Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Baby John Asleep, Sucking His Thumb,
Mary Cassatt,
pastel on paper, c. 1910.

In a recent newsletter, a very nice agent expressed mild irritation at first-time writers who describe their novel as "their baby."

We've seen this metaphor - all too often. Writers speak of sending their (precious) baby out into the cold, cruel world.

Yet, as she points out, writers are eager to sell their "baby." ( And to almost any broker who's willing to find it a home.)

In fact, we would be quite happy to be baby mills.

Until she pointed out the contradiction, I thought it was just the cheap cliche that annoyed me.

Bear in mind that writing is a business and we are, at best, surrogate parents.
Let us act as if our works spring, fully formed, like Athena, from the forehead of Zeus.

Everyone must have a friend who forwards this stuff.
Q: Name the four seasons.
A: Salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar.

Q: What does varicose mean?
A: Nearby.

Q: Define "Caesarian Section."
A: A district in Rome.

Q: What does "benign" mean?
A: Benign is what you will be after you be eight.


December Quinn said...

The "baby" analogy always annoyed me too. My books aren't my babies. Some I like better than others, but the simple fact is that unless they're sold and making me money they're useless save as a fun hobby.

In that way I guess they are like babies...

sex scenes at starbucks said...

The baby thing doesn't work for me. I like the "teen love" analogy. Everyone has that "teen love" novel stuffed in a trunk somewhere--the poorly written, plotless wonder. We all were teenaged writers once, in a sense. Fortunately, mine actually happened during my teenaged years.

But yeah. I'm in a money-making mood.

Erik Ivan James said...

I never call my writing "my baby". There are lots of things I call it, but never "my baby". Good god...

Bernita said...

When one extends the metaphor to include the industry, it becomes decidedly repulsive, December.
I don't find writing half as labour intensive anyway.

Think I prefer being a pimp than trafficking in "babies," SS.

Not to mention the term infers the agent who turns down an MS is an abortionist, Erik!

Ric said...

Babies are full of hope - something new whose history is clear and bright. Anything is possible. #1 Bestseller is doable.
Not the acne scarred teen - the one with a mark on his permanent record (intensive therapy should get Miss Holaka back in her fifth grade classroom in a year or so).

The baby, nurtured by two years of editing, trotted out to beta readers, pulled screaming line by line from my forehead, unsullied by a single rejection.

I can see the connection.

Bernita said...

I think the metaphor takes on alarming connotations once a work is submitted, Ric!

Jennifer said...

LOL about the baby analogy!!
Yes, this is my precious itty bitty darling...How much? Two thousand? And I only have to prune it a little?


Love the benign after eight. Too cute!

Bernita said...

Right, Jennifer, it becomes precious - not professional - and a real squick when logically extended.
Thank you for stopping by!

writtenwyrdd said...

Given that I am highly allergic to the concept of parenthood or pregnancy, I never thought of my writing as a baby. Ech.

However, like everyone else, I feel attached to the work. For quite a while after it's written, it carries with it a golden haze of perfection to my inner eye.

But I know that I write to eventually sell. And I like to think I'm adult enough to be businesslike about it and not think of my work as beyond criticism.

Bernita said...

One of the dangers of this sort of metaphor, Written, is that it becomes a "thinking" cliche and can intensify reactions when one is told "your kid is ugly."

writtenwyrdd said...

BTW Bernita, although I suspect this isn't your 'thing' I have tagged you for a meme in today's post. *ducking and running*

word veri: kultsaq
Sounds like something I'd have in a novel.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

The last time I heard the "baby" analogy, I blurted out that her tome was a poster child for abortion!

"How to Win Friends And Influence People 101"


How ya doing? I missed ya! Pollen, sinuses...maple, ash, magnolia...Ack!

Bernita said...

"Now what have I ever done to you, Written?" she asked, plaintively.

Oh, Bonnie!
Missed you too - so sorry you suffer!

raine said...

Confess that when I first started subbing, I referred to said mss as my 'babies'.
However, after numerous rejections, yes--I found myself giving them a swift kick out the door with the admonition, "get off your lazy arse and earn your keep, ya bastard!"

"Caesarian Section."A: A district in Rome.

Love this, lol.

Charles Gramlich said...

I never made the connection between the baby analogy and the writer's hope to become a baby mill. Very good point. Funny too.

Bernita said...

That's the attitude, Raine.
Seems one soon gets over being a wombat.

Thank you, Charles.
More insidious among females, I suspect.

Kate Thornton said...

I never think of my writing as my babies - too icky! Now the slobbering, stinking, un-potty-trained pups, that's a different story. After all, the pooches deliver unlimited unconditional love and are a handy small size, too. Very baby-like.

But my tidy, pristine, oh-so-careful and precise writing a howling, red-faced bundle of spit-up and poopy? Uh, no.

Bernita said...

Clearly a case of "when metaphors go bad," Kate!

Anonymous said...

I really don't care what a writer calls his or her works. If it's good, it can be called the big toe. People call their pets, baby, their cars, baby. It's and individual thing. What's the big deal.

And no, I don't call my works, my babies.

Bernita said...

The "deal," Steve, from that agent's point of view, is that it is not professional.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if that agent received a killer novel that was going to be the next big hit, would that agent turn it down because the author called it, "My Baby". In my humble opinion, I think not.

Bernita said...

Steve: (1) It's doubtful the MS would ever get past the query stage if a writer called it "my baby," and (2) even agents can't always predict what will be "the bext big hit" - so why posit backwards?

Scott from Oregon said...

I guess calling it my novel "thang" wouldn't fly too far, either?

LadyBronco said...

Q: Name the four seasons.
A: Salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar.


Sounds like one of my smart-ass answers.

I referred to my MS as my baby once, and the second I said it, I knew I would never say that again - too weird.

Bernita said...

Nooo, Scott,...don't think so.

And with a straight face, no doubt, Lady B.
Implies a sort of needy, emotional backmail, doesn't it?