Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Two Little Words

When I first signed my publishing contract, I was awash with pride, which is actually something I’m not very good at. I’ve spent a big chunk of my life downplaying my skills, assets, talents, whatever, when someone congratulates me. Turns out, working my butt off to reach my dream is no exception.

Every January, I meet up with my writing family. We met several years ago at a conference and thought we hail from different parts of the Midwest, we make sure to get together 2 times a year, as a group. At our last meet up, I was on my way to being an honest to goodness, no really, you can buy my book at a bookstore published author.

So what do you think I did when the people who know writing me best made a HUGE deal about my news? Here’s a re-enactment of the conversation:

Friend: Congrats! I always knew you would get here!

Me: Really, it was just luck. Sometime I wonder if my agent was insane when she signed me.

Friend: No, seriously! You work harder and are more determined to learn what it takes to make it in this business than anyone I’ve ever met.

Me: Well, it’s a small press. I may not even earn out.

This praise/refusal to accept said praise went on for a few more minutes before one of our more veteran members stopped me mid-sentence.

D.E. Johnson, author of The Detroit Electric Scheme and the only person I know who has actually had a tour of Jay Leno’s car collection by the funny man himself gave me the best advice I have received to date.

D.E. (or Dan): When someone gives you a compliment, you say, “Thank you.” Say it.

Me: Thank you, but…

Dan: No. Thank you. That’s it.

Now, for a while, I didn’t get it. Aren’t we supposed to avoid being the arrogant author? Aren’t we supposed to be grateful for the opportunities we have? Aren’t we supposed to success shame our own work? Answers: Yes. Yes. No.

This is what I learned on that same freezing cold afternoon. If someone congratulates you on your success and you shame yourself, not only are you degrading yourself and your work, but also that person’s opinion. And the habit is really hard to break once you start. Fast forward 10 months when your book comes out and a fan approaches you, nervous because they are about to expose something to you… how your book effected them… and you, in your effort to be humble, downgrade the experience they had with a “Thank you, but…” Guess what… you just became the arrogant author you were desperately trying to avoid being.

I’m working really on learning to stop after “Thank you.” It’s harder than I thought it would be. It also made me realize how often I refuse to take praise and credit for the work I’ve done. Accepting someone’s positive feedback doesn’t make you a narcissist. It doesn’t make you vain. It makes you polite. And it validates the person and what your book means to them. I am allowing an amendment to the Thank you. rule. On the day someone DOES come up to me and proclaim how much they loved my book, I think I’ll say, “Thank you. I’m glad you liked it!” and I will try not to force half of a best friends for life charm on them… notice I said TRY!

BE FEARLESS when it comes to accepting a compliment.

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