Sunday, December 7, 2008

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

Faux Pas: My greatest social faux pas of the year took place shortly before Thanksgiving. I didn't write anything about it, of course, because, frankly, it was humiliating. In the intervening weeks, however, I've thought, Isn't it my duty to tell? It can be like one of those little moral tales -- where everyone learns what not to do... So, here goes: my embarrassing moment.

Background: The annual NCTE event always has a huge space filled with various publishers, vendors, and exhibitors. It's every teacher's dream to wander this expanse, snatch up the books they're giving away for free, and buy the ones they're selling for two or three dollars. Authors sit behind small tables, where you can talk to them or have them sign your book (though, depending upon the popularity of the author in question, you may find yourself standing in line for an hour or more). Publishing company reps try to sell their wares or answer any questions.

Publishing Company Catches my Eye: I'm wandering, my bag stuffed to overflowing, when I catch the large Tor banner. My heart skips a beat. I smile. I let my feet lead me to the booth area where books line the back and two reps sit behind a small table chatting. They look up and smile.

My Normally Reticent Self Makes Silly: "So," I say, "you two would know all about helping me get published by Tor, yes?" Disclaimer: I know I need an agent in order to get published. I know that Tor accepts unagented work, but I also know that I need an agent. I have yet to parse out why exactly I said these silly things.

Awkward Pause turns Pregnant with Possibility: The man on the left, we'll call him Jeff, smiles -- a smile reminiscent of a cat contemplating a tasty bird -- and nods to the woman on my right. "She's an editor," he says, "ask her."

My Jaw Drops: I stumble around. Rather, my mouth keeps talking but my brain is stalled. She takes pity on me and asks what my book's about. I panic, but give what is most possibly the worst pitch on planet earth. She gives me her card. "Send it to me," she says. "I'll take a look."

The Story Gets Worse: I look down at the card. Susan Chang, it glistens. I almost faint. I grip the counter in front of me to keep my balance. We're only talking about THE Susan Chang.

The Rescue: Random teacher walks up to get some questions answered and Ms. Chang gets up to help her. 'Jeff' and I talk briefly; he gives me the name of a website that is helpful for unpublished writers. He reveals that he, too, is an editor, though for a publishing company that does not accept unagented manuscripts. Before he walks away, he says, "Follow up on her." I brave a half-smile and whisper back, "She's going to kill you!" And he shrugs, smiling back. "She didn't have to give you her card. Follow up."

The Resolution: There is none. I walked away, trembling, kicking myself for being so delightfully stupid. In fact, that's a state I still find myself in. I am also still in awe of the fact that I met Ms. Chang. I haven't sent my manuscript in.

9 comments:

Nils said...

Should I know who Susan Chang is? :D

stu said...

Why ever not? If an editor you obviously respect greatly has actually been foolish enough to utter words to the effect of 'I'll read it if you send it' surely you should do so.

jchart said...

I hope you do send it in, she did tell you to, after all. Good luck!

diane said...

Alex, I'm with stu and jchart. I think you should send it. And no, I do not think you put your foot in your mouth. It sounds to me like you handled an unexpected situation quite well. We should all be so lucky to put our foot in our mouth like that! Seriously - send it in.

Anthony said...

Yes, that is funny.

Anthony said...

Oh, and it goes without saying: When someone gives you her business card and says to contact her, you must follow her instructions.

kk thanks!

Nils said...

Yes. Definitely follow up. You have nothing to lose.

inlandempiregirl said...

My goodness... I hope you have already wrapped and sent that manuscript in your spare time since Saturday!!! What a great story... I don't think you have any reason to speak of opening mouths or inserting feet... she gave you her card. Go for it and keep the rest of us posted.

Alex Moore said...

Thanks for all of your support and well-wishes, you guys. Much appreciated. I will follow up. My self-imposed deadline is the end of the month...

@nils: senior editor for children & young adult division at Tor