Welcome to another edition of Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Romance Novels, where I attempt to give advice. Or talk out of my ass. Or both!
Today’s letter comes from Frustrated, who is friends with an aspiring novelist.
My longtime friend and I have always talked about writing a romance novel. Recently she finished writing a novel that she’s enormously proud of. I’m proud of her for finishing it! Now here’s the problem: she wants me to help her get it published. A guy I used to work for now works for a publishing house in New York, and she wants me to send it to him. He’s in the accounting department, for one thing, and for another, I haven’t spoken to him in over two years. I’d feel really weird and awkward asking him for a favor.
The other problem is that I don’t think her novel is really very good, but she doesn’t really listen to my opinion because, as she says, I’m not really qualified to critique her book. She asked another mutual friend of ours to read it after I did, and while that friend told her how wonderful the book was, privately she told me that she thought it was awful. This novel is all my friend talks about now whenever we meet for lunch or I see her after work, and I don’t know what to do.
In my Bitchy opinion, there’s a number of problems here, and some of them are based in a possible disconnect with reality on the part of your writing friend.
Perhaps your writing friend would be best served to examine the First Sale column at Dear Author, and witness the number of times writers mention early manuscripts that live in drawers, never to be seen again. They are trial runs before the race; they are a fallen souffle before the recipe was mastered. They are first efforts that strengthened the later efforts, the ones that ultimately resulted in that first sale. Some writers do indeed achieve publication on the first try – which is wonderful and awesome and amazing. Many, however, do not.
The point? Unless a writer has a contract in hand, the completion of a manuscript does not necessarily guarantee publication.
But that does little to address your initial concerns: a friend who wants you to use a connection that might ultimately do nothing for her but something not complimentary to you, and a friend who is getting on your nerves.
First, you can tell her that your former boss does not do acquisitions, and furthermore you can’t send him materials. You don’t owe her an explanation beyond that. “No,” is, in fact, a complete sentence. There are many paths toward publication, and she has no reason to expect that hers must automatically run through you.
Second, if her novel is all she talks about, and you don’t want to talk about it any longer, you may be better off not talking to her until she’s willing to entertain other subjects. No friendship survives on one sided expectations of admiration and demands of favors. And while she may not be listening to you about your opinions of her work, you may not be the correct person to offer criticism of her manuscript. Eventually she will receive some feedback, be it from another writer, an agent, or an editor.
But the second issue is really about your friendship and your evaluation thereof. Ultimately, your friend may experience the thrills of victory or the agony of rejection; her and
behavior now may be the indicator of whether you will be the person to hold her hand through either or both. As it stands now, Frustrated, if you’ve both talked about writing a romance novel in the past, perhaps some of your feelings are rooted in some understandable envy that she’s written a manuscript. Totally normal, but definitely worth considering if her accomplishment has made you feel bad about your progress toward your own aspirations.
Romance novels are not flush with excellent examples of women’s friendship, sadly, because so many of those relationships are portrayed as fertile grounds for envy, misunderstandings, and individuals described as “spunky” but who are both sexually nonthreatening and about as exciting as lukewarm dishwater. Perhaps you need to consider yourself not the spunky dishwater friend, but the secondary character ripe for her own romantic sequel. If this person is important to you, you can always tell her what you told me: there are other topics you’d like to discuss, though you are excited that she has accomplished a long-held goal for herself, and you miss talking about subjects other than her book. Friends celebrate and commiserate with one another, and you haven’t told me enough about your friendship for me to know if this novel-mania is the latest in a series of self-absorbed topics on the part of your friend, or an aberration in your relationship. If it’s the former, then you have to decide whether you want to remain this person’s friend.
If it’s the latter, then I think you may want to examine how your own feelings are contributing to the situation. Maybe you ought to leave her be awhile and see if time improves the situation or your feelings of frustration. Perhaps, if you yourself are serious about writing, you might use this time to work on your own manuscript. Or read really wonderful romances. But the problem here is as much, it seems, with you as it is with her.
At the risk of sounding way too cheezy, you are the heroine of your story. She is the heroine of hers. Her success does not take away from your future, but your reaction to her future success may cost you a friend of value.