I have two main occupations that
set me up for accolades. I’m not sure what that says about me. Maybe
I’m fragile and in need of the constant attaboys I get.
So how do I handle the praise
from a patient after surgery or a reader after they’ve been touched by
It takes a village. I don’t
really like that phrase, but it’s appropriate for this discussion.
It takes a team to do surgery:
setup, instrument prep, the support of a huge technology sector,
assisting, sterilizing, anesthesia, someone to start the IV, the drugs,
the recovery support team, and all of my mentors who play in my brain
behind the scenes.
Gushing patient: “Oh, Dr. Kraus,
you were wonderful.”
Me: “I work with a great team.
Couldn’t have done it without them.”
It’s the same in writing. Be
careful if you start believing your fans. If I have written one
beautiful sentence, or strung together a coherent plot, I haven’t done
it alone. First (of course), there’s the Creator. God is behind every
idea, every sentence, every word. No, what I’m writing isn’t the Bible,
but writing is a gift. My first four novels were published long before
I ever sought any of the great writing teachers or what they’d written
about the craft. So my first response to an accolade is “There is so
much grace in my life.” (Grace is unmerited favor.)
Second, my books must get past
my first reader, often my wife. She’s best at proofreading but also has
a knack for knowing what isn’t going to get by my editors. “Too edgy.”
She’ll caution. I resist and send it on. My editor says the same thing
as my wife, which makes her I-told-you-so smile all the more annoying.
My agent, Natasha Kern, is
another gift of grace. She’s a big-picture gal who keeps her fingers on
the pulse of market trends, and she knows just where to pitch my unique
voice. She’s full-in on a project long before it gets to an editor, and
she’s often made constructive criticism along the way to sharpen my
Then an editor gets a crack at
me. (I say “me” rather than my novel because it often feels so personal
when someone is red-marking my babies!) The manuscript goes through
both a macro edit or content edit and the micro or line edit. For
years, my content editor has been Dave Lambert. He works independently
as a consultant, and my publishers have agreed to hire him for me
because we work so well together. Dave doesn’t just have a PhD in the
field. Dr. Lambert has a PhD in editing fiction! And he always pushes
me to the next level. I’ve sat around a table with other author friends
on many occasions as we all laugh and moan together about our “Lambert
letters,” the twenty-page, single-spaced documents in which Dave helps
to rebuild our novels, pushing out more suspense, rounder characters,
sharper dialogue, and more colorful scenes. Yes, I have a love-hate
relationship with Dave. He’s kind of like the ab-ripper (the obnoxious
abdominal workout on P-90X) of the fiction world. He kind of makes me
feel like I want to run and puke, but if you do what he says, the end
will be a better book for his fingerprints.
The line editor is another set
of eyes to be sure I haven’t used the same word twice in a paragraph,
scolds me for my use of passive voice, tells me when I’ve been too thin
on attributions in dialogue and on and on . . . all the little stuff
that makes the readers’ experience seamless instead of a jerky ride
where they aren’t sure who is saying or doing what.
And, of course, before I ever
set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, I’ve consulted a bunch of
experts: police officers, lawyers, doctors with expertise in areas
other than mine (surgery), etc. For my latest novel, Lip
Reading, my protagonist spends a lot of time using lipsticks
to cover up a small scar that, in her mind, spoils her appearance. So I
was constantly searching Google for “high end lipsticks” and a bit
embarrassed when cosmetic ads kept popping up when I did other
searches. Why are these people targeting me? Don’t they know
I’m a manly man?
Inside the publishing house are
too many contributors to name: layout people, proofreaders, artists,
designers, photographers, and other writers who specialize in
tantalizing short summaries for back-cover copy (most novelists are
better at 100,000 words than fifty!).
And I can’t forget the team who
puts together the physical book: printers, binders, and packagers. And
for the e-formats, another set of experts do the proper formatting.
And, yes, it’s different for Kindle and Nook.
Add to that salespeople,
marketing experts, and ad-copy writers. Your publisher may do some of
the marketing themselves, or you might be blessed (as I am) to have a
marketing team like Wynn-Wynn as an “outside” consultant. Jeane Wynn
sets up exposure opportunities, gets my name out there in the
blogosphere, and is irritatingly perky throughout the process.
The team includes store owners,
people who stock the shelves, track inventory, store staff who get
excited and recommend my book to hungry readers.
I’m sure I’ve missed about a
million others who impact my writing. My bad. I could probably use a
few of them now to help me remember who else to thank.
All of these and more are the
avenues of grace that get the author’s words to the reader. We get the
credit, but the truth is many others behind the scenes deserve a nod.
The next time an author gets too puffy about his or her own greatness,
get ready for a spectacular fail.
Just my two cents.