Author Nuances

Writer and humorist Dave Barry wrote, “The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion or ethnic background, is that we all believe we are above-average drivers.”

The same applies to artists and writers. Most feel they are pretty good at their craft. But success as an author is a complicated mix of factors. If accuracy, neatness and timeliness were the secret to success, book publishing success would be relatively simple to achieve.

It’s not.

I’ve been privileged to attend a number of concerts performed by one of the major world orchestras. The performances are stunning. There is something much deeper going on than playing all the right notes. There are nuances to the performance, which go far beyond the content of the musical score.

In a similar fashion, the secret to effective book publishing is also found in the nuances, the shadows and fringes, not the checklists. A checklist will help you dig and build a good foundation, solid walls, energy efficient windows and a rainproof roof.

But it is the paint and furnishings, which make a house beautiful. And if you want to press the metaphor to the logical conclusion, it is the inhabitants, which make it a home others want to visit.

The same with publishing books. The secrets (if there are any) to success are in the nuances, not in the notes from a workshop, unless the workshop is about the subjective nature of art!

For example, I seek to represent authors I feel good about…sometimes more of a heart-decision. I’ve also declined to work with someone I didn’t feel good about. Can’t explain it, we just didn’t connect.

When agents gather, we talk about the nuances of our profession rather than how many clients we each have and how many proposals we send.

If playing the right notes in the right order was what separated great musicians in the Chicago Symphony from the rest of the world, then spell-check and the Chicago Manual of Style should be enough to guarantee success as an author.

And of course, this is not the case.

Here are some nuances of the publishing world. I’ve put them in three levels of increasing complexity, hoping you can draw some practical help from the list:

Level I Nuances (Seriously, you needed to write these down?)

  • Be professional. Act the part. You are trying to get others to invest time and money in you.
  • Don’t be a “prickly” person. Publishing is about relationships and if you are not pleasant, few people will want to have anything to do with you. Wait until you are making millions for the publisher and you can demand a certain type of sparkling water at a certain temperature in your hotel room!

Level II Nuances (These are hard!)

  • Spend some time learning about publishing and your publisher. Claiming ignorance over everything a publisher does will not endear you to them. You can be humble and knowledgeable. Inadvertently you are saying, “I want you to understand me, but I don’t care a hoot about you.”
  • Show respect to publishing people and booksellers. Seriously, they probably know more than you and for sure, honey draws more flies than vinegar. These people are paying to publish and sell your book.

Level III Nuances (Betcha never thought of these.)

  • Actually take time to know the difference between good technical writing and great writing. Accuracy and artistry can be mutually exclusive.
  • Maintain a healthy respect for intellectual property law. Be the first one to say photocopying sheet music or a copyrighted page is not right. Respecting copyright and trademark should eventually come naturally to you. If you don’t, how can you expect other people to respect your intellectual property?

Yes, writing is much more of a dance. Learn the moves and you won’t step on as many toes.

(In case you are wondering, I didn’t set out to see how many different metaphors I could fit into this post. Just sort of happened, like going to a salad bar and finding your plate isn’t big enough.)


18 Responses to Author Nuances

  1. Avatar
    Brennan S. McPherson October 3, 2017 at 3:16 am #

    I think you forgot one other nuance. . . luck. 🙂 PS: What’s up with those tiny salad bar plates? They don’t actually make me take less food.

  2. Avatar
    Janine Rosche October 3, 2017 at 3:37 am #

    I keep saying that ACFW or CWI need to have a class called Tact and Etiquette for New Writers because I honestly have no clue what is acceptable or not. These suggestions regarding nuances are great! Thanks!

  3. Avatar
    BONI DANIEL October 3, 2017 at 5:02 am #

    yes luck is part of publishing or authors success in writing.. u can work hard but luck determines the speed and influence.

  4. Avatar
    Damon J. Gray October 3, 2017 at 5:45 am #

    I was intrigued by the opening of your posting. It reminded me of the early contestants on American Idol – those who believe they are destined to be world-renowned vocal sensations, but who in reality could not sing their way out of a paper bag.

    It has been my experience that those who are truly great writers do not really view themselves as such. They hold an almost tangible dissatisfaction with their own work. Perhaps another element to add to the nuance list is a healthy dose of reality. I did not, in fact, hang the moon. 😉

    • Avatar
      LK Simonds October 3, 2017 at 7:58 am #

      “t has been my experience that those who are truly great writers do not really view themselves as such. They hold an almost tangible dissatisfaction with their own work.”

      I think Damon really brought out a dynamic that happens in probably every area of expertise: the mindset to demand more and more of oneself, not in competition with others, but in competition with oneself. It seems to me this ingredient is usually present in people who pull away from the pack. Usually such people have a vision they measure their efforts against. They don’t measure their efforts against those of their peers. They aren’t usually satisfied, even if everyone else is, because they’re chasing that thing no one else sees.

      • Avatar
        Damon J. Gray October 3, 2017 at 9:07 am #

        LK, you have identified exactly what I was trying to say, and described it far more eloquently than I was able to do.

        Thank you!

  5. Avatar
    MaryAnn Sundby October 3, 2017 at 6:22 am #

    Dan, Thank you for writing this article and sharing a needed message. Thank you for providing me with food for thought every Tuesday morning.

  6. Avatar
    Judith Robl October 3, 2017 at 7:30 am #

    Dan, I absolutely love what you had to say.

    In a M*A*S*H episode, Dr. Winchester had to tell a concert pianist that he had lost function in his right hand. In that conversation, he said, in essence: I can play the notes, but I cannot make the music.

    As writers, we seek not just to write the words, but to evoke the emotions. Wonderful post.

    • Avatar
      Damon J. Gray October 3, 2017 at 9:09 am #

      Judith, that is one of my favorite episodes, and one of my favorite lines from the episode!! It fits this conversation beautifully.

  7. Avatar
    Carol Ashby October 3, 2017 at 8:05 am #

    Dan, this just as good a list for an indie like me as it is for someone seeking a traditional publisher, especially the part about relationship and respect. Treating the IP right is all on my shoulders for both books and websites, so I certainly resonate with that point!

  8. Avatar
    Joey Rudder October 3, 2017 at 8:15 am #

    What a great post! I smiled when I read the metaphor you used about the paint and furnishings of a house…this is what I used to explain to a friend the stage my novel was in at the time. I had the foundation of the house but wanted to go back and decorate it and add all the goodies that make me (and hopefully the reader) want to stay. And I LOVE how you wrote, “…it is the inhabitants, which make it a home others want to visit.” I feel this way about my characters and sometimes wish I could pop in on them up for coffee. How strange is that? 🙂

    “Respecting copyright and trademark should eventually come naturally to you.” Again, I was smiling because I just had a serious discussion with my daughter about plagiarism and copyright infringement while she was writing a science report. Once I asked her if she’d like it if someone stole the “red bucket” story she’d written for English, she got it. I think this will come naturally to her now.

    And I enjoyed every single metaphor, Dan, and appreciate all of your wisdom. I’m learning so much. Do you hear the creaking and the groaning? That’s my brain stretching in the attic! Thank you, and God bless you.

  9. Avatar
    Jay Payleitner October 3, 2017 at 8:23 am #

    Another great post, Dan.

  10. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 3, 2017 at 8:31 am #

    I wonder how much of nuance is timing? In the absence of Monet, would Sisley have gained a much larger following?

    Or would the Impressionist movement have fizzled, without Monet’s inspirational genius (and organizational and promotional skills)?

    I still feel sorry for Sisley; Monet did, too, and helped him out a lot.

  11. Avatar
    Donna Myers October 3, 2017 at 8:40 am #

    I love the metaphors!

    When I see your name, I always read your blog. They are entertaining and informative.

  12. Avatar
    Marlene Worrall October 3, 2017 at 9:18 am #

    Hi Dan,
    Beautifully, informatively and eloquently written.

    Marlene Worrall

  13. Bob Hostetler
    Bob Hostetler October 3, 2017 at 9:29 am #

    What is this “salad bar” thing of which you speak?

    • Avatar
      Brennan S. McPherson October 3, 2017 at 9:46 am #

      *clicks non-existent like button on Bob’s comment*

      I think Dan meant “that place where you get unlimited chocolate pudding.”

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow October 3, 2017 at 9:51 am #

      In cities outside of Cincinnati they have something called Golden Corral. It’s a magical place.

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