to me, because it's so asinine....but I was accused of plagerism because I had 'phrases and scenes' in my published stories taken from the accuser. Of course, the woman had been my critique partner for 2 years and, yes, I did have her phrases and scenes in my works. She'd suggested them during our many months of critiquing. Honestly, when I heard what she'd accused me of, I just laughed, as did my editor.

Needless to say, we don't critique together any more.

Anna Kathryn Lanier
Christie Craig said…
Colleen,

I can still remember my very first critique from another writer. We'd exchanged chapters the week before and now it was time to face the music. I was such a newbie and therefore I was so nervous that I'd had thrown up my wheaties that morning. And when I got there she looked me dead in the eyes and said, "Wow, you really impress me."

I can't even begin to tell you how relieved and thrilled I was. For the first time, I felt validated. You see, while she wasn't published, she was an excellent writer, and then she continued, "To even think you want to be a writer with everything you have to learn."

Talk about hit hard. But the truth is, she was right. I had a lot to learn. I can laugh about it now. But there is a lesson in there, too. I persevered and I honed my craft. Sadly, she gave up and never published.

So I guess it's not how far you have to go, or how much you have to learn, as it is how badly you want it.

CC
Oh, my gosh, Anna and Christie. Bless your hearts, and it's a good thing you kept your sense of humor!
Ciara Gold said…
I think my most humbling experience was my first book signing in which I had no books. Whaaaa. But - the invites had been mailed, the third page ad in the local newspaper posted and the bookstore booked so - I braved the day with promises I'd e-mail or call the moment the books finally arrived. Very awkward.
Lark said…
One of my oldest friends--not a writer--hinted for months she wanted to read my paranormal set in Paris. She sent me articles about the place it primarily takes place, books and movies about Paris and even French CDs.

After my husband proudly announced at dinner the paranormal had finalled in and won some contests, I relented and sent her the first chapter.

The email I got back began "I don't want you to take offense at my comments. I've never read venacular Walmart writing before." She then informed me she'd taken 5 minutes and re-writtin my first page for me. (It totally sucked.)

My CPs wanted to tar and feather her. Okay, so did I. Thank God for RWA and the writers who understand the zillions of hours, and blood, sweat and tears it takes to pursue a career in writing. And yes, I'll be overjoyed if my first book is on the shelves in Walmart.
I had a wonderful note from a reader once, who was saying nice things about a series of brothers I'd written. She wanted to know when the next brother's book would be coming out, and I told her I didn't know because it wasn't written yet.

She e-mailed back and said, "Yes, but when is it going to go on sale?"

LOL. Um...not until it's been written?
Gee, Lark, wasn't it so nice of this woman to devote five whole minutes to making your first page fit for Wal-mart (which is, indeed, a fine place to be for authors)?

Tongue firmly in cheek here.

And I've more than once received a long, effusive piece of fan mail for a book by *Carlene* Thompson. I corrected the mistakes and forwarded the messages to the right writer.
Linda Warren said…
Colleen,
At one of my signings a lady purchased a book and I gladly signed it. She had her grandson with her and she'd bought him a children's book. He placed his book in front of me to sign. Before I could respond the grandmother snatched up the book and said, "She can't sign your book. She didn't write it."
The kid started screaming at the top of his lungs, "I want her to sign my book."
As the grandmother dragged him out the door he was still screaming those words.
Now everyone in the store was looking at me and I didn't know what to say. If the grandmother had given me a chance, I would have signed a piece of paper for him to put in his book.
I still feel bad about that day.
You never know what's going to happen at a book signing.
Linda Warren
Kate Douglas said…
Before I wrote romances, I was a newspaper reporter. When my first book was published, one of my fellow reporters asked for a copy--free, of course, but we'd been friends a long time and I sent it. Now, I write EROTIC romance, and had told her it might not be her cup of tea...I certainly didn't expect a ten page, handwritten critique of all the places where I'd failed as a writer. (The book was already in its second [printing by the time I got her letter.) I just wrote back and told her that I was really glad she wasn't my editor or my husband wouldn't be considering an early retirement...which he took at 57, that year. This is NOT a career choice for the weak of heart, and I've decided you need a really healthy ego to succeed and not kill anyone, either!
Wow, friends like some of these could make enemies obsolete.

But really, you just have to shake your head and smile -- and try to forgive the poor, misguided souls.:)
Kerrelyn Sparks said…
Lark, Christie, and others--
Major ouch from those 'former' friends! I'm so glad you haven't let those nasty comments stop you.
Colleen-- you are too funny! Love your terms like snotterati! LOL
My most recent funny and humbling experience was a fan letter that arrived in my PO Box. It was very complimentary-- she just loved my Argeneau series! Hint: I don't write the Argeneau series, Linsey Sands does! I cracked up laughing, and emailed Lynsay to let her know, which cracked her up, too. She said similar things have happened to her.

Kerry
Bonnie Vanak said…
When my first book got published, I was so proud. It was a lifetime dream come true. Well, I made the mistake of taking said book into work.

We all headed out to a local watering hole after work that day to kick back, and I told my boss I had just received my author's copies. I handed him the book, he makes a comment about it being a romance, and he opens the book to the middle... and proceeds to read aloud the first thing on the page.

Unfortunately, it just happened to be a love scene.

So he's reading this love scene aloud, everyone else is howling with laughter, and I'm ready to crawl beneath the table.

Needless to say, I never gave that particular boss another book again.
Angie Fox said…
These are great. For me, humility starts at home. I was working on the third Accidental Demon Slayer book the other day and sometimes, I run things off in hard copy to make notes and see how it reads on paper. My husband will then occasionally hijack these manuscripts as impromptu coasters for his drinks.

My 4-year-old daughter walked up and asked what I was doing. I told her I was trying to write a good book. She told me, "Don't worry. Even if it's a really bad book, we can still use it as a coaster."
Bonnie,
Oooh, that story smarts. I had a coworker do this to me with my first book, using her sexiest voice to entertain my fellow teachers. I turned beet red and asked her to never do it again.

She couldn't understand why.

Hi, Kerry!
I'm glad you and Lindsay could at least laugh about the confusion!

And I cracked up last week at your comment about having Spielberg on speed dial. It reminded me,when I'm traveling and leave my agent another contactnumber, I like to add, "In case Spielberg calls."
Angie,
LOL at the coaster comment. Our kids really have a way of keeping our egos in line!
stacey purcell said…
I loved reading all the comments today! Wow, with friends like that...who needs enemies? I want to thank Colleen and pals for creating such a great blog that I always get something from. At the moment, this whole industry seems rather humbling to me and I'm learning to put on a tougher shell like Christie was talking about to see it through to the next level. Stacey
Stacey,
Glad you stopped by, and thanks for the kind words about the blog! It's a labor of love, and I'm glad some are enjoying it.

You're going to face challenges in this biz, everyone does. You can either choose to face them using friends and good humor, or you can become cynical and burn out. I pick column A. :)
These stories are priceless. I needed some of that good snorting laughter. Thanks folks.

Personally, one of my fave moments in this business was when an editor rejected my Victorian-set historical paranormal for the following reason:

"It's a little too Victorian."

Thanks I think?

It can amuse me now that Dorchester will be publishing it. :)

Of course, back in my theatre days, there was that time when I was on stage and accidentally stepped on, and OUT OF my dress. I'll have to save that one for "the most embarrasing" blog...