Recently, my book agent and I had lunch with a most charming, clever and insightful, book editor. I mention this because a few of them can be a bit arrogant and flip. But my agent is very sharp, so the few, with whom I have had the opportunity to chat in person, have been smart and savvy about the publishing business and what works. I guess she feels like I do, why waste a lunch on people from whom you can learn nothing.
During this pleasant and delicious meeting we discussed a number of book possibilities. There was a time when discussions about potential book projects were limited to David’s photography, so this was a positive turn of events. We talked about my past professional achievements and, of course I told stories—the thing I enjoy most not only about writing, but about meeting new people. I shared some insider information and confessed that, while I would never betray a confidence, be disloyal, (or parlay what I knew into an audition for a career change), I have been able to find ways to divulge intriguing information without feeling guilty about it for years. We talked about audiences and targeting and I told him about two surprising audiences for “Schlepper. A Mostly True Tale of Presidential Politics”, (which the publisher so screwed up that when we launched the publicity campaign, it was not available for purchase.) But in fact later, when some people figured out how the public could buy it, I learned it was used as a text book for political communication classes and as entertaining reading for Jewish organizations and women’s groups. I learned this when I was invited to speak at some colleges, the Jewish Federation and a few synagogues.
The book never had wide distribution nor did it make any money but I believe it still has potential and someday some intelligent publisher or Hollywood producer will make modifications and snap it up. But that’s not what I wanted to blob about. When I traveled around to book signings and lunches, I gave entertaining speeches which always ended with Q & A. The most frequently asked question by both young and older women was; how did you get to be you? Or, how does someone so ordinary get to have the kind of special life you lived? And believe me, I know my life has been extraordinary—both personally and professionally. I confess that many painful hours have been spent trying to figure out the why of who I am. This is not to be confused with anything like “who am I?” But because I do give speeches and lecture in colleges, I thought I should have some answers. Annie, my wonderful agent now friend was my test case. After I shared the rules with her, she said that she will take them with her wherever she goes. Needless to say, I was flattered and flabbergasted all at the same time. And because I love and respect our blobbing audience, and so few of you are critical about what we do, I will share “Iris’ seven rules for… whatever” with you. Please pass them on to your children—especially female.
The Rules According to Iris aka Rees Burnett
1. Never ask permission to do something you want to do. You can always apologize later (if someone doesn’t like what you’ve done) but chances are good that no one will ever admonish you for a reasonable (define that however) action.
2. When Jordan was young and still trying not to be embarrassed by her parents, she would say, “Mom, you’re not allowed to do that.” And I would say, “not allowed does not exist for creative and determined people.” So, my second rule is take “you’re not allowed” out of your vocabulary. This does not mean you can burn down a house, but it does mean that if the house needs to go, you should find a way to do it.
3. If you are working with other people and they tell you why something, can’t be done, rid yourself of those nay-sayers. Find people who will be happy about a identifying a challenge, and positive about finding ways to achieve a goal.
4. Develop a sense of humor about everything – especially yourself. Infrequent as it is, even I have probably made a mistake and so will you. You need to learn from it, laugh, and move on. This does not mean you are not serious about your work. It means you have found a way to live through some horrendous predicament and you have survived to laugh again. For example, in college when we were studying speech defects, we all learned (and entertained ourselves) by imitating them. While speech problems are not funny, we needed to find a way to deal with all the pain they caused the people who suffered from them. The same is true for politics and probably business. You will not survive a campaign if you can’t laugh at it—this includes the issues and the candidate. If you do not laugh, you will become one of those people who is incapable of distinguishing that which is important from that which doesn’t matter.
5. Always look like you know where you are walking and people will follow. Never confuse this with actually having to know where you are going.
6. If you want to be “at the table” when the decisions get made, just go and sit there. It is seldom anyone will ask you to move.
7. Find a way to sign the checks. If you are not signing the checks you always want to
be in the loop about how money gets spent, on what, and whom. It is not as hard as you imagine. But you will have to identify the key players and become one of them. This will happen if you follow the other six rules.
I don't pretend to know much about everything. But after many years in politics, academics, business, government and the non-profit world these are the life rules I found most helpful. And with a little self-confidence they are easily mastered. With the Presidential campaign season fast approaching this could be useful advice for aspiring political wonks. Or just life in general. We’re just sayin…