I am the woman who chatted for hours with a woman I had only just met, a woman who spoke only Farsi, a language I don’t speak. No problem. Acting helped. I just enjoy interacting with any decent human being. Once, on the metro in D.C., I met a delightful eighty-year-old lady who invited me to lunch at her exquisite apartment. However, if you are like me, you hate exploiting your friends. Nothing upsets me more than when a friend gets involved in some pyramid scheme, legitimate or otherwise, and from that moment, every conversation becomes a ploy to turn me into a client. But there’s such a thing as being too considerate, especially in the publishing world, where relationships matter. Here are a few examples.
While still in college, I translated books from English into French for MacMillan Publishers UK (St. Martins in New York). After the first translation was published, a meeting with two of their editors proved wonderful; we could have been best friends. They asked me to feel free to contact them if I ever wanted to pursue writing, talked to me about their imprints and rates etc. I was but twenty-two, foolishly unaware of what a rare opportunity that was. I told them I’d get back to them but never did. You see, I only saw them as that lovely lady and charming man, not as business opportunities. I genuinely liked them, and it seemed weird to “exploit” them. By the time I wised up five years later, they had both moved on to different countries and I couldn’t even locate them. I know this sounds bad, but there’s worse.
While visiting a cousin in Philadelphia some fifteen years ago, I met a Newbery award-winning writer. Such a wonderful lady, so much like a mother to my cousin that I fell in love with her. When she read some of my writing, she encouraged me to pursue write more and pursue publication. She went to the extent of offering to introduce me to her agent, even giving me contact information and all. We communicated over the phone every once in a while. But she was tending to a dying mother and I was loathed to trouble her. Once again, when I decided the timing was right, her own health was failing. She had broken up with her agent and retreated from the publishing world.
I cringe to think that I did the same thing with regard to two contributing editors for the Ladies Home Journal. And Erica Jong, who told me that I wrote “beautifully”, gave me her telephone number and address, and invited me to correspond with her. All because I dreaded imposing on people.
I’ve learned my lesson now, thank you. I’ve accepted that when people truly care, it won’t damage relationships to ask for help when I need it. After all, the writer or publisher needs others too. A year or so ago, when I was struggling with a sex scene in my book, I wrote to Ken Follet for advice. To my surprise, he responded a couple of days later and offered very good advice. I was completely charmed. Wise man that he was, he put me on his mailing list and I recently received notification about his upcoming book. Why wouldn’t I read a man who is so charming? I’m a fan for life. Same thing with an editor I worked with who is now a best-selling author. She’s most charming, and just for that reason, I’ll read anything she writes.
Publishing stars are just normal people who want to be treated with consideration. Certainly, there’re lots of snooty people out there. But I’m convinced that most of them are lovely, and it’s all right to take advantage of a good business relationship. Especially when they offer help!