Tuesday, June 21, 2011

“But” is a Four-Letter Word

“It shows promise, but…”
“I liked it, but…”
“I had a good time, but…”
“You’re very talented, but…”

Admit it. You laughed at the title of this post till you read those examples. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of “but”s, and none of them ever followed this pattern:

“We checked our records, but we were wrong. Your lottery ticket is the prizewinner after all.”

When Force of Habit was on sub to editors, I was on the receiving end of many “but”s. They were complimentary. They were polite. They were always professional. And they were the worst messages I ever read.

I’ve heard a lot of “but”s in my life. The guy who dumped me on my college graduation night (“I used to love you, but…”). The stage roles I didn’t land (“Your audition was very good, but…”). I often walked away from them feeling like I'd been thrown in the boxing ring with Muhammad Ali.

To be fair, while there were a lot of theater “but”s, there were also many “you got the part”s to compensate for them. And there was a wonderful contract from Midnight Ink that more than compensated for the on-sub "but"s.

My “but” compensation strategy involved chocolate and therapeutic housecleaning. One very useful takeaway from my convent years was learning to take out anger and frustration on dirty floors or walls or anything that required long, hard scrubbing.

What’s your “but” compensation strategy? I’m always on the lookout for new techniques. Because right now I’m starting to think about giving the cats a bath when the next “but” arrives--because there's always a next "but". Save me from certain injury, please!

P.S. This will be my last Inkspot post for a few months. I need to focus on book writing. I'll still be hanging around, though!


Lois Winston said...

Alice, chocolate? Definitely. House cleaning? No way in Hades! I've always found a loud four-letter rant, accompanied by foot stamping and fist pounding, works wonders. It's best to do so when no one else is within earshot, though.

Beth Groundwater said...

When I was hunting for a literary agent, I took some great advice to "turn every rejection letter into an action item to send the next one out". It worked for me. After 89 rejections, the 90th agent signed me on as a client.

Alan Orloff said...

I use the mature approach. Before the deliverer of bad news gets to the "but," I stick my fingers in my ears and say "NA NA NA NA" really loud.

Darrell James said...

"Selective listening" works for me, Alice.

Tracy said...

I don't have a strategy other than allowing myself to feel dejected and remembering there are plenty fish in the sea. Still not signed yet so buts have become a way of life.

Robin Allen said...

I got a lot of buts, too. One editor loved the characters, but not the plot. Another loved the pacing, but couldn't connect with the characters. One loved the plot, but not the pacing. Encouraging and dejecting at the same time.

BUT, publishing is subjective and I chose to focus on the positive comments, knowing that eventually we would find an editor who loved everything (hi Terri!).

Alice Loweecey said...

Chocolate, definitely, Lois! Alan, you made me smile. Beth, it was the 186th query for me (over 3 books).

Some of my writing friends and I coined the term "Revenge Query"--within 24 hours of getting a pass, we sent out a new query.

Unknown said...


Loved your diatribe on buts! It's all so true! You are definitely the picture of perseverence. And of course, I think every but should be followed with a heathy dose of dark chocolate. And every yes celebrated with even more :-)
I'll miss seeing your posts but I'm happy to know you're cranking out a new book :-)

Kathleen Ernst said...

Oh my, all these years and I don't have a good routine. I tend more toward chocolate than scrubbing, though!