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  • [Reality Check] The Butt Nekkid Truth by Jeanie Johnson and Jayha Leigh
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[Reality Check] The Butt Nekkid Truth by Jeanie Johnson and Jayha Leigh
Written by
Zetta Brown
April 2013
Written by
Zetta Brown
April 2013

Those of you who have read my post about Publishing & Professional Courtesy will know that when it comes to having a professional attitude, it goes both ways. We are all adults, so it's best if we all act like adults and not spoiled brats.
As promised, the ladies of Beautiful Trouble Publishing, Jeanie and Jayha, are here again with another perspective of attitude and personal responsibility. They will to give it to you straight, no chaser.

The Butt Nekkid Truth
by Jeanie Johnson and Jayha Leigh

“People say the truth hurts, but they never said it beats the sh*t out of you.” —Anon.

Perhaps it’s ironic that Jeanie and I blog about topics such as professionalism when my favorite word is “motherf*cker” and Jeanie’s default response to something that displeases her is “how about a machete to the face.” Still, we’re going to do it. Why? Pretty much because we want to.

If you have aspirations of becoming a published author, we beg of you, please watch the clip created by David Kazzie entitled “So You Want to Write a Novel?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9fc-crEFDw

When we first watched this video, our fingers were sore from hitting replay. Despite being involved in several conversations of this ilk, Jeanie and I could laugh at this clip because we weren’t emotionally connected to the author or financially invested in his work. It’s different when the characters are real people…real people you know…real people you like…real people you respect.

And that’s where the truth comes in. While we don’t utter phrases such as “we have weapons and are going to go retrieve them,” we utter phrases that hurt just as deeply. There is no nice way to tell someone that their story needs work. Okay, the truth is that some stories need a flamethrower and an accelerant. [Jeanie pushes Jayha to the side and strikes through the previous sentence and inserts her own.] The truth is, some stories need a flamethrower and lighter fluid…a whole tanker full of it. [Jeanie hands the keyboard back to Jayha].

Still, the truth can be hard, so much so that Jeanie and I frequently ponder quotes about truth. While there are a plethora of quotations about the truth, no one tells you how to handle it…except perhaps for Col. Jessup (Jack Nicholson) in the movie A Few Good Men. “You can’t handle the truth!” And that’s the truth about truth.

However, here’s the truth about being a writer: It’s hard. Here’s the truth about being a publisher: It’s also hard. Frequently, the most difficult thing about publishing is dealing with the writers. To be fair, if you ask writers, many would likely say that the most difficult thing about working with a publisher is dealing with the owners (or the individuals who work for the owners).

Why is writing/publishing so difficult? It’s difficult because first and foremost, you’re dealing with people. Just as Barbie® comes with all manner of accessories, people come with all kinds of “stuff,” including emotions and egos. When we come to the interview (via query letter) we tend to bring our best selves rather than our authentic selves. That happens on both sides of the table. It’s only after one has the job, so to speak, that we discover the real person/people with whom we made a deal.

Most people know that Jeanie and I are demanding. Some would say we’re a**holes, but generally not to our faces. [Jeanie pauses from sharpening her machete and raises a single eyebrow that speaks volumes. Yes, we’ve given her eyebrow the capacity to perform on its own. If you attempted this in a manuscript, we’d edit that right on out]. But how do you really know a publisher outside of the prose on their website? And what exactly does that tell you, because again, you’re presenting your best self publicly. You know how the publisher likes their submissions. You know when you can submit. You know what they’re looking for, and you know what they won’t accept under threat of death. Do you know if they’re fair? Do you know if they’re honest? Do you know if they give a damn about anything except for maximizing profits? Sure, you can rummage through the rumors and stuff on the grapevine, but does that give you a clear picture? An accurate picture? Any picture at all?

Perhaps the real question for writers is “do you care?” A long time ago when we were aspiring writers, Jeanie and I just wanted to get our feet in the door. Correction, I wanted that. Jeanie was already a bada** filmmaker and didn’t really give a flying f---. I wanted to be published so badly that I would’ve given my book away. In fact, I did. When I finally got a publisher, I was so grateful, I would’ve done anything. Or so I thought…until I was asked to do “anything” and realized how much that compromised my story…and myself.

Just as the writer only has limited information about the publisher, the same is true in reverse. What does the publisher really know about the author outside of how well they write a query letter and how engaging the first two chapters of their manuscript are? Is the writer a nightmare to work with? Will you be working with the author and her/his ego? Even if you’ve read her/his previously published books, do you know what shape they arrived in? Honestly, there are some writers who need to give their editors half of everything they make. If those writers don’t make one dime writing, then they need to get a second job and pay their editors for the miracle they pull off. [Cue the first three lines of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” arranged by Lawrence Benjamin Brown and sung by Marian Anderson…however, you can use a spiritual of your choice].

Jeanie: “Don’t you think using a spiritual was over the line?”

Me: “Um, no. Did you see that one manuscript…the one with zero punctuation…zero capitalization…zero continuity…and zero plot? It would’ve been easier to read if it had been written in Sumerian Cuneiform.”

A few weeks ago, we received a query letter that could only be described as WTF. After politely declining the manuscript because it wasn’t a style suited to Beautiful Trouble Publishing, we received a response that topped the query. Jeanie and I both describe the writer as “an absolute c*nt,” which is something we reserve for select individuals. For a minute, we were both mad, but only for a minute because in the end, we realized that the writer was many things (an a**hole, a MF, a b*stard of the highest order, et cetera, et cetera), but he was first, and foremost, honest. He didn’t bring his representative (or good sense, good manners, or good taste) to the meeting; he brought his real self. And if we’d have been honest, we would’ve shown him our real selves. Instead of sending him a polite refusal, we would’ve sent him a fish wrapped in newspaper and a note that said: “F*ck you and the horse you rode in on.” But we didn’t do that, because it’s not professional. We’re not even sure it’s legal, but there are standards, and if we had Bill Gates money, we’d probably say, “F*ck the standards,” but we don’t, so we play nice. Sometimes.

So what is the moral of this blog? There are multiple variables in the writing/publishing equation. You cannot possibly have enough vision to plan for all of them. The X factor limits your control as both writer and publisher. What you can control, however, is yourself…and how you both react and interact. While acting the d*mn fool might be your authentic self, remember that it’s a small world and people talk. Somewhere out there, there is a "Pretentious B*stard" list…and that guy’s on it. The irony, however, is that there’s a good chance that Jeanie and I are on that same list.

Beautiful Trouble Publishing-A Dealer of Superior Read
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©2013. Zetta Brown. If you like this post, then stop by Zetta’s Desk or Zetta’s House of Random Thoughts.

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  • Jayha Leigh

    @Maretha...While I enjoy writing (sometimes, when the muse is cooperating).  I've never enjoyed editing but I never expected to...I'm always leary of authors who proclaim how much they enjoy edits...b/c it makes me wonder if they've ever had an editor who is honest with them and doesn't simply fix their errors but works with them on their edits.  The writer's bug is a good thing...creating worlds with words can be a rewarding experience. 


    @ Zetta, cosign.   

  • Zetta Brown

    @Maretha - Keep it up with editing and working on your craft, because it will be worth it in the end. But don't beat yourself up. Writing with the aim to be published, like most other things in life is a continuum and there will be those farther along and those just starting out. The hard work you put into it (usually) pays out in the end, because you never know what action you take may lead you to your success.

  • I'm stuck at the blood-sweat-and-tears-editing part of my writing and it has been very difficult to remain focused.  Writing the story was a breeze by comparison.  So thanks for them honest comments.  I still haven't fathomed out WHY I continue beating myself up like this, because for the past year I've worked longer hours than I can remember since forever, have no social life to speak of and yet continue.  I have to put it down to the indestructible 'writers' bug' that have bitten me.  Thanks for blogs like yours.

  • Mark Hughes

    Oh, so true. I just finished reading The Fifth Assassin, for our book club, and Meltzer commits so many clunky errors (for example, exposition in dialogue strictly for the reader's benefit - a truly rookie-level mistake), but the book has sold well. And he'll probably get a series going that will also sell well. What he does much better at is the plot, which is complex, interwoven, and intriguing. Well, not so much to me, but to many, obviously. In anything that sells, there has to be something that works. I'm also pretty intolerant of sublime writing that doesn't tell much of a story. Tinkers, for example, comes to mind. Great writing, by itself, isn't enough for me. Now, if Meltzer and Harding could get together? That might be some wow.

  • Jayha Leigh


    The viewers like what they like...even if it's bad quality, which makes it hard to explain why editing is so critical when you read so many authors who avoid it like the plague but sell like hotcakes.

  • Jayha Leigh


    Preach it.  In trying not to be 'one of those type of bosses/publishers' I let people get away with too much/gave to omany authors the benefit of the doubt/made excuses for their bad/unprofessional behavior...That was a mistake becaue it sets the tone.  If an author starts off as an absolute *****, they're probably not going to change...they'll fight edits every step of the way...they'll fight good sense just because they like to fight.  They'll drive off your editors, drive wedges between the authors, and just become general pains in the butts.  In the end you'll cut them lose because you're tired of playing referee/peacemaker/babysitter/ego-attender...you're just tired.  You hope they go to that bigger house like they threatened just so they can see what it's really like when you're working with a publisher who doesn't give a **** about the person and focuses everything on the bottom line.  

  • Jayha Leigh

    @ Mark, I would bet there is a lot of shenanigans in the music industry but we see the immediate results of artists not wanting to play...they often become one hit wonders or are the subjects of documentaries along the lines of 'where are they now?'.  I don't know how hard it is to break into music/art/sculpting but self pubbing and e-readers have made it so easy that authors are just publishing things willy-nilly.  In the same way I'm lucky I wasn't a teenager in the age of youtube/camera phones etc I am sure that it was a good thing that it was a little bit harder to publish when I started writing.  I say that having gone the self-pub route...it's hard, just like publishing but luckily our readers were forgiving because they knew Jeanie and I were doing the best we could while telling a decent story and charging fair prices.  Now, it seems that there is an air of entitlement in publishing circles...not just from veteran authors but from newbs who cannot diagram a sentence, who have the money to edit but simply choose not to, and who overall think they're the next best thing since the actual Gospel.

  • Mark Hughes

    And then there's Donald Trump, who (among others) have turned PITA into a business. Of course, even he kowtows to masters: the viewers.

  • Zetta Brown

    @Mark - This is so true, but it's hard for people to really see publishing as a business. All they see are the big-name authors getting their books turned into movies. It's just like people who don't know how time consuming and tedious it can be to film a TV show or a feature film--they only see the end product. 

    Jeanie, Jayha, and I have seen plenty of people who have approached our respective businesses and make demands and/or threats and let their egos run over their common sense. Some people have become "professionals" in being PITAs (pains in the @ss) and some publishers let them get away with it. But they take a risk because people can only tolerate so much and people do talk and gossip in this industry.

  • Mark Hughes

    I wonder if art dealers and artists have much the same conversation? Bands and labels? Sculptors and...? I've been fortunate to have grown up in the business world, where it's clear it's a business and losing the sale to someone else (which is really what happens in publishing, when we think about it) happens because the competition had the better product for the job or better pricing, terms, or greener money under the table (not really).

      Stories are a product; the Mona Lisa was a product; the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was interior decorating. In a sense, that's the case. In business, you rant and rave, you challenge the loss, and you don't get to play again. Be professional, because the game is long - until you're not allowed a turn again.

  • Jayha Leigh

    @Kathleen, first, thank you for doing such awesome work.  We understand how easy it it so lose the fact that encouragment is a huge part of the equation, especially when it's about work that matters so much.  It gets especially hard to remember that when you've told the same author the same thing a million times.  As authors though, we don't like our words edited without consult because even well-meaning editors mess up things...especially intent.  We once had an editor change lunch to dinner...and we asked if she was from some place that had breakfast/dinner/supper rather than breakfast/lunch/dinner b/c we meant lunch and not dinner...

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  • Jayha Leigh

    @ Karyne,  GRINNING OUR BEHINDS OFF.  Thank you, chick.  Jeanie, who is also a lover of the joe actually put down her coffee to shout out a H*LL YEAH!  We have fun with the blog posts even though they're often about experiences that weren't fun for us.  It's hard to tell the truth even for individuals who consider themselves to be honest people.  LOAO at the bit about not having a clue or a handbag to carry it in...but you're right, some people just simply don't want to hear it which frustrates you...it often frustrates us to the point of just putting on the blank face.  What's more frustrating is when you read a ms that is crap (and that's being kind) and it takes off...and sells a gabillion copies...meanwhile, an author with a good book, solid story and great editing gets nada.  Truth stick?  Get one, get one...and then beat people with it...grin...Thanks for the compliments.  You rock too!  JandJ

  • Kathleen Kern

    When not on sabbatical, I work for a human rights organization and edit news releases and other writing coming in from our field projects in Iraqi Kurdistan, Colombia, Palestine/West Bank, and North American Indigenous communities.  I sometimes go into what I call "cold-hearted editor mode" where I'm only thinking about how to salvage an incomprehensible piece of writing that is full of mistakes I have recently asked teams not to make (acronyms that haven't been spelled out, passive voice that gives no indication of who committed an action, word count way over 500) The writer of the piece often feels wounded about my having changed his/her work without consultation.  I forget that it's part of my job to encourage novice writers.  Because, of course, when I'm submitting stuff for publication in the professional world, I know that I need to be, well, professional.  Sometimes it's hard to make that shift.

  • Karyne Corum

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