I read a book that was just published this past year. The author is someone I have known of for some time and is reasonably well known. Owing to the nature of the post, which is in no way intended to be a personal attack, or inflammatory in nature, I am not going to name or review this book until many pages of my blog have been written. I will also avoid naming the author, or using gender terms so as to befuddle any Internet detectives that may wish to go over this blog with a fine toothed comb.
This author, like many other authors, does manuscript reviews for publications. They read each submission and if the story doesn’t grab them, usually within the first paragraph, it gets thrown into the reject pile. Every single publication works this way. If you publish traditionally, this will be a fact of life in your career and I am not criticizing it. Although, as an aside, it should be noted that the reason I chose the self-publishing route is because of this fact of life.
The author has been very professional in this manner, never releasing any identifying information of the parties involved with the submissions and the potential publications. The only things the author has been particularly vocal about are the basic plots of the story and why they were rejected. This has always been fascinating to me, as I wish to benefit from the author’s expertise. After all, the author is, as I’ve said, reasonably well known and has enjoyed great successes, including writing a bestselling series and editing many anthologies. So it would behoove me and other readers, to listen to whatever nuggets of wisdom this author departs. Right?
“I just had another story that opens up in a room. Reject!” This is not a direct quote. But it is one of the most frequently given reasons that this author rejects manuscripts.
So what is the problem?
I read this person’s most recently published book. How, faithful reader, do you think this book begins? Pencils down. If you guessed, “This books begins in a room, doesn’t it?” Then you are either very good at solving puzzles, or you know me well enough as a frequent reader of my other blog, that I tend to have a method to my madness.
In this case, the madness suggests that if I were to reject not one, but several stories based on a certain point that I have made people very aware of, I believe I would go to great lengths to avoid repeating that point in my own manuscript. I would definitely make a point of it if I were to reach this author’s level of success to the point where aspiring authors are probably hanging on my every word.
Okay, I’m a big boy. I can make my own decisions and draw my own conclusions. One piece of advice my own writer’s group always offers is that feedback is subjective. Authors, actors, athletes, tinkers, tailors, soldiers and spies are all human beings. They are not omniscient and no matter how successful they are at their chosen profession, you should always take their wisdom with a grain of salt. They’re not going to command a giant fish to swallow your boat if you don’t follow their word to the letter.
Does that mean you should reject everything this person says? Probably not. Again, if they’ve proven their chops enough to convince a publisher to pay them for their work, repeatedly, then it stands to reason that they have some useful knowledge to impart. Plenty of people criticize another well known author for being incredibly prolific and very successful in a number of ways, and this particular author is slightly better known than the author who inspired this post. Does that make Author B’s advice more valuable than Author A’s? What if both authors make the same points and I choose to ignore them both? Does that mean that I will not be as successful as either one, or does it stand to reason that I could still come to my own equally valid and varied level of success?
What about authors who write lists? You know the ones I’m talking about. Sometimes they post them on their websites, or in forums, or a well meaning friend brings them to your attention. But then you read the Top Ten List of Reasons Why Every Writer Who Is Not Me Fails and there’s nothing so mind bogglingly original about their advice. You probably even recognize the advice, though it may be cleverly worded.
“Oh wow, this author has really jazzed up that list with lots of swearing and pop culture references so much that it makes me want to follow his every word.”
You could easily say that, “They just want to help potential authors improve.”
Okay, but what about the authors who give very minimal advice? Simple, supportive suggestions like, “keep at it,” and “don’t be afraid of rejection.”
These authors are just as successful as the ones I have alluded to, but the most profound things they may offer are the stories behind their stories. The stories that can be summed up by, “I went through some troubling times and this helped me cope.”
Those are the things that bring an author down to Earth. They make them seem human and like people who have been through the ringer and back. Not like the “Look at my flashy and expensive website! I’m so much cooler than you!” crowd.
For the record, the author who inspired this post is not part of that crowd. This person makes no bones about the fact that writing, editing, reviewing, and doing all of that is what it really means to put food on the table with an artistic endeavor. I am also well aware of how difficult it can be just to get people to realize that writing for profit is not a hobby.
All I ask of my colleagues is that they consider the advice they give, realize that people are going to take it with varying levels of seriousness, and respect that you are just as accountable for the same mistakes that you have presumed to judge another by.