Monday, May 23, 2011

"They're not going to like it."

Write it anyway.

Over the last month I’ve found myself more and more in the company, both in person and online, of writers trying to make the leap into publication. No matter what kind of book they’re writing, fiction, non-fiction, poetry; they all tend to say some of the same things. After a few dozen times of hearing the same things said, and knowing that I have said most of them myself, I figured I’d use the platform I have here as a way to reach out and send a message, for what it’s worth.

1) “I don’t think my writing is good enough to get published.”

How do you know? Seriously. Are you an expert? If you are a literary agent for a living, or work for one, you might have a leg up here, but almost every writer is their own worst critic. Why don’t you just go ahead and find an unbiased peer group to review your work, and grow a thick skin. After all, they’re not all going to like everything you write, but taking the criticism well (assuming it’s constructive) could make your writing more than good enough for publication.

2) “I write a lot, but I can never seem to finish anything.”

Now that is a hurdle. I know a lot of people who write a lot, but have never finished a book. I really don’t want to think about how many half-novels I have on my computer and in notebooks littering my house.

Drive and focus are really all that I can suggest here. Just keep driving. I’ve heard a lot of people tell me about their writer’s block, and to a degree I understand it, but I don’t let it stop me. I’m never writing just one project at a time. I always have 4 or 5 things I’m writing at once, and if I get hung up in one, I’ll put it aside and begin working on another.
The most important thing for me has always been to just keep writing. Everyday. No matter what. My daily writing goal is ten pages. That can be ten, or more, productive pages, or it could be 10 pages about how I can’t figure out what to write. Either way, I’m writing.

3) “I wrote a book (or books) but I don’t know what to do with them.”

This is the easiest question to answer, but it also has the most right answers. Get your work edited. By that, I don’t mean your Aunt Flo who taught English for a year. Get an editor.

Once you have that done, self publish, or begin submitting or writing query letters. It really is just that easy. There are dozens of paths here to choose from though, so find someone who has taken the road you want to take and ask some questions. Don’t be pushy or rude, but what does it hurt you to ask?

Don’t be afraid of rejection either. It’s going to happen. Sometimes a lot. Expect it.

4) “My First book is coming out (with a publishing house or self published) but I’m really nervous and I don’t think anyone is going to like it.”

You’re not Neil Gaiman. You are not Stephen King. Hell, to a degree, they aren’t either. Their names are bigger than they are. They are real people, too. I’m willing to bet that they’ve both had their fair share of flops and rejections before they succeeded big. They also likely have a lot of unfinished works as well. What they have over you primarily, right now though, is that they didn’t quit. They never gave up. Because of that they found success. (And yes, they have boatloads of talent too. But who’s to say you don’t?)

At the core of every writer is someone who has something to say, no matter how important, and they want it to be well received by others. How can you expect people to support, and buy books by you, when you are unproven and unknown? You could suck, right?

This is like the age old conundrum of not getting hired for a job because you don’t have experience, but finding it impossible to get experience without getting hired for a job. You can let yourself get caught up in that, if you’d like. In the end, however, everyone goes through that. If you are ever going to be successful, the first (serious) step comes in letting yourself be.

Assuming you’ve done your homework, and a lot of leg work, and more writing than you ever thought you’d do in one lifetime, you’ll go far. You’ve had good unbiased peer reviews of your work and an editor, and your feedback is positive, then you just have to jump in with both feet and hope.

At the least, you've had a good time putting your story together, and nothing can take that away from you. Nothing else really matters.

You did something most people will never be able to do. You finished a book. That alone is massive. If you had fun doing it, all the better. Remember, it doesn’t matter if it’s published by Penguin, or by you, it’s still out there for the world to enjoy. You’re story has taken flight. How awesome is that, right?


  1. Very good advice, and it works for other areas as well (like my drawing)

  2. Thanks, Dennis. There go all my excuses. Now I gotta be productive again.

    Seriously, though, how many times have I said at least half of those things? Way too many, and it's really hard to know what to do to fix them unless you're asking around for help from, or talking regularly to, other writers. I'm beginning to see why the Inklings gathered so often to share their stories, and why there are mounds of Lovecraftian correspondence with other writers. We tend to (culturally) think of authors as half-lonely, half-friendless loners that live in the middle of nowhere and work in solitude, and that just doesn't cut it. Just like every other group, we need networking.

    Thanks for providing that.

  3. Very well said, and words we all need to remember. Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Oh my gosh, we're like brain buddies!

  5. This is great stuff. What's particularly great for ME is knowing I'm not the only one out there feeling *everything* you just stated above.

    It was nice virtually meeting you last night, Dennis. I look forward to reading more of your work. =D

  6. If anyone ever said those comments to me, I'd give them an earful. Never pick on yourself. There are plenty of people who will doubt you enough for the both of you. Stay positive.

  7. A fiction workshop professor once told me to submit my work rabidly, to every contest, magazine, workshop/retreat, and publisher that would have me. She said that even if my work did not deserve it, there was a good chance a bunch of other jerks thought their work didn't either. The only difference will be that you submitted, which actually makes ALL the difference. Remember that most of the people who reap the rewards aren't good enough, either.

  8. I've found myself saying and asking these same questions. lol. Writing and publishing is very nerve wracking, especially if you're shy to begin with. The best advice I could ever give someone, is just do it. Do the thing you're scared of doing and find out what happens. As a writer you will get rejections, you will get the bad review, but you will also touch someone you didn't expect to with your words. If it's something you love, follow your heart and do it. :)

  9. I agree with you Jean!

    Earlier today Wendy Nielson said: "The only reason for being a professional writer is that you can’t help it." - Leo Rosten.

    My thoughts are... You can't help being a writer... You can let writing remain your passion... only others can make it your profession...

  10. That is really good advice. I tend to be very critical of my work and would never have published without the encouragement of others who had read it. Also, I have started trying to be more disciplined with my writing by setting a goal everyday as you suggested whether it is my book, blog or blah blah at least I am writing.

  11. I think most writers are their own biggest critics... well, until they do publish... then someone out there is going to be bigger critic. ;)

    The trick really is to just keep writing. You're never defeated until you quit.

  12. I'm not saying a story shouldn't be written if you have a desire to tell it. I'm saying that today's popular fiction market is in as bad a shape now grammatically as it was when we were scribbling buffalo on cave walls. Just because you're a bored housewife with a fantasy man that far exceeds the physical or emotional prowess of your husband does not mean you have the skill to flesh out characters in a world. Using keywords and story flow that other bored housewives find both familiar and erotic (I'm not going to debase my working female friends by going into the psychology of someone who lives, works, and screws in the same place having a sexuality that breeds to familiarity with fantasy) to make people buy a book that is weak and regurgitated. Stop making hind-brain masturbation material and write engaging fiction. If you can't, do the future of the human race a favor and try knitting. It is a noble and time-honored tradition that has physical and emotional longevity without detracting from the receiver's mental acuity.

  13. Awesome post, Dennis! So far I think the most surprising question I've had from people with a manuscript in their drawer centers around your question number three. And you're absolutely right that there are so many different answers for different writers. It's daunting to start the search and the path you follow is going to depend so much on your personality, your time available for marketing, your personal and professional goals long term and short term, etc... But I've come across a surprising number who are completely unaware the vast resources on the web to help them find that for themselves. Granted, there's a ton of BS out there, but there are also some great sites with hugely helpful forums. As much as people want an easy answer that says 'Follow this path, this is your yellow brick road,' the best advice I can give them is Get to Virtual Digging and point them to some of the sites that I found most helpful.