Every once in a while, writers get some unexpected help.
Writers struggle to be taken seriously. Family members wonder why we spend so much time clicking away on our laptops instead of focusing on a real career that actually might make us some money.
Co-workers may be polite to your face but behind your back, roll their eyes when you come up in conversation. “Oh puhleeze! Did you know Sylvia’s been writing that (insert pantomimed finger quotes here) book for almost a year now? Like it really takes that long. Say, did you catch last week’s NFC game?”
We writers learn the hard way to hold our publishing dreams close to the chest.
But then every once in a while, we catch a break. A gloriously unexpected, inspiring confirmation that yes, there are other people out there who take our work seriously and will help.
Let’s take expert sources as an example.
When I request expert sources for freelance articles, my Gmail inbox is flooded with people eagerly offering their wares. It’s quite the opposite when I ask for guidance on whether I’ve buried the bones correctly or whether the DNA trace is still viable.
My inbox? Dry as a withered up old apple hanging limply on a tree branch in the grey dead of winter.
Really, it’s quite understandable. I mean, let’s look at it logically. A freelance article gets my sources out in front of thousands of readers. I’ve secured publication with an editor. I’m a known quantity.
Not so with a novel. I may or may not get published. If I do succeed, any acknowledgement won’t happen for a couple of years. When it does, it’ll be buried in the back part of the book. Why should a source waste his/her valuable time answering questions when there’s a real chance nothing will come of it?
Luckily for us, there are experts out there who don’t always think logically.
Last week, I called around to several forensic anthropology experts asking if they might spare 15 minutes to answer (literally) five questions about old bones. I explained who I was, emphasized that I was writing a novel, it was fiction and in no way, was I looking to obtain confidential information. All I needed was a few facts to make my plot more plausible since I’d gone as far as I could with my own research.
I got zip response on my voice mails and one expert telling me sniffily that he’d have to check with his PR department to confirm protocols before saying anything more, thank you very much, I’ll call you, please don’t call me, goodbye, click!
I’m betting the response would’ve been completely different if my name was Tess Gerritsen, David Baldacci or Gayle Lynds.
And that’s when I caught the break.
An assistant to the one expert I didn’t think would respond, called. “I gave her your message and she’s in meetings all day until late tonight,” he said. “But if you email your questions to her, she’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.”
All right, I still have a chance!
I ended up emailing her at midnight, figuring it might be a while before she responded.
Boy, was I wrong.
By 9.30 AM the next morning I had all my answers, plus some extra to make the plot even better. You can bet I sent her a very thankful, appreciative email. You can also bet that her name is going to be one of the first I list in my acknowledgements.
But it’s more than just an appreciation for her answers. I appreciate that she took me seriously.
That’s a big thing for any writer.