I know I’m supposed to repeat the refrain, “there are no stupid questions.”
And while I believe that’s true, there are always questions you feel stupid asking, especially in publishing where learning curves are steep and the rules are printed on tablets hidden somewhere in the New York City sewer system.
Last week, I attended a meeting of the Mid-Willamette Valley Romance Writers of America. Unlike the Rose City RWA group I belong to (which has 150-200 members), the Mid-Willamette group is tiny.
There were only two other people last week, both authors working on their first novels. At first glance, you might assume that I – with three books scheduled for publication starting next August – would be the most knowledgeable about our genre.
You would be wrong.
Like most romance writers, I spent the previous week following news from the national RWA convention, listening to updates about awards and lectures and rubber chicken dinners.
But unlike seemingly every romance writer on the planet, I was clueless about the Golden Hearts and RITA awards. Oh sure, I understood they're the big awards in the genre and we should all be willing to mud wrestle to get one, but what’s the difference between them? How do writers get nominated? Who decides the winners?
When I posed the questions to one of the women at that tiny Mid-Willamette RWA meeting, there was a moment where she just blinked at me.
And then she answered the questions – thoughtfully, knowledgeably, and without a touch of condescension.
Because the fact is, she had attended several conventions and understood that aspect of RWA much better than I did. She had knowledge I didn’t, and she was happy to share it.
I don’t know what was running through her mind, but I can guess. I imagine it felt damn good to help a fellow author.
Why do I think this? Because a few minutes later, the third author spoke up. Brand new to writing, she studied the information on my business card and fired off some questions for me:
You have an agent? How did you meet her? Is she local? How do agents get paid? How do you get an agent? How did you know how to write a query letter?
And you know what went through my mind?
It wasn’t frustration at the volume of questions or a mental eye roll at the notion that authors and agents might connect over cantaloupe on the produce aisle at an Oregon grocery store.
It was, holy crap, I know the answers, this is so cool!
I don’t care how long you’ve run the publishing gauntlet – there will always be things others know that you don’t, and knowledge you have that others want.
And how freakin’ amazing is it that we can gather at meetings and in online communities to share what we know?
It can be scary to ask a question you fear might be stupid, but the fact is, someone will feel good being able to answer it. I’m not suggesting you run out and badger every author with 100 questions before making an attempt to do some research on your own, but don’t be afraid to speak up if there’s something you’re wondering.
I know I’m glad I asked about those awards, and I’m doubly glad the other author was brave enough to ask me her questions.
Oh, and in case you share my previous ignorance, here’s some info about the Golden Heart and RITA awards.
And here’s the gist of what I told the other author about agents:
• Yes, I have an agent. I connected with her by writing a query letter.
• I learned to write a query letter from a variety of online resources, but my favorite is agent Janet Reid’s Query Shark.
• I’ve never met in-person with my agent, the brilliant and talented Michelle Wolfson, but I learned about her and hundreds of other agents through agentquery.
• Reputable agents never charge up-front fees, and only get paid when they sell your work. They earn a commission, typically around 15% (a bargain for the authors, in my opinion – agents work damn hard). There's more great info here about what agents do.
So how do you feel asking or answering so-called stupid questions? Are there any you’ve been afraid to ask? Any you summoned the courage to ask elsewhere and want to share with others? Please discuss in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer when I can, and will try to tackle some of the bigger ones in future blog posts.
Have at it – bring on the stupid questions!