I hate giving writing advice.
Why? Well, because, just like anything else in life,
the path to publication is not simple, nor is it easy.
There are as many different paths as there are individual writers.
There are people who write one book, send fifteen queries, sign with a powerhouse agent, and eventually end up with multimillion dollar book, movie, and merchandise deals.
There are people who write nine books and finally snag an agent and huge deal with their tenth.
There are people who send hundreds of queries and revise and resubmits before finding an agent to represent and sell one wonderful novel.
You can find your agent with a query, by referral, during an online conference, through a contest, or via ninja agent ambush.
A book may be on submission for two days before selling, or sit there for ten months.
Generalized writing advice can be useless and demoralizing because writing is so closely tied to who we are. And if the writing advice I give contradicts with someone's experience, the message they get (and the message I have so often gotten) is that they are doing something wrong, that they are missing some crucial piece of "how-to" that they should have picked up on a long time ago.
|Ripe berries and green, all on the same branch.|
Back in March, when I had sent a couple hundred queries, received almost as many form rejections, revised two novels dozens of times, been in more contests than I could count on my hands, diligently spent every spare moment working on my craft, and gotten the thumbs up from over a dozen (yes, a DOZEN) readers, if you had given me cliched, platitudinal writing advice like "never give up!" or "keep working hard!" or "believe in yourself!" I would have seriously had to restrain myself to avoid punching you.
This is when straight-up inspirational talk and advice is tough to deal with for a lot of writers.
They (we) know that it's not just a matter of "never giving up," "believing in your work," or "writing something awesome."
They (we) know it because they've been living it for months, sometimes years.
They (we) know it because we have a drawer full of manuscripts that we poured our souls into, that we loved, that we thought was the One. (It wasn't. It's getting harder to believe that this one will be.)
But what's even worse - what I hate with every fiber of my being - is the attitude that there is a hierarchy of writing skill that exists in this little community of ours.
Often, I see advice that goes something like this: "Keep working on your writing, and eventually you will come up with something good enough to catch an agent's attention."
Let's just think about that for a second. This seems to suggest that there is some qualifiable level of writing skill that you can attain which, when submitted to an agent's eyes, will magically lift the blinders to Bad Writing or Sub-Par Writing or Non-Awesome Writing, and they will then behold the book, and declare it good, and sign the writer, and submit it to editors, where the process will begin all over again. (Is there a writing skill purgatory, I wonder, for the work that was awesome enough to get an agent but not quite awesome enough to get an editor? Hmm?)
In case my sarcasm isn't one hundred percent obvious, let me be clear: Publishing is a subjective business. What one agent thinks is awesome could look like fire kindling to another. What one agent reads in twelve hours and offers on immediately thereafter could be the same manuscript that garnered 95 form rejections. (Yes, that's my sweet superhero novel, One.)
There is no such thing as a level of writing awesomeness that is worthy of agent or publisher attention. No, there really isn't.
And, if that level doesn't exist, then a simple way to get there doesn't either.
So, why does it bother me when I hear people giving advice that suggests that that level does exist?
Because it makes fellow writers feel bad. And that is not cool.
Not. Cool. At. All.
Listen. The MS that attracted my (very impressive) agent received 89 form rejections before I signed on the dotted line. It's gotten six more in the six weeks since then.
Now, maybe to you that means that I haven't worked hard enough on my craft, that my query letter sucked, that I didn't believe in myself enough, that the story was not marketable, or that my writing just wasn't up to par.
But if you met me, if you read my manuscript, if you knew that it was an in-demand genre and free of YA cliches, if you'd been with me through every grueling step of the process, would you still say those things?
I'll tell you right now - No. You would not.
So, listen, writers. If you take anything away from reading my blog, let it be this. When you finally, gloriously leave the query trenches, however you manage it, to Agentland, or better yet, move from Agentland to Publisheddom, do me a favor. Don't offer advice on how to get there based on your individual path. That path was yours and yours alone, and implying that others are doing it wrong because theirs isn't similar enough is just bad form.
Yes. Bad form.
For those of you in the Querying Trenches or Submission Hell (here! have a cookie!), here is what I have to say to you.
I'm sorry. It sucks. I hope that you're able to find a way to make that part of the journey translate into something awesome for the more fun parts.
Will you get an agent? I don't know.
Will you ever publish? I have no clue.
Will the worry and stress and grief tear you apart? Will your writing get worse? Will you fall into an inescapable black hole of suckitude?
I don't know. I'm not you.
But I am here to listen, and to commiserate, and to celebrate with you when things work out the way you want them to.
And I think that's probably what we all really need most.
(Hey! You! Troll! Yes, you! I delete trollish comments. So don't waste your time. Kisses!)