Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Have You Hugged A Critic Today?

It’s interesting sometimes, the view from this side of the desk. We’ve talked about this before, but I’ve encountered a couple of brand-new wrinkles, one of which poses an interesting scenario for those of us who occasionally struggle with this “brave new world” of electronic communication. You already know that you need to be careful what you say online, because people are listening. And some interesting things can happen because of that listening. This notion isn’t new; it’s the basis for the rampant paranoia that frequently masquerades as “caution” in our writing circles. But if we flip over that paranoia—if we actually start thinking in terms of “who might be looking at my blog, and why”—this notion, and the reality it represents, can bring about some pleasant surprises. As an example: I have no active web page URL anywhere—but my blog URL is on my resume, for the express purpose of showing potential clients, future employers (who knows?), and other publishing professionals that I not only can handle cyberspace, but I’m trying to be a quality contributor thereto. The results of this? Well, if I send in a resume for a freelance editorial gig, odds are very good that before the contact person e-mails me back, he or she has already gone to the blog and checked it out. I know, because when I check my statistics, I see the evidence of said reading, and this has happened enough times now that it can no longer be considered a fluke. It’s probably an indicator of the quality of this blog that once these people see it, they’re e-mailing me to ask about my availability for a phone interview. :-) This tells me that your blog can be not only an adjunct to your web page, but an effective substitute for one, and probably a more attractive and effective one in the case of writers or editors. If someone asks for a writing sample, all I have to do is copy and paste a blog post into an e-mail. The really unfussy ones will just ask for the URL where my writing appears, and they’ll read for themselves. It’s a whole new way to do business, save time, and give them an instant picture of who I am, how I write, and how I conduct myself in public. Not bad, for a few seconds in cyberspace. But this week, I also discovered another use for the blog: as a teaching tool, in and of itself. And I’m not even talking about the specific blog posts themselves—although I certainly try my best to make those instructional—but to the comments. Yep. The comments. On most blogs, the comments section can be a dicey place. Crazies have been known to surf widely, post erratically, insult freely, and spam comboxes, to the point where you may have myriad fans of your blog who never look in your combox. It’s just not worth the hassle of weeding through the nonsense to get to thoughtful conversation. On the other hand… I don’t often receive mail at my day gig; my authors and I communicate largely by e-mail, in some instances by telephone or by fax. Even our proofreaders who prefer “hard copy” to “track changes” will send their hard-copy page corrections via fax. So, unless it’s a Christmas card or something else wonderful from an author, I rarely have things addressed to me at OSV. When I got a package early this week, then, I was surprised. I was even more surprised when I opened it and found a book, and a note, from an author whose work I had criticized at some length, months ago, in the comments section of this blog. I admit, I opened the note with some trepidation; I’ve received more than my share of damning-with-faint-praise under the guise of such letters, and this week has been one of many challenging ones of late…so I wasn’t in the mood to be grownup and mature should that prove to be the case. You can imagine my surprise when I read a thank-you note—for my criticism. Yep, you heard right. I pointed out what I saw as glaring weaknesses in an author’s work…and she thanked me for it. She looked over the first several chapters of the book in question, thought to herself, “Yep, I can do better than that,” and proceeded to revise—based largely on the comment-conversations I and a couple of others had had about her writing. She’s self-publishing much of her work now, which means she has the option of making changes much more easily than with even a small press…so she took the opportunity to do so, and she wanted to give me credit for “inspiring [me] to continue to improve.” That would have been impressive enough—but she didn’t stop there. She also thanked me, by name, in the acknowledgment section of the new version of the book. Now, if you don’t already know this about me—or haven’t figured it out by now!—I am, as I often put it, “a sucker for lavish praise.” Everyone loves to be praised, of course, but I think I love it even more than average; so anytime I’m thanked on a page of a book, it’s an occasion to remember for me. I’ve had other authors do it, although not nearly enough times so it’s in any danger of “getting old” (as if being praised ever can). But I have to admit, this is the first time I’ve been thanked, in public and by name, for something I’ve said in what in essence can be a “throwaway” part of a blog. That, I think, says something important—even encouraging—to all of us. It’s one thing to recognize intellectually that everything you say can be heard by someone, and that what you put online stays up pretty much forever. It’s another thing entirely to realize that someone whose name you “take in vain” might be reading one day…might examine what you say and how you say it…and might have that resonate enough that your words become a learning moment for all concerned. That notion is heady stuff. And truth be told, that process is actually, in the end, why I’m here. To teach the craft—both to others and, in the end, to myself as well—since the best way to learn how to do anything better is to teach it to others. But getting thanked for those efforts may just make someone’s day. Be it a critiquer, an editor…or even some fool just holding forth in her combox. :-) Thoughts? Janny


Deb said...

If this is the author I think it is, it was a fine & gracious thing for that author to do. It also was spot-on, IMO, considering the value of the input you gave.

You deserve the accolade.


Donna Alice said...

Sounds wonderful for you! It's nice to know that when we crit, we ARE appreciated. Makes me hope that someday someone will say something nice about the help or advice I gave too.

I'd say you deserve the thanks!

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