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Monday, February 24, 2014

What the Corporate World Taught Me About Publishing

What the Corporate World Taught Me about Publishing

All pictures are of my cubicle at my last job. I decorated with pictures of wolves and American Indians. And cats too. I had to surround myself with pictures and items to relieve the boredom.

A few months ago, RWR Magazine had an article where the author explained how what she’d learned from working in the corporate world helped in her publishing career. I confess I didn’t read the article, but it got me thinking about my own life in the corporate world and what it taught me about publishing. Notice I don’t say “writing,” but “publishing.” Writing is the creative side and that’s certainly not something you find much of in the corporate world. Publishing is a business, and corporations have that in spades.

I grew up in corporate America, having worked steadily there for forty-three years, with only a five-month break when my son was born. My bio states that I’m a former corporate drone and cubicle dweller. So true, but when I started working, right out of business college, there were no cubicles, just lots of desks in rows. Being “corporate” isn’t very exciting, and I’ve had my share of sneers directed at me by those more “creative” types who look down on us company drones. But, my jobs paid the bills, and paying bills is a good thing.

What did the corporate world teach me about publishing? The most important lesson was to be professional at all times. I had to learn to deal with my bosses, co-workers, and customers in a businesslike manner. No histrionics, no bad-mouthing, no anger, even if the bosses were jerks and the customers cursed at me, which they did frequently. Later, as a manager myself, I had to negotiate the tightrope between the union and management.

I was in customer service in one capacity or another for my entire career, most of it at the phone company. I worked for Verizon, although it wasn’t called that, for almost twenty-five years, eighteen of that as a customer service manager. When I accepted their early retirement offer in 1994, I was supervising fifteen service representatives. Don’t think that doesn’t teach you discipline and professionalism. And don’t get me started on the customers. I’ve been yelled at and cursed at by customers who think all public utility employees are there for them to demean. I’ve been told to do things to myself that are anatomically impossible, sometimes before eight in the morning. I was even cursed for real by a gypsy whose phone we’d disconnected. We employees were allowed to hang up on abusive customers, but even then, I was always polite. You can see how all this prepared me for the tough publishing world.

When I started writing and submitting and the rejections came in, I dutifully wrote thank-you notes to those editors and agents who’d rejected me. That was the professional thing to do. When I attended conferences I always tried to treat the other attendees and the editors and agents I met in a businesslike manner, even when some of those agents and editors were rude to me, as some were. After awhile I stopped sending thank-you notes for form rejection letters. I’d become jaded by then and figured if those editors and agents couldn’t send me a personal letter, I didn’t owe them a personal response.

I’ve never responded to a bad book review. As a corporate employee, I had to learn tact in dealing with others. To me, the tactful thing is to ignore those bad reviews and the people who write them.

I also had to learn to manage my time, especially when I had so many people reporting to me. Since I retired for the second time a few years ago, from an insurance company, I’ve not been real good at managing time, but I’m going back to my roots and making to-do lists and compartmentalizing chores. It’s the only way I can be productive. And being a productive writer helps me to get those books written.

Another thing I learned from the corporate world was how to dress professionally and neatly. Things have changed drastically from those early days when I first started working. At one time, we women were expected to wear dresses or suits, heels, stockings, the whole “corporate” look. We couldn’t wear slacks either. By the time I retired from Verizon, slacks for women were accepted in the corporate world. Then came “business casual.” Yes, I do know what that is. I’m happy to see the corporate dress code relax. Because I was trained at an early age to dress appropriately, I continue to try to do that when attending writing conferences and workshops.

But does it really matter how an author dresses at a conference? I think not. In the corporate world, when going for a job interview, a candidate had to dress very professionally, to put his or her best attired foot forward. Writing is one occupation where it doesn’t matter how you dress or what you look like. If an author attends a conference wearing a sweatsuit, but she has a great book to pitch, the editor or agent will want to see that book, and they won’t give a fig as to what that author is wearing. Agree? Disagree?

I had to learn discipline, too, of course, in my jobs. That same discipline helps me bring in books on deadline, whether a publisher’s deadline, or one I inflict on myself.

We corporate types might be a little boring, but we’ve learned valuable lessons in dealing with the world.


Sandy said...

Cara, when I submitted books and received a personal rejection I always sent a thank you note. We come from a different generation and most people don't send thank you's anymore. I do get thank you notes for gifts from my great-grandchildren and great-nieces/nephew. Smile!

I remember dressing for the corporate world, but before I left it became very slack. On Friday's, we could wear jeans.

I agree discipline is the key to writing, but when I'm in so much pain some days I can't stand to sit at my computer it's hard to keep to a regimen.

Paris said...


I can't imagine showing up at a conference in my sweats to pitch a book unless I was really confident that it was the hook that I needed, lol. With my luck, it would be because the airline lost my luggage!

Tina Donahue said...

Great post, Cara, and so true.

It always amazes me how some newbie authors trash publishers online, like the publishers aren't going to remember that. Don't bite the hand that feeds you, baby. It's not personal. It's business.

As to whining about a bad review - forget about it. We've all had them. Simply move on. Everyone can't love your book.

vicki batman said...

Hi, Cara! I had crazy desks in my lifetime, some I refer to as early dental. lol I don't always send notes for rejections. However, I do think kindness goes a long way. Say thank you. Only say kind things about someone. Ignore bad reviews.

I'm glad you're my writer friend!

Melissa Keir said...

That's all very true Cara. There's so much about writing that is a business. We need to make sure that we are professional at all times. What we do and show is what we will be remembered for!

Cara Marsi said...

Sandy, it's true we come from a generation where we were taught to send thank-you notes. I taught my son to send thank-yous, but not sure he does that now that he's grown.

When I left the corporate world, our dress code was much more casual. We had "jeans" Fridays, which were a big deal.

I'm sorry you're in pain some days. That does make it hard to keep to a schedule.

Paris, who knows, if you lost your luggage and had to wear sweats, it might turn out to be your best conference yet. LOL! I have seen attendees wearing sweats at conferences. Not something I would do, but I don't really think it matters that much anymore, especially if you've got a great book to pitch.

Tina, so true about authors trashing publishers or even other authors. That's such a no-no. Another corporate lesson-don't burn your bridges. And bad reviews are part of our business, sadly.

Hi, Vicki, yes, always have a kind word for others. Not always easy to do. But we have to bite our tongues at times, especially with the Internet when things stay forever. I'm so glad you're my writer friend too.

Melissa, well-said, what we do and show is what will be remembered.

Thanks for commenting, everyone.

jean hart stewart said...

I always try to be polite, even though sometimes it hurts. Like when you'd really like to call the reviewer a dumb #^*& who hasn't even read the book. As for trashing another author....I can't imagine it...

Gemma Juliana said...

Excellent blog post, Cara. Your cubicle Native American theme must have helped you stay centered and calm at some stressful moments.

Have you ever considered writing a shapeshifting series about wolves or large cats?

Self-discipline and courtesy always win out.

Cara Marsi said...

Jean, thanks for the laugh. I love what you want to call some reviewers and I agree.

Gemma, yes, surrounding myself with wolves, cats, Native Americans, and pictures of my family helped me feel human in the soul-sucking enviroment of a large corporation.

I did have a shapeshifter werewolf story, Cursed Mates. I got the rights back when the publisher went out of business. I've had it edited and I plan to publish it again myself.

R. Ann Siracusa said...

This was a great post. Good lessons. While I agree writers can wear anything to a conference, even sweats, I tend to disagree that you don't need to look professional when you're pitching to an editor or agent. It's true that what matters is a good story, but first impressions are important and can't be taken back...i.e. the agent or editor has to "hear" the pitch to know it's a great one.

Cara Marsi said...

Hi, Ann, thanks. You make a good point about how an author dresses at a conference. Yes, the agent or editor has to "hear" the pitch, and if she/he is focused on how the author is dressed, they might not hear the pitch. I was at a group pitch session where one of the attendees was dressed very unprofessionally, but her story was so unique that every agent and editor there asked her to submit.

Thanks for posting.

Sandy said...

I know I'm late in commenting, but I wanted to let you know I enjoyed the post. I worked in the corporate world and I still try to dress professionally at conferences and get-togethers. Mainly because it gives me a mental lift and first impressions are lasting ones when meeting new people.

I especially love the cat pictures. I'm a big cat fan, both wild ones and house cats. I'm not big on reading shapeshifter books, but would reconsider if the shape was a sleek jaguar or tiger.

Thanks for sharing.

Sandy said...

I know I'm late in commenting, but I wanted to let you know I enjoyed the post. I worked in the corporate world and I still try to dress professionally at conferences and get-togethers. Mainly because it gives me a mental lift and first impressions are lasting ones when meeting new people.

I especially love the cat pictures. I'm a big cat fan, both wild ones and house cats. I'm not big on reading shapeshifter books, but would reconsider if the shape was a sleek jaguar or tiger.

Thanks for sharing.

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