Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When Trust Goes Too Far

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

I can name any number of everyday things that I double check for accuracy. I check my receipts to make sure the clerk rang up the sale items correctly. I get estimates for car repairs and check ingredient labels. I ask for references before hiring anyone to work on my home and check my pay stub. Recently, when I needed to buy a new lap top, I researched brands, shopped at several stores, and waited for the best deal before making the buy.

These things aside, however, I still feel that I’m a trusting person. If someone gives me their word, I trust they will follow through and when I’m dealing with a professional, I trust they know what they’re doing.

Here’s a “for instance.”

Last week, I saw my doctor for a skin irritation. After assuring me that was all it was, he prescribed an oral antibiotic I’d never taken before and an antibiotic cream. No biggie—I trust my doctor of 30 plus years with my eyes closed. After my appointment, I dropped off my prescription at our local pharmacy that I’ve used for nearly as long and went on to do a bit more shopping before picking the meds up on my way home.

The label on the medicine bottle said I’d received 20 capsules. I decided I should take one right away, opened the bottle, and immediately noticed something odd. All the pills were two-tone green but were obviously different sizes. When I dumped them out on the table, I discovered I had 16 of one kind of capsule and 36 of the other.

I immediately returned the prescription to the pharmacist who was mortified to learn of the mistake (In all fairness, there are several pharmacists and assistants who work there). She couldn’t apologize enough, and I wasn’t about to put her through the wringer. She was doing a fine job of it herself. Let’s face it, we all make mistakes. Granted, some can be more deadly than others, but…(fingers drumming on the table).

She immediately corrected the error and gave me a $20 gift certificate. She never mentioned what the other medication was for and although I appreciated her sincerity to correct the error, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened had I received an entire bottle of the wrong medication—say for high blood pressure which I don’t have. In all honesty, I would have never questioned the content of the bottle. I’d never taken that medication before so how would I have known what I was getting? I would have blindly taken them like the good little patient I am and probably wouldn’t be here today to blog about it. From now on, think I'll start checking out my new meds here:

Okay, so when things like this happen, I always try to find a parallel to a lesson in writing. This little glitch reminded me of a question someone asked me recently (I’m paraphrasing here), “What mistake did you do with one of your books you wish you hadn’t.”

Oh heavens, that’s easy. Mine was again, the issue of trust.
Although the good certainly outweighs the bad, the one thing I regret most about my debut novel was having been so naïve during the editorial process. Silly girl that I am, I thought my job was done.

As some of you know (heck a few of you were among the first to critique it), I edited SILENCED CRY countless times. It was given a rigorous critique by seven other writers prior to my submission in the fall of 2006. After reading about other authors’ experiences with their editors, I expected to face major rewrites. Instead, my editor’s first reaction was that it was a good story and a clean manuscript. I was thrilled and as he and I worked on it over the course of several of weeks, I was certain if anything was wrong with the book, he’d find it. Instead, we zipped through the edits and when we were done, I stepped away from the manuscript for a week or so, before it was time to start on the final proofreading. Call it stress, nerves, or just getting hit over the head with a good dose of reality that my book was finally going to be published and people were going to judge me by it. When I read the first few pages, I panicked and wanted to cry.

The proofreading guidelines clearly stated, “No Major Changes.” I had several. The problem was I had relied completely on my editor to find mistakes and make corrections instead of taking on the responsibility myself. The clock was ticking and there I was, biting my nails and questioning every line I’d written, including excessive tags, redundant words and a few that were missing. By the time I finally decided to express my concerns, it was almost too late. To make a long story short, I was able to make the changes and in spite of my worries, SILENCED CRY received honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book Fair.

It received great reviews and reader comments, but I’ll always feel that little pinch inside telling me it could have been better. I walked away from that experience with a bit more confidence in my skills and an understanding and appreciation for how things really work.

Drum roll, please...

My advice to writers who are about to experience their first time with an editor is—ask questions, it’s okay to ask for explanations of the things you don’t understand. Believe me, a true professional will appreciate your willingness to work with them. Don’t rely on someone else to make your writing shine. To do so could be as deadly to your writing career as not questioning your next prescription. If your agent or editor writes a blub you don’t agree with or you hate the cover, negotiate, offer suggestions, make your opinion count because if you don’t, once your baby goes to press, you’ll have to live with the good, the bad, and the really ugly of it.

I’ll never lose my trust of others, nor do I think I’ll ever forget the “what if” of my little pill fiasco. I’ll no doubt be more diligent about checking my medication in the future. As for all my books and manuscripts since SILENCED CRY, I’ve kept that first experience fresh in my mind. I’ve learned that no matter how great the editor, agent, or publisher is, the success of my writing begins and ends with me.

About the author:

Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008, Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY AwardsTop Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book FestivalTop Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

Visit Sam Harper at


trish said...

You've been nominated in the Best Thriller/Mystery category for BBAW. Can you email me at as soon as possible with your email address? Thanks!

Sheila Deeth said...

Scary about the meds. But trust is good, and getting it sorted is good, and sensible precautions are good. Thanks for your advice about sensible writing precautions.

Oh, and congratulations.

Marta Stephens said...

Many thanks to Trisha for the nomination!

Hey Sheila, oh faithful follower of this murderous bunch. I like trust too. ;)

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Here, here! I had the same experience with a great variety of editors - some found a few points that were worth fixing, but missed more than they found. If I hadn't been fortunate enough to have a wonderful critique circle, I might have been humiliated with a missing "the" or an extra space. And let's face it - no one person can find all the errors. You need as many eagle eyes on your manuscript as you can summon, and then some. ;o) Great article!

Anonymous said...

Great article. I have wondered about books I've read that contain minor errors. Now that I think about it logically, a novel does contain alot of words. No one could catch every little mistake. I have looked back at short story submissions of my past and was shocked at some of the mistakes I found. I spend a lot more time on editing now.

Marta Stephens said...

Finding mistakes in old stories is a good thing, Cher! It means you've grown as a writer. I found the original draft of one of my books in the series (didn't even know I still had it). Oh, man! It was really, really horible. Just keep at it, though!

s.w. vaughn said...

Eek! That's kind of scary about the pills. But I'm glad you got past the editor-knows-everything syndrome, Marta. :-)

Cait said...

Glad you found out about the pills before you took them.
And I'm sure there is an editor out there who does catch eveyrthing, we've just not found them yet. But lots of proofing eyes are a good way of catching more things, but it's never perfect.