Monday, October 28, 2013

Comfort IN, Dump OUT: Publishing Edition

So nearly two months ago, I rather unexpectedly lost my job.

Okay, it wasn't unexpected. Not entirely. It was a change in my situation about six months sooner than I'd planned and done in a most...spectacularly not-cool way. And so I entered crisis mode: I'm a single woman, I've been doing the job of six people to pay the bills, I wasn't ready to be in this position again, lalala.

And the thing is that it affected more people than just me. I oversaw a lot of books and, therefore, corners of people's careers. People who trusted me, people who depended on me, people who recognized I was the glue holding a lot together. I'd stayed in an unhealthy situation for a long time because I didn't want to abandon those people and I worried, of course, about what would happen to them.


Email poured in. And it was rather remarkable that many of the messages of concern came from people also affected by this and their first question was, "Are you okay?" Their second, "Is there anything I can do?" Even when I tried to revert to Momma Bear mode, one of my fellow ELEW members here said, "I'm old and cranky and have lots of contingency plans--I'm more worried about you."

Weight, it lifted from my shoulders right in that moment.

First and foremost, before worrying about themselves, they expressed concern for me and I felt that much more able to face this ugly block of fear for my future. As it should be, because at the end of the day, despite many people being affected, it was my entire livelihood that was gone, whereas for others it was a small part of their overall living. My friends and colleagues (generally) recognized that I was the center of this ring.

What ring? Here you go:

The Silk Ring Theory
That is from this article on how to not say the wrong thing, specifically to someone who is diagnosed with something bad but it can work in any kind of a crisis.

When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan's colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn't feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague's response? "This isn't just about you."

"It's not?" Susan wondered. "My breast cancer is not about me? It's about you?"

If you've ever been in or near that center ring, you know what it feels like. Your spouse is dying. You've been diagnosed with cancer. Your child is sick. Your mother died. You're dealing with a lot, you're in need of comfort and support, and many people--often well-meaning--manage to dump into your ring, leading you to feel like you have to comfort them rather than the other way around.

And the absurdity of this is that everyone has no shortage of people they can dump out to already; there is no need to go into the ring. In my case, people around me could (and did) complain to their spouses, to their friends, to their peers. If you look at that ring and find there is absolutely no one to bitch to--that everyone is more affected than you--congratulations! It is a GOOD THING to not have something horrible happen to you. So don't say anything.

I do not think the average person means to be douchebaggy in this way. I think it's that we automatically believe we're always in that center ring. It takes a lot of effort and self-awareness to realize we're not.

A good friend of mine has a debilitating chronic illness. Does it affect me? Yes. I worry for her, I get scared for her, I fret about how awful my life would be without her in it, I lament how powerless I feel because I can't help. Do I kvetch to her about this? Hell no. She's in the center of the ring when it comes to her illness. Would I kvetch to her husband about this? Again, no. He's closer to the center of the ring than I am. I kvetch to people outside the sphere of those affected by her disorder.

This is the ELEW blog, I know, so around we go back to publishing: crises happen all the damn time. To everyone.

Sometimes it's something relatively minor, sometimes it's something major. Deaths, illnesses, and other losses in our personal lives. Failed series, horrible reviews, low royalties on the less traumatic side of things. And before you open your mouth to bitch to someone, pause and think about where they fit in the level of rings around the situation.

As a reader, upon hearing an author you love is sick, I understand the thought of "What about that book of yours coming out next year?" Hell, even if they're not sick--I recall one author who gave birth and ended up needing more time off than expected, so her next book's pub date was bumped by an extra six months and readers damn near RIOTED about it. I get it, we are impatient for books we love. That's normal. But you don't say that to the author. Kvetch to fellow readers. Don't send whiny mail to the author needing reassurances about the book's release.

As a writer, when something happens with a publishing staff member you work with (your agent is ill and has to take another job, your editor leaves staff, etc), it's normal to be concerned about how it will affect you because it does affect you. But it's on you to figure out a game plan for yourself and not heap more worry upon them.

And also, as a writer, if an agent or editor mentions a death in their family, your first response to them shouldn't be, "What about the books in your slush pile?" (Nor should it be your second. Or your third. Maybe you shouldn't talk at all.)

It is reasonable to want answers when it relates to your career, I know. But choosing the time and manner in which you inquire helps an already ugly situation a hell of a lot, and choosing who you complain to also makes a difference.

And the thing is, I'll remember. I'll remember the people who were kind and supportive to me during a professional crisis, just like I remember the people who were kind and supportive during personal crises.

Before you type up that message to someone in a crisis or open your mouth to speak, pause and think, "Is this going to bring them comfort or am I expecting them to comfort me?" If it's the latter...just don't say it. Just don't.

You'll get your turn to be the center of a crisis, I promise. Publishing's full of them.


  1. You're like George Bailey, you helped so many people they all came rushing to you when you were in need - except that most of us are poor. lol

    I was so angry when this happened to you I was breathing fire, so I hope I didn't burn your eyebrows off with my own fury rather than help, which was my intention.

    1. The firebreathing was MUCH appreciated as it validated my own sense of injustice (my disorder gives me a rather skewed perception sometimes and I don't always know if I'm being crazy).


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