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|06-14-2012, 04:13 PM||View Post #1 (Link) 8 Ways to NOT make it as a Writer|
Join Date: Apr 2012
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8 ways to NOT to make it as a writer
I don't know the secret to becoming a famous, multi-billion dollar writer, with people from the ages of eight to eighty lining outside their local big box bookstore waiting for your latest release. If I knew that, I probably wouldn't be here right now. I'd be flying my jetpack through the Grand Canyon.
BUT, I do have a pretty good idea of what you can do if you want to make sure no one ever reads more than one of your books (if that).
I know what you're thinking (if you're the kind of person who really needs this guide). "But Infinity_Man, I'm just writing words down on paper. How hard can that be? In a year I'm going to be fuelling up my jet pack and you're going to crying over your stupid little manuscript that's never going to get anywhere. My mom and my best friend have told me my story is fantastic. You're a dumbass if you think I need to work on my craft. One guy on this forum tore it apart, but I'm going to stick with it anyway."
Well, congratulations, hypothetical writer, you've just illustrated every single one of my points. In order. It's almost like I constructed you that way. Without further ado, here are some ways you can guarantee you'll never be a successful writer.
1. Assume it's easy.
Well, hypothetical writer (from now on called Hypo) you seem to think it's just putting words down on paper. If that were true, why do any of us bother with this writing forum? This is one point I'm not going to go too deep into, because I assume, if you're here, you already know this. Getting published is hard. Making a living off of your writing is damn near impossible.
There're two different trains of thought here. There're the published authors who say "yes, it's going to be very hard, and you probably won't make a lot of money. You'll want a day job, preferably one that's not too absorbing so you still have time to work on your true love." Then there are the people who say "It's possible, but you have to treat writing like a full time job. Basically, crank out a novel every month, write for your local paper, ANYTHING that will give you money for your words."
It doesn't matter which you choose to invest in. Either way, it's going to be an uphill battle.
What's the famous figure? Of all the writers who submit books, only like 1% get published? And only 1% of that actually get anything from royalties? That's probably an exaggerated figure (meaning it's probably better than that) but not by much, and the point still stands.
2. Assume it's fast.
So, Hypo, you've pooped out a manuscript of 30000 words that you think you'll be seeing on the shelves this Christmas? Well, here's the problem with that: getting published takes a long time.
For one thing, though this varies from writer to writer, you should be taking a lot longer in the first place to actually write something. There's a whole reason there's a month dedicated to writers worldwide trying to write 50000 words in 30 days - it's a challenge. Most of the time, those writers have to revert to throwing in suddenly changing plot twists that make no sense just so they can keep going. NaNoWriMo specifically encourages you to forget trying to write a publishable novel, and just finish something.
The point is, a good novel takes time to craft. I can probably write a fair length novel in a month, but I also spend a month in itself planning out everything that's going to happen.
Additionally, 30000 is not a novel. It's more like a novella. Standard rule of thumb is that you should be aiming for about 80000, depending on genre, though a few ten thousand shorter is also acceptable. Whatever the length needs to be, that's what it should be - don't pad on 50000 words of sub-plot just to make it novel length, because then it'll just read as though you... padded on 50000 words. But just make sure you recognize that, whatever the length is, it might not be something you can sell to people who publish novels.
Furthermore, once you have a complete manuscript, you're going to want to edit your manuscript. More than once. This will actually take most of your time, to be honest. I've been working on the same manuscript for about a year now, and only two months of that was actually writing the damn thing. Five of those months were the ones where I had people reading it, and therefore didn't touch it, but the other five has been spent going over and over the manuscript several times to make sure it's its best.
Then comes the really long part. Submitting. Let's say, Hypo, you go to an agent first. When you query an agent, they might get back to you in a couple of days, if it's a rejection, or they're not busy, or it's something they're really interested in. I've had Agents respond within 24 hours to reject me (UPDATE: I've now had one form rejection sent within 8 hours of my original query). Most Agents I've queried so far have given a time frame of 4 to 8 weeks as their response time. One has said she takes about 12 weeks to respond. Some don't respond unless they're interested, so you have to wait out that entire time frame before deciding if they're going to answer or not. But once they actually have your manuscript? You're looking at a couple months of not hearing back from them. Then, if they do decide they want to represent your manuscript (and don't reject you, forcing you to start all over) they're going to submit to editors, which will also take a long time. So far, the longest wait I've heard about has been three years. And that's without a sale.
Once the editor's bought it? Well, let's just say right now editors are shopping for their 2014/2015 catalogue.
This is a patient industry. You're going to have to be just as patient.
(Note: it can be very quick. It's not normal, but it is possible. This is also assuming you don't go the self or e-publishing route)
3. Never do your research.
How many of you read "when you query an agent" up there and thought to yourselves "what's a query?"
I like seeing the people on this forum who ask "How does getting an Agent work?" or "How do I go about publishing my book?" It shows they recognize there's more to it than just mailing your manuscript to a nameless publishing company and waiting for a cheque.
If you want to be a writer, you need to know how the industry works. That means not only asking questions, but looking for the answers. Trust me, they're pretty much all already out there.
And, I'll be frank, YWO isn't where you're going to find all of them in the detail you need. Oh, you'll get really good answers if you ask a question; people here are knowledgeable, indeed. But it's not the fleshed out research you need (and there's the matter of getting multiple opinions, but I'll cover that later). What you want is to find the stuff written by people really in the industry. Every Agent has a blog. Many published authors have a blog too, where they sometimes talk about (gasp!) their craft. There are books out there that can explain this stuff to you in depth, but really it is all available online.
And speaking of research, do you realize just how much you're actually going to have to do, even if you understand the ins and outs of publishing? I'll use myself as an example: Currently I'm shopping around for an agent. One of the big pieces of advice given when you're looking for an agent is to find one who's represented something similar to your book.
I'll let that sink for a second.
Have you realized the head-exploding amount of reading you have to do to figure out if an agent has sold something similar to your book? Sure, I could skim through the agent's list of sold works, find a book that sounds like mine, and just read the first little bit of it. But that's just gearing up for all kinds of embarrassment in a sitcom style confrontation ("Oh, you read ____? What did you think of the ending?" while I pretend the phone is breaking up because I'm driving under a tunnel). I don't NEED to be able to say "my book is like this book you represented" but it shows I am familiar with the agent, and didn't just find their name on a list of agents. It also hints that my book might be something they'd enjoy, since they enjoyed another book like it.
"Nyah," Hypo says, "then I won't get an Agent. I'll just submit straight to the publisher. What do I even need an agent for anyway?"
Good question, Hypo. What does an Agent do? I suggest you go look up the pros and cons of one. But either way, even if you do submit to editors (you don't really submit to publishers - they're the people who fancy the book up and make it store-ready. Editors are the people working with them who actually pick the books) you're still going to need to know what they're looking for, what they like, and knowing what else they've published is probably a good idea too.
4. Be rude to everyone you meet.
This may come as a surprise to some of you, but being a writer involves a certain level of social skills. Writing (professionally) is a trade. A business. And for that reason, you have to do what most businesses do. You have to network.
(I say "have to" but you don't actually have to. It's just recommended you do, and can make the submission process a lot easier).
There are these things called writer's conventions. If Star Trek can have a convention, then our entire industry sure as hell has one. It's exactly what you're probably picturing. Hundreds to thousands of aspiring and published authors congregate into one building, and swap stories about their experience. There are agents, editors, and published authors usually holding panels, or have booths, and, surprise!, you can usually go up an talk to them. It's why they're sitting there.
"Why would you want to talk to a published author?" Hypo asks. Well, Hypo, you might get some really good advice, or find out more about how they themselves got published. "Okay, but why the agents and editors?" Because, Hypo, if you talk to an agent or editor, you can usually work in a pitch for your novel (they're expecting it. It's like a ham sandwich jumping into a kennel; it knows it's going to get eaten). If they like the sound of your pitch, and think it's something they'd be interested in, they will tell you to submit to them.
Note: Never, EVER, hand anyone at one of these things a copy of your manuscript, even if they say they'd like to read it. They're there to make contacts, not carry around your manuscript. Always follow the submission guidelines detailed on their website. If they show interest and tell you to submit, then just send them a query. If they ask for the full, send them the full and count your blessings. (for clarification: A query is a short, usually 200-300 word pitch for your novel. You send this, as well as anything else an agent requests - a synopsis, or the first X amount of pages - first, and then, if they're interested, they may request a partial read, or a full manuscript to read) The bonus of doing this is you get to write, in the subject-line of your e-mail, something along the lines as "requested by agent" and include in your e-mail "Hi, _____, it's ____. We talked at the writer's convention and you expressed interest in my manuscript." An e-mail with that attachment will instantly rise up the pile of submissions they have to sort through - meaning they're going to take more time to look at your submission, and they're going to get to it faster. And if they ask for a full submission? Well, you just skipped the 2 or 3 months it would have taken to query them, get a response, send them a partial read, and get another response.
The important thing is to remain nice and friendly. You want to enter a professional relationship with these people, and they're looking to see if you'll be easy to work with, not just if your manuscript is good.
This applies here, to YWO, as well. Be nice to everyone. I feel like it's a particular pitfall for younger writers because we think, as long as we're genius writers, we can be as snarky as we want - in fact, some people seem to think that being a sarcastic ass-hat is the way you become a genius writer. Instead, responding only ever in unhelpful sarcasm will turn people against you. You never know who will be the next big-name author or agent with the influence to make or break your career. Treat everyone as you would like to be treated, even if they deserve a thrashing.
5. Take everyone's advice.
You're probably scratching your head at that one.
"But, Infinity_man," Hypo says, "how can you say not to take everyone's advice, when this is a forum dedicated to giving advice?"
Well, Hypo, perhaps I should elaborate. You should take everyone's advice with a grain of salt. That means, don't believe everything you're told just because you're told it.
The key word in "take everyone's advice" is everyone's.
I'll start with the direct example Hypo gave up above. His mom liked it and his best friend liked it. I shouldn't even have to explain why that's irrelevant. They're very biased people, and unless you're 100% sure they aren't just trying to spare your feelings, don't put any value in their opinion.
"So I should listen to the one guy on this forum who tore my piece apart?"
Closer, but not entirely. Carefully comb through what that person had to say. Was it constructive? Did they say "this is why I think this is a problem" or did they just say "I didn't like this"? But even constructive criticisms can be wrong. Ideally, you'd want to get more than one opinion on something, but when it comes down to it this forum has a poor balance of people posting stories and people critiquing. Getting more than one opinion isn't always possible, so you have to decide what works for your story, and what doesn't.
Remember: sometimes the people critiquing you are wrong.
But there's another meaning to "take everyone's advice" which comes from having many people critique something. Have you ever tried to please everyone at once?
I'll give you an example from my own experience. Recently, on a writing forum with hundreds of more members than this one (but not quite the same community feel, hence why I'm more active here) I posted my query so I could get some seriously needed help. The first round several people told me to cut a certain detail because it felt like it added nothing. In my second draft, with that detail gone, I got another wave of people saying they missed that, and found it was something that set my story apart from others. I also had people advise me to change certain superfluous words. I put that detail back in, and cut out the purple language. Then I had people complaining about the detail, again, and this time more people talking about how it sounded like all my voice had just disappeared. Basically, in a few drafts of queries, I was just bouncing back and forth.
The point is: there's no such thing as perfect. Not everyone's going to be happy. It's up to you when your work is at its prime.
6. Take nobody's advice
Yeah, now I'm just trying to confuse you.
But not really. This one is pretty self-explanatory, and let's face it, this was your initial reaction when you read the above advice. "No, Infinity_man, you got that one backwards. You want to take advice, not ignore it."
That's correct. You want to take advice. You also want to filter that advice - which is what the above point was about.
See, you've got to find a decent balance. If you come onto this forum, post your work, we all say your main character has no motivation, and you call all of us a bunch of idiots out just to change your voice and bring you down as an artist because we're jealous... then, yeah, you're not really going to get ahead in this business.
I can't tell you the amount of people here who have sent me a private message that has said "Oh, I wasn't really looking for such a detailed criticism, I just wanted people to read it and tell me if they thought it was good or not." That drives me INSANE. Why did I just spend an hour critiquing your story, line-by-line? What the hell is "good or not"? If I say "it's bad" would you want me to leave it at that, or clarify? If I've doubled the word count of your story with my comments, pay attention. It means you need to work on something.
We're here to help you, remember. We don't give you constructive criticism just because we like to type non-stop. We do it because we hope you learn something from it. So please, take something from it (but, in keeping with the above point, filter it)
7. Don't edit. Ever.
This kind of ties in with the previous point, and the idea is the same, but they're different enough they can still be divided in two. Taking nobody's advice is a problem with your attitude - not editing is just a problem with you as a writer.
Face it. If you want to get published, you're going to have to get used to the idea of editing your work. This means going over it as many times as you need to in order to make it the best it could be. This can be as little as once (there are some guides out there dedicated to teaching you how to only have to go through your manuscript once to get a publishable product) or as many times as infinity (try not to get trapped in this loop - it's possible to edit out everything that ever made your book good).
And another hard truth: Agents and Editors are going to suggest you make edits. Depending on their preference, and your manuscript, the level of editing they'll suggest will vary. But it's possible they're going to tell you to cut whole scenes, or remove entire characters. Dealing with this is called "killing your darlings". Yes, it sucks when you're told your favourite character adds nothing to the book and would be better off absent, but these are industry professionals who probably know what they're doing. Really consider what they're asking of you, and decide if they have a point or not. Many agents and editors will also only take on a work if you make their suggested revisions, so be prepared for that. It is, of course, acceptable to say no to an Agent or Editor if you don't want to make the changes, thus keeping your creative vision, but be prepared for them to refuse you. At some point, you might just have to accept that you're a first-time author, and you're going to have to prove yourself before you can get what you want.
8. Give Up.
The one thing, Hypo, that I like about you is you said you're going to stick to it. You might fail if you try, but you'll most certainly fail if you don't. Giving up is easy. But don't do it. People keep rejecting you? J. K. Rowling got rejected dozens of times, and look where she is now! And rejection really usually isn't a matter of your manuscript being bad - agents and editors have to invest a lot of time into your novel, so they're looking for something they love just as much as you do.
On a more local, and immediate note: people on this forum tore your short story or first chapter to pieces? Please please please please please please don't use that as an excuse to give up your dream of a writer. So the short story you wrote at the ripe age of 13 didn't make George Orwell look like someone smeared cat vomit between two musty old covers with an eye on them. You're 13. Get over it. You've got time. A lot of authors don't get their big break until their thirties, or later (remember point number 2) Just because I told you your characters were unlikeable or your sentences were nothing but cliches is not an excuse to stop trying.
For the love of writing-God, instead try and write something with the full intention of making that asshole Infinity_man eat his stupid words about pleonasms and redundancy, forcing him to get on his knees and beg your forgiveness that he ever thought you might be a bad writer. If you don't succeed a second time, keep that goal in mind. If you do succeed, well... you can thank me later.
The point is, I'd rather you antagonize me and set out to prove me wrong than completely give up.
Hopefully you've learned something from this guide. Though a lot of it is common sense, sometimes you just need someone to come along and say it to you (I have received comments from my critiques along the lines of "thanks for saying this. I think I knew this, but just needed to hear someone else say it").
Disclaimer: as with any "rule" of writing, there are exceptions. None of these are hard and fast rules, and, like I said, I'm not a master of the industry. This is information based on the amount of time and energy I've put into learning about the industry. But you notice how often I used the word "usually" or "normally"? It's because I recognize and accept that there are cases of snarky, quickly-written, unedited, quickly-published, raw gold.
|08-16-2012, 03:08 AM||View Post #6 (Link)|
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|09-21-2012, 10:45 AM||View Post #7 (Link)|
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This was really helpful, and it made me laugh. Thanks!
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|09-21-2012, 02:20 PM||View Post #8 (Link)|
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I like that Hypo was the example here, because in my mind he kept going, "I'm a poet, you ----," etc.
Not that you have any idea what I'm talking about, but all the same, good job. I struggle with networking, in that I don't attend these conventions and the idea of going to one makes me collapse on the floor. Once I attended a science fiction/fantasy geek convention (yes, for the express purpose of meeting GRRM, and yes, I met him and got my book signed and cried about it,) and my mother steamrollered me into printing my manuscript so I could show it to everyone I met.
So I wasted a bunch of paper and very wisely showed it to no one. The problem was, my friend and I were like the only people there under 18, and the party at the conventions clearly starts with the drinking.
I'm sure writing conventions are another matter. -sigh-
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|09-22-2012, 11:35 AM||View Post #9 (Link)|
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Ooh, that was good.
I also love the idea that Hypo was the example. Brought an entire new level of humour to this thread.
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