Monday, 10 March 2008

If in doubt, go with your gut feeling...

It's your book - write it your way, you're the only one who can

A few years ago I invested 25p at a school fete buying a paperback called, rather clunkily, Why Good Girls Don't Get Ahead...But Gutsy Girls Do, by Kate White. It turned out to be one of the most inspiring and thought-provoking books I've ever read.

Its main argument is that girls are brought up to be pleasers, to play by the rules, and while this works just fine at home and school, take this attitude to the workplace and you will never be a high achiever or fulfill your potential.

But it also discusses the importance of trusting your gut feeling. When Kate was editor-in-chief at McCall's, one of her jobs was to select the cover photo, knowing that her choice could make newsstand sales fluctuate by several hundred thousand copies. Deliberating her first cover for September, she saw a paparazzi shot of Demi Moore; 'it practically took my breath away and I decided in that instant, "This is the cover".'

As she showed the touched-up photo round the office, people voiced concerns. Demi did not have the usual 'buy-me' smile; the background was black; a pregnant Demi was about to appear nearly naked on the cover of August's Vanity Fair. Kate began to have doubts.

Then she remembered her initial 'oooooh' reaction. She decided to go ahead.

The issue sold 300,000 more copies than the September issue of the year before. She said she learned how easy it is to get talked out of going with your gut when the pressure is on.

The moral of this post? Listen to the advice of others, but go with your gut feeling. Don't let people talk you out of your own certainty.


  1. Fantastic words, Lexi. Brilliant post.


  2. I like that story too, but let's say that the person who had that gut instinct was not the person who held the final say. If she had related a story in which as an underling or aspiring something-or-other she had made an unpopular choice and had been able to convince the powers that be to go along, that would be inspiring indeed.

    What we need are some gutsy editors out there to take the books they love and run them past or over or around the committees that are the real decision makers in most mid to huge size publishing houses.

  3. My gut feeling for my ABNA entry ultimately led to it not getting representation last year. An agent requested so many revisions I felt it would change the foundation of the story to make it no longer the one I wanted to tell.


  4. I entirely agree - always trust your instincts!



  5. Nik: thanks!

    Alan: As writers, we have the final say, which is great, as long as we are prepared to live with the consequences of our decisions. Persuading others is a whole different ball game - and you know I'm the worst saleswoman in the world.

    Ian: I hope you are not now having doubts. Imagine if you had compromised on your vision, got the amended book published, and sales had been moderate or poor. You'd have wished you'd held out.

    Mary Renault was persuaded to cut The Last of the Wine drastically, and she regretted it for the rest of her life.

    Anne: Yeah!

  6. I take consolation in being Ahead of My Time.

    I hope my descendants spend the royalties in a responsible and socially conscious fashion.

  7. Trouble is, literature is quite different in that respect from the visual arts. A painter can starve in his garret, and a hundred years later his paintings sell for millions.

    But I think I'm right in saying, no author has been popular after death, unless he was published in his lifetime.

    Does anyone know differently?

  8. The one tragic example that springs to mind is John Kennedy Toole, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel "A Confederacy of Dunces". He committed suicide and it was only due to his mother's incredible persistence and the chance that one editor at Louisiana University Press (I'm pretty sure about that) took that his brilliant comic novel and outrageous characters found their way to the reading public.