Flubs are not Fatal

Approximately 650 Christian writers have just returned from the ACFW conference in St. Louis. Some are celebrating agent/editor requests for manuscripts and are on an emotional high at the apex of the roller coaster we call the writing life.

Others may be feeling like they just slid over the edge and are plummeting down the steep hill into an abysmal, dark cavern. This feeling may be perpetuated by some flub on your part and you’re wondering if you and your career will recover.

Whatever fatal flaw you may be experiencing emotional distress over; it will likely not end your writing career. Unless you actually murdered someone… well, that might cause the ultimate demise of your writing dream through traditional publishing at least.

I’m here to share two “golden lessons”. Flubs are not fatal and the world of publishing is comprised of a small group of editors and agents.

My goal at one of my first writer’s conferences was to do several paid critiques. This was at a smaller, local gathering and I was just dipping my toes into the pool like a first time swimmer. I asked the conference director what I should submit. I still think he said “your best three chapters.”

I should have submitted my first three chapters.

Now, by the time I met with this particular agent over that critique, I had realized my mistake and apologized profusely. Surely, there was no saving my reputation.

It gets better.

Three years later I had an appointment with that same editor. I had polished the manuscript in those many months and felt confident that I had something worthy for her to consider. Just before our appointment, I attended her talk on writing edgy fiction and she made a point to say, “I really dislike when writers use rape as a plot device. Can’t you come up with something better?” My stomach twisted into a glorious mariner’s knot.

That’s right, my manuscript was about a serial rapist and our appointment was minutes after that talk.

I still went.

How do you handle these situations? Here are some of my suggestions.

  • Confess your mistake. Editors and agents are human just as we are and have probably made a few flubs themselves. Be open and honest about the mistake and move on.
  • Learn from your mistake. Don’t do the same thing twice. It’s not the fact that you made a mistake but your ability to fix and learn from it that is the mark of a professional.
  • Stay positive. If you think the agent/editor flubbed and it affected you negatively, don’t disparage them on social media. That same editor I met with twice is still working as an editor and was at the conference sitting one table away from me at the banquet. That would likely be a career ender.
  • Laugh about it. The writing life is hard enough. Self deprecating humor goes a long way in helping keep you sane.

Despite these gross errors in my writing journey, I still managed to acquire an agent and a publishing contract. And yes, it was that same novel.

What “fatal” flub have you had and how did you handle it?

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22 thoughts on “Flubs are not Fatal

  1. Thank you Jordan for your enlightening post. I am presently awaiting the response from my very first Literary Agent assessing my book, and I read your words with my heart in my mouth!! You understand the feeling I am sure. Thankfully I did send the first three chapters, but as a novice I do sit praying I provided her with a gripping enough synopsis and sample chapters to get the break I’ve longed for all my life. I value advice such as yours from people who have actually travelled this road, so I look forward to reading another of your blogs soon!

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Karen. Yes, we writers have all suffered those sleepless nights waiting for an agent/editors response. It is a necessary part of the journey. Whatever the outcome… don’t distress. You’re already a step ahead of where I was!

      I hope you get a favorable response. If not, polish and submit again. This person is not the only agent out there.

  2. With the distance of time, our flubs seem less devastating and we may even be able to laugh at them, but at the time they do indeed appear to be a significant faux pas from which we will never recover.

    Thank you for your example and encouragement.

  3. I find myself laughing quite often…does this speak to how many mistakes I make in my life? I’m not afraid of mistakes and screwing up mostly b/c I know God’s got my back. He’s given me far more Grace than I could even handle.

    Oh yeah, I’ve biffed it. But I tend to search like crazy for lessons out of times like that.
    ~ Wendy

    • I think your laughing so often is your charming personality and not how many mistakes you’re making! You bring up an important point on the Christian writer’s journey— and that is God’s hand guiding your path.

      Possibly that perceived incident is God guiding you away from that opportunity– for a better one.

  4. Jordyn, I appreciate your post. Though I’m not far enough along on this journey yet to have gotten in front of editors and other decision makers, I have had plenty of opportunities to choose how to respond to flubs of one sort or another. I appreciate your words of wisdom and perspective.

  5. Thanks for the encouragement, Jordyn, and for your honesty.

    I’m another writer who can attest to the fact that flubs happen but aren’t fatal. I’d unwittingly sent my brand new agent a manuscript that stunk worse than my brother’s dirty socks. Well, at least the final three-quarters of the story did. I had to ditch some 75,000 words and start over. But Rachelle didn’t dump me. She gave me direction, I did the work, and she sold that story, which will be my debut novel.

    I can laugh about my goof now, but at the time I was so afraid Rachelle would send me packing. Sometimes our fears can get the best of us, and that’s when posts like this one really help.

  6. Hi Jordyn- This is great advice!! I made some major mistakes (mainly querying my agent with an email that read “I have a great idea for a book! Email me if you’re interested”) and accidentally ccing my editor at a publishing house on a personal email. UGH. But, guess what, it was okay! And they both were great about it.. you’re right, no mistake is fatal!

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Erin. That’s an awesome one! If only I had just the two that I mentioned in my piece… but low, there are more. Great to be on you blog to day, too.

  7. The first time I queried Rachelle (and others) my manuscript was 103,000 words! I kind of ignored her word count guidelines (which indicated up to 70,000 for non-fiction), figuring she would be so wowed by my voice and prose, she would take me at 103,000. Yeah…didn’t happen!

    Great post, Jordyn — thanks for the positive encouragement!

  8. I think my biggest mistake is all the times I’ve thought, “That would never happen to me”–and then, lo and behold, all those writer mishaps did just that! And they usually happened simultaneously. I’ve pulled my size 10 foot out of my mouth more times than I can count–and experienced the graciousness of others every single time. At least when we laughed, we laughed together.

  9. Hey Jordyn!
    Love your words. Made me think of sooooooooooooo many flubs I’ve made over the years related to writing. I remember the time I completed my first novel (about 13 years ago) and thought it was the best thing this side of chocolate chip cookies. I sent a query letter off and got a request within ten days! I sent that baby out in the days we had to send hard copies and promptly got it back from the publisher within 2 weeks stating, “This isn’t quite what I expected.” I discovered that I could write a great query letter, but the novel needed more, um, uh, rewriting. I thought once was enough. 🙂

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