Hi everybody! As you may have guessed from the title of this blog post, this is not going to be all sunshine and sweetness. Of course, as you may have guessed from interacting with me enough that you know this little blog exists, you know that I’m not either. You might even think I’m kind of a jerk. I’ll try not to take that personally 😉 The thing is, it’s nice to be nice, but when you’re only nice, you’re probably not being all that helpful to the people who really need it, who really want to get better, be stronger, try harder.
I’m a firm believer in confidence and thick skin being two of the keys to this whole writing thing. It’s what allows you to humbly take crit and internalize it. It’s also what allows you to know when a suggestion isn’t right for you. Those are hugely important to the art of revising, revising being that thing that actually makes your manuscript good.
Most importantly, it’s what keeps you going when all you want to do is crumble under the weight of rejections. And we all want to crumble under the weight of rejections, except for those of us still frozen in fear of getting rejections who never make it out of the gate.
To that end, here are 10 sunshine-and-sweetness-free messages from me, A Writer, to you, A Writer, that amass everything I want to scream from the rooftops now that 2012 is coming to a close:
1. Yes, “no agent is better than a bad agent” is a real thing. I’m so glad you’re asking “why??” right now. Well, I’m glad you did! I will tell you!
Here’s what agents do. They offer. They give you revision notes, or they don’t. Eventually, you and your manuscript go on submission. Going on submission is when your agent makes a list of editors/imprints to submit your manuscript to and then does it.
Now put on your editor hat for a second and imagine the following scenarios, all of which do actually happen:
1) Agent you’ve never even heard of calls. Hahahaha dude, I am far too busy for your call. Leave a message I won’t return because I don’t know who you are.
2) You are suddenly dying for a contemporary romance to fill your list. You’re not really getting anything of that sort that draws you in. You know what might get you one, though? Calling/e-mailing/having lunch with an agent friend who reps exactly what you’re looking for and asking if he/she’s got anything like that for you. Who are you not calling? Random new agent you don’t know and have no interest in sitting down to crab cakes with.
3) Agent pitches you a debut. It’s nothing huge, probably a safe midlist bet, but that’s not who you handle because you handle major literary superstars so WTF is this agent doing? I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS AND I WILL NOT DIGNIFY YOUR REQUEST WITH A RESPONSE. Which then means you’re stuck, because it’s not going to anyone else at that imprint, even though it might be totally appropriate for an Assistant Editor there, and while it’s there, it’s maybe not going to anyone else at that house, either.
Now let’s say you’ve realized only after your manuscript has gotten out there that you have in fact made a poor choice of agent. You decide to leave. You ask for a list of where you’ve been subbed, and you get it. (And if you don’t get it, holy crap have you hit the trash heap of agents.) Pay close attention to that list, because those are the places your new agent will not be submitting to, because you have already used up your chances on those editors.
This is a competitive business, and unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of chances, and there’s not much you can control. But you can control making a bad choice just so you can add a line to your Twitter bio. I’m going to stop now, but I will finish with this: Yes, every agent must start somewhere, but you have no responsibility to be any agent or agency’s guinea pig.
Also, if you’re not gonna take my word for it, trust this post, and the ones linked within. They can explain it far better than I can.
2. Unless you’ve got weird typing habits, you’re eventually gonna find it pretty tough to keep writing if someone’s holding one of your hands at all times. Everyone needs reassurance sometimes. Everyone. Me. I e-mail my CPs pieces of my manuscript with things like “good God take this piece of crap off my hands.” But there is a limit. You are not always going to have confirmation at every step, and you’re going to need to trust your own instincts sometimes. The more people you find yourself turning to for confirmation, the longer it’s going to take you to get things done. Because when you send your ms to ten people to beta? That’s ten responses you’re waiting for in order to fully proceed. Do you really want to put yourself on hold like that? And then deal with ten pieces of potentially conflicting feedback as a result?
3. You cannot trust every stranger you want to, even on the Internet. I know, right? Goes totally contrary to everything you’ve ever been taught by your parents. And actually, it goes contrary to a whole lot of instincts we writers have too. How can you not want every willing reader to gobble up your beautiful work and be floored by your amazing writing skills? But seriously, DO FIVE SECONDS OF BACKGROUND CHECKING BEFORE SENDING YOUR MS TO SOMEONE AND FIND SOMEONE WHO TRUSTS THEM FIRST. Look, this is not foolproof. People can take your ideas without even realizing they’re doing it, without meaning to harm you at all. I had a somewhat light version of this happen to me and I wanted to scream and cry for months. Others have had it much worse. What it all comes down to is, THINK BEFORE YOU SHARE. But yes, you can still take that guy’s candy.
4. #askagent is not Google. For the love of God, do your homework. You know what makes doing your homework easier? The incredible amounts of work people put into making that information available. You know what’s frustrating? Joe Writer using an agent’s valuable time that they donate to answer questions on Twitter to ask questions like “Do you represent X?” (CHECK THEIR WEBSITE) or “What’s an appropriate word count for Y?” (LET ME GOOGLE ONE OF THE MULTIPLE POSTS ON THE SUBJECT WRITTEN BY AGENTS FOR YOU, OH NO, WAIT, DO IT YOURSELF). There are so many writers’ forums out there, so much information available all over the Internet, and it’s your job to find it, not theirs.
5. It is extremely important to understand what publication means. Publication means that you are exposing your work to the public at large. It means you are open to compliments, yes, but also to criticism. From complete strangers. Who may be absolutely horrible to you on Amazon or Goodreads or a personal blog or anywhere they damn well please. This is never not going to be a facet of the business. If you cannot be okay with that, remember, there is nothing wrong with writing for fun. Not everything has to be for publication. But if it is going to be for publication, you need to be able to read negative reviews without completely losing your cool. You need to accept that people will be mean. And yes, you’re going to need to take it, because losing your cool in response is never, ever okay.
6. It’s worth taking the time to find the right Critique Partners for you. I’ve been extremely, extremely lucky to find five incredible writers who read everything I do and give me thoughtful feedback in a timely fashion. Not a day goes by that I take that for granted. But when I first started, oh man, did I think I was going to have a zillion CPs. Everyone and her mother said, “I’ll read the next one!” “We’ll trade!” “Can’t wait to read when you’re finished!” I made a list of something like 11 people who were going to read my next ms. Then when the time came, I had 5 – an amazing 5, no doubt, but clearly not what I had expected.
Things happen. People get busy. Everyone has their own writing to do. Maybe it turns out you and your CPs have different styles or harshness levels or whatever and it doesn’t work out. Maybe someone was basically pumping you for crit and never had any intention of returning the favor. I’ve heard all of these things happen a zillion times, but do not give up. You will find that person or people who can put you at the top of their list. Don’t let disappointments stop you from making some of the most important connections you ever will. Your work will be so much better for the effort.
7. If you’re an aspiring author, it would really, really behoove you to have a website. Don’t want to blog? Don’t blog. But have somewhere that agents, editors, and fellow writers can learn a little about you and how to contact you. It helps writers know they might want to beta for you, and agents/editors know you’re capable of establishing a social media platform for yourself. Plus, it demonstrates some of your writing ability in more than 140 characters.
8. If you don’t know how to be happy for other writers, it’s time to learn. Most of the writers I’ve met over the past year are pretty damn fantastic. You know how it feels to see them get book deals before me? Actually pretty damn fantastic. Yes, I want to succeed, but guess what? I DON’T NEED OTHER PEOPLE TO FAIL FOR THAT TO HAPPEN. Also? I really like reading good books, so when people who are writing good books get book deals? That’s win-win, baby.
9. You cannot always get everyone on board with your choices. Instead of working on that, work on getting on board with your own. Yes, there are a lot of close-minded people out there when it comes to every single aspect of publishing. There are people who judge self-publishing, vanity publishing, small presses, medium-sized houses, and big ones. People who think you’re an idiot for involving an agent, and people think you’re an idiot for not involving an agent. You cannot win over everyone. The best you can do is figure out which method is right for you and then go about doing the best job you can toward that end. The biggest best sellers still have haters; you’re never, ever going to escape this.
10. There are a lot of ways to support other writers that don’t involve money or even a whole lot of time. Do them. Recommend books. Retweet links to writers’ blog posts. Congratulate writers when they get agents/book deals. Leave reviews. Comment on blogs. Give interviews. Host blog hops. Follow blogs. Follow writers. Answer questions. Give crit. Beta. Help out in a contest. Spread the word as necessary. It’s a community only if we make it one, and it works because of how many amazing people put in the time to do every one of those things.
There, that last one was kinda sunshine-y, no?