Good News/ Bad News

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Have you ever been faced by the good news/bad news question? Like when your first-born kid walks in the door and says, “I’ve got good news and bad news. Which do you want first?” 

I always say give me the bad news first (“I flunked the Algebra test”). I like to have something positive to end the discussion/encounter on a high note ("But almost the whole class flunked it"). Granted, that’s not exactly good news anywhere except in a high school classroom, but the point is, there’s hope, right? Maybe the teacher will do a re-test. Or maybe she’ll allow half credit if the wrong questions are turned in with correct answers. Or maybe the students can drop their lowest grade. See what I mean? Options for a better outcome! 

I wasn’t always able to see the good news in a bad news writing scenario. But in time, I found a Pollyanna strategy that helped me cope in a career that has an alarmingly high rate of bad news. It’s a numbers game, after all, whether you’re ultra-successful or just starting out. Here’s an example (or three) to show you what I mean: 

A form rejection from an agent: Yep, that’s bad news. But the good news is there are plenty of agents, and perhaps with a bit more research and specific targeting, you’ll get a nibble next time. And what if you go through every single agent and still no bites? No doubt, that’s really bad news. But it’s also very possible that new agents have come along since you started your quest. Workshop your query and then try the new batch of agents. Or self-publish!

A “No, thanks!” from an article pitch where you’ve already done all the work: Oh, yeah, that’s bad news. All that work and nothing to show for it. But the good news is you’ve already done all the work! Take a look around and see if you can pitch the same article to another similar market. OR give the article a different slant and pitch to an entirely different kind of market. OR pull the article apart and pitch sections to several other markets. You may end up better off than you would’ve been with an acceptance from the first rejection! 

A book comes out and it’s identical in concept/subject to your working manuscript: Ugh, that’s bad news. It’s kinda the worst news because you know that you have a great publishable concept. Who’s going to want it now? BUT there is good news here because you have a great publishable concept

So first, the chances of your manuscript being absolutely identical are slim; keep going. Moreover, chances are also good that in the time it takes for your book to be finished and sold could be three or more years! Um…yeah, that’s not hugely good news but it’s a start. Besides, maybe you’ll give your manuscript a new twist on the subject. And the even better news is you realized that the other book was out there before you started shopping your book around. You have time to do something different! Oh my goodness, so many options! 

So don’t waste your time and energy fretting over bad news. Look for the good news, my Pollyanna writers, and get back to work!


Cathy C. Hall, whose bad news is that she hasn't quite got round to working on her latest manuscript. But the good news is, she has totally figured out all those pesky plot points whilst lying around, snoozing and reading and eating at the beach. And isn't that the best news ever?!


Renee Roberson said...

I love these examples, Cathy! I used to take rejection of all types sooo hard when I was first starting out but now I only allow myself to wallow for about a day before moving on. The good news is that the industry has become more fluid that we can take control of our own destinies if we are determined enough!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Cath, I love the bad news/good news angle! Ugh, that last example got me. I've had several book and essay ideas I've started working on and then saw the same idea was published. I always remind myself that everything has been done before and it's only my perspective that makes it unique. There's a quote that one of WOW's instructors shared in a recent workshop I took:

"A tree growing out of the ground is as wonderful today as it ever was. It does not need to adopt new and startling methods." ~ Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

She said that our work builds on everything that has come before--everybody else's writing as well as our own--and our work cannot exist outside literature, but is firmly embedded within it. I think a lot of what we write comes from a collective consciousness.

You mentioned figuring out your plot points--how's your new novel coming? I finished my beat sheet for a new untitled memoir, but I've been procrastinating a bit on scene cards. I've written around seven chapters so far.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Thanks Cathy for this reminder. I'm going to print this post and tape it to my desk to remind me to look for the opportunities in what I often perceive as bad news when it comes to my writing.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Renee, I love your point about our industry, it IS fluid and that opens up so many opportunities for those willing to do the work!

Ang, that's an excellent quote re: the tree (and writing) and one that can't be said enough. As for me and the novel, I've got my beats (did the story cards) totally worked out and my first two chapters look pretty good, I think. I brought my scene cards to the beach, and um...they're here somewhere :-)

But YOU and seven chapters--that's terrific, Ang!

And Jeanine, may your always find the good news!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--These are great reminders for us to look for the positives in the negatives. Lemon from lemonaid. The sunny side of the street... and so on.

You got the beats? That makes me think of the song (is it the Go-Gos?) that sing over and over, "We got the beat, we got the beat... Yeah! We got the beat"?

Now that you're back from beach, get back to work. ;)

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