Sunday, May 15, 2011

Three lessons I learned from Janet Schulman

My Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman editor passed away in February 2011. Here are three things she said or did that continue to resonate five years later:

Judge each work on its own. Some months after Janet bought Boys of Steel, she asked me if it was the first book I'd written. Even though my query clearly stated I’d published before, it apparently didn’t factor into her decision to make an offer on the manuscript. All that mattered to her was the quality of the manuscript in and of itself. Credits can help you, for sure, but it was nice to be reminded that a lack of credits won’t necessarily hurt you—if you are lucky enough to find a certain kind of editor.

Quantity does not equal credibility. When I wrote my author bio for the back flap, I included how many books I’d published to date. (Yes, this is somewhat related to lesson 1.) Janet suggested I take that figure out; she said it would make it seem like I wasn’t “serious” about writing. At first I was miffed; of course I was serious! But I thought deeper about it. I came to see that throwing out a number may impress some but may indeed trigger skepticism in others. (Of course, if most of my previous books had been bestsellers, I’m sure this wouldn’t have concerned Janet!) Though I've long felt that an author blurb should reveal a quirky aspect about you or your book, I now also try to avoid using any of that limited space to convey the kind of thing a simple Internet search would reveal.

Avoid the phrase “eyes on the floor.” A variation of this was in the first line of certain drafts of Boys of Steel, but Janet reasoned that we should rewrite it because Jerry Siegel’s eyes were not literally on the floor. Some idioms or turns of a phrase don’t adhere to this level of exactitude, but since it was Janet who felt the wording was distracting, I felt wise to agree.

No comments: