So over the weekend my internship director asked me to work on a project that basically involved me coauthoring something with him. He sent me his rough draft and it had blue text in places that said things like, “Add another example here,” or “Dude, I can’t figure out how to end this, so you do it.” And it was a difficult task because A.) Getting two people’s writing styles to match seamlessly is a job of work; B.) When I read back over the stuff I had added, it just didn’t make sense stuck in there with his text, so I had to start moving his paragraphs around; and C.) Hey, I just edited my boss’s work! THAT IS NOT NERVE-WRACKING AT ALL.
So I was feeling insecure about the work I’d done because I don’t have that much experience writing with other people (which is a damn shame, because really, it’s a useful skill), and also I had made some pretty huge changes to his writing, in order if not in content. Anyway, I put on my big-girl pants and emailed the finished product to him, and on Monday he was like, “It’s great, I love it, now let’s talk about this new and exciting project we can work on together!”
And I was happy, but then I looked back at the email that I’d written to accompany the finished product, and what I’d thought was a mildly self-deprecating acknowledgment that I was a little out of my comfort zone was actually an all-out SLAM of my abilities. Like, seriously, I was embarrassed to have written that email. It looked like I was either fishing for compliments or had the lowest self-esteem in the entire universe, neither of which is true. But there it was, in writing, and I couldn’t help wondering–do I always do this? Do I always cut myself off at the knees? And I’m more than a little afraid that the answer to that is a big whopping, “HELL YEAH YOU DO, MANKILLER.”
I keep flashing back to this presentation I did in college. It was a nothing assignment, really–some speech for my Jane Austen class (BEST. CLASS. EVER). I think we were each told to research an aspect of everyday life in her novels that wouldn’t be very familiar to modern US readers? Seriously, I have no idea, it was that long ago and that unimportant. Anyway, I did the presentation and I got a good grade. But my professor was a really cool guy who looked out for me, and he pretty much smacked me around the classroom–you know, verbally–about the way I’d presented my material and myself. “Don’t make jokes and don’t be so self-deprecating,” he told me. “This material is important and you have something important to say about it, so stand up straight and quit cracking wise every other sentence.”
I think I just blinked at him and went, “Sir, have you read my website?”
KIDDING! I didn’t have a blog back then, don’t be silly.
Anyway, I’ve heard versions of his advice for years but it just never clicks with me, you know? Because on the one hand I really did come of age in an era where it was acknowledged that you’d have to project confidence in order to get what you wanted, but on the hand, US culture still has a tendency to punish people who do that, particularly when they’re women. Guys get shit for it too, but when you’re a chick, it’s extra brutal. I was really outspoken and forward until my early teens, but middle school was such a mess of fatphobic, sexist, homophobic crap spewed at me DAILY that it eventually wore me down. Erika had a similar experience and it just taught her to scream louder, God bless, but I had exactly the opposite reaction and by the time I was fourteen, I’d pretty much shut up.
And hey presto! The taunting stopped the moment I learned to be quiet and–and this is just sick–to actively project vulnerability instead of confidence. You’d think the other kids would have dogged me even more mercilessly once I looked “weak,” but it’s like once they’d managed to make me “act like a girl,” they were satisfied. And I got some breathing space, so it seemed like a fair trade at the time.
Except now it’s biting me in the ass.
I honestly, truly do not know how to sell myself or my abilities. Really. No fucking clue. Awhile back I was joking with Shiyiya about why this site is so low-trafficked, and I said it was because I was too progressive for the people who want slice o’ life blogs, talked too much about my life for people who want a book blog, and scared off everyone else by writing about my cats so damn often. And I think that’s all true to a certain extent, but it’s also true that I do nothing to promote this thing. I mean nothing. I used to do Shameless Self Promotion Sunday on Feministe, but even though the whole point was to, you know, shamelessly self-promote, I stopped after awhile because asking people to read what I’d written made me cringe. Even when they were asking me to ask them. Seriously.
I mean, if you ever watched me in real life, you might or might not come away with the opinion that I’m shy (it really depends on how much Klonopin I’ve taken), but the truth is that I’m just kind of a mess, socially. Seriously, this is how I make friends in meatspace: you come over to me. We talk. I make it a point to wander off elsewhere, and then I wait and see if you seek me out again. Rinse and repeat. If we do that dance enough times, then I consider us friends. I do not pursue other people; they pursue me.
That sounds snotty but honestly, it’s just more evidence that what happens in middle school follows you around a hell of a lot longer than it really should. I lost the confidence to make the first move when I was about fourteen or so, and I still can’t seem to find it. And I’m 25. We’ve gone past “sad” and reached “pathetic,” really.
So that’s how I operate in meatspace, and I’m essentially doing the same thing on the internet. Except that the internet is UNFATHOMABLY LARGER, so the chances of people randomly bumping into my blog and following it around until I decide I can trust them are, frankly, sucky. The days when people just typed their feelings into their computers and readers came flocking because there were like five whole websites are long, long, LONG over, and every time I read an interview with a blogger who’s been at this since the beginning and has never had to make any push to gain readership but has site stats through the roof anyway, I wail and rend my garments. Because I didn’t have anything interesting to say or the desire to say it on the internet until about 2007, and as a promoter, I am about as useful as the least useful thing you can think of.
Woe am I.
So now I am in a fix, because I have written this book and I would like to get it published, but I have no idea how to write a query letter that would actually make any agent give me even a snowball’s chance in hell. So I thought to myself, “Hey, Mankiller, the regulars on your website are astonishingly nice people. They’ve paid to watch you remove crucial parts of your brain with Deanna Raybourne novels and have given you several different German translations of seriously off-the-wall statements for freesies. If anyone can help you, it is probably them, although apparently none of them speak French or Spanish. That’s not really pertinent to the issue at hand, but it is proving to be a problem for the book because seriously, you just couldn’t bother to find the time to become fluent in a Romance language, could you? Dammit, Mankiller, you should have foreseen that you’d one day write a book with a main character who’s multilingual!”
Anyway, this is what I’ve got so far. Suggestions are OBVIOUSLY appreciated:
I am seeking representation for my YA paranormal novel, THIS TOWN IS DEAD, a book that takes the conventions of the genre and gives them a well-deserved slap. For the characters of THIS TOWN IS DEAD, the central question isn’t, “Who will she choose?” but rather “Who will make it out alive?” Combining the high-stakes drama of early L.J. Smith (THE FORBIDDEN GAME) with the strong heroines and pragmatic approach to romance of Kristin Cashore (GRACELING; FIRE), THIS TOWN IS DEAD will leave you rooting not for Team Edward or Team Jacob, but for Team Run For Your Life.
It’s the year 2000 in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and the well-ordered existence of Leila Mahmood, Goth, student journalist, trainee witch, and heir apparent to the Jacksonville coven, is about to come to an abrupt end. After a hundred years of peace and quiet, a vampire has come to town, and he wants exactly one thing: to send a message to Leila’s parents, preferably by leaving her severed head in their mailbox. Leila isn’t quite the easy pickings the vampire assumed, but soon enough she and her friends are fighting for their lives—and not all of them are winning. The key to defeating the vampire lies in Leila’s own memories, but does she have the courage to do what’s necessary?