Sunday, January 9, 2011

Communication vs. information - how the written word can work against you.

by: Joelle Charbonneau

News flash – publishing moves slow.

Ha! Yeah, probably not a news flash to anyone. But truth be told, the publishing submission process used to be even slower. Hard to believe, right? Well, thanks to the power of e-mail, the submission process is much faster than it once was. Not all editors or agents take electronic submissions, but the ones that do make our lives as writers so much easier. No longer do we have to print out query letters and pay for postage (both ways) in order to get a rejection or a request for additional material. And even better, if an agent or editor wants to see the entire manuscript we don’t have to kill a tree, stuff it in an envelope, pay the postage and hope against hope the US Postal service or the administrative assistant at the publisher/agency doesn’t lose the damn thing.

Hurray for technology.

However, there a couple of negatives as a result of the faster process. Rejections can be sent as early as three minutes after sending the e-query. (Yes, this happened to me.) Also, because e-mail is such an easy and informal a process (you don’t have to get out of your Cheetos-stained pajamas and drag your ass to the post office) people tend to be less aware of the words they chose in those e-mails. There is a danger to forget that how we intend to say something and how the actual words on the page can be interpreted by the recipient is often very different. More than once I’ve had someone dash off an e-mail to me intending to sound cheerful when in reality they sound surly. I bet you’ve had the same experience. If we know the person we can brush off the negative saying “Oh, I know they didn’t mean it that way.” However, an unknown publishing industry professional isn’t going to be quite so forgiving of that same mistake.

E-mail is a wonderful thing because of its ability to get information from one place to another very quickly. However, information is very different than communication. Information is cut and dried – when, where, how much. Communication is the meeting of minds and is more than the sum of the words on the page.

Writers should be fabulous at this. We all know that a character can say the same information in a variety of different ways each evoking a different emotion or spinning the story in a slightly different way. But the casual nature of e-mail makes it very easy for writers to forget they are writing – that the joking tone of voice isn’t described in the e-mail so the message can come across as arrogant instead of humorous – belligerent instead of inquisitive. Yeah – those are the kinds of things that can torpedo a writer’s chances at a career.

So why am I pointing this out today?

Well, I guess because this is a new year filled with resolutions for doing things better, smarter and stronger. Perhaps you are an unpublished writer who has resolved to land that editor or agent this year. You might be a published author who had decided 2011 is the year your career is going to go to the next level. Or maybe --- well the resolutions involving the written word are endless. Whether you have made a resolution or not, I am hoping you will join with me in resolving this year to make sure your communication skills are the strongest and smartest they can absolutely be. Who knows, maybe if we communicate better our little corner of the world will be a better place for it.


Anonymous said...

There are, what, maybe twelve hundred people in the U.S. calling themselves literary agents? A curmudgeon named--well, never mind the guy's name, I don't want him on my case--maintains a website listing all of their email addresses. I recommend the fledgling author simply email all of them at once. Iniside of three minutes he'll have his rejections and can start working on another book. Easy peasy.

Joyce said...

Good points in this. I wish I had a nickel for every time I've re-read an email that contained a submission and practically had to re-write the whole thing because when I initially typed it, I hadn't realized I sounded like a terrorist! Along the same lines, 'letters' of rejection I have received, while they were I'm sure form letters, didn't make me want to hide in a corner. Email rejections though? You pay for internet/email services--you don't pay by the word, yet I do believe they could have said more than 'NO' in their message to me and not gone bankrupt. Technology is a wonderful thing, but it has de-personalized everything and courtesy has gone out the window. Years ago, a stamp would never have been wasted on 'NO', so we should all try to remember that even though we're using 'machines' to communicate, the ultimate recipient of our message is another human. Great post. Now, if we could just make sure agents and editors read your post...

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