Bad advice from best-selling authors
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
A few months ago I was at an authorial event and overheard this exchange:
Newbie writer: “I had a book published ten years ago, and it did pretty poorly so I don’t know how I’ll ever get a toehold back in the industry.”
Best-selling author: “Are you kidding? Ten years ago won’t mean anything today. You’re, like, starting over. It’s like it never happened!”
I decided not to do an intervention, but how would best-selling author know that? His first book came out of the gate and galloped right to the winner’s circle. The blue ribbons have kept on coming. His knowledge about low sales came from…?
The truth is that the newbie writer is right. Sales figures are like toilet paper stuck to your shoe. They trail along behind you FOREVER. That doesn’t mean they can’t be overcome or explained, but they should never be ignored. There are no do-overs in publishing.
Here’s the thing: Established authors generally convey incorrect information to others. It’s not because published authors are dense or don’t get how the industry works or choose to give bad advice. It’s that one author knows one thing: How his or her career has unfolded. So they speak from personal experience.
They might be able to throw in a saga about a writing friend here and there, but even that info is suspect. Did the author remember the details correctly? Did the friend convey the information correctly? Did the friend even understand what had happened to her, or did she paper her circumstances with her own interpretation?
My point: Agents have the broadest scope of experience in the publishing industry. We see hundreds of careers grow or collapse, and we know the details of that career intimately because we see the royalty statements, we see how the author is being supported–or not–by the publishing houses and we see not just how one house worked with the author but how every house that released books from the writer helped or hindered the careerr. In-house editors also have a bird’s eye view of an author’s career, but they seldom work on every project that writer creates through a lifetime of writing.
My second point: Don’t believe everything you hear or read. Just because an author is successful doesn’t mean that person has a practiced eye at understanding how the industry works and what is important and what isn’t. It’s easy to believe that one individual’s successful route to publishing could be everyone’s, but when you think about it, that’s just plain silly. Every author and every book by that author enters into the publishing arena at a unique time, never to be duplicated again. Left Behind could only release on the dawn of a new millennium once. Another author’s first book can release on 9/11/01 once.
Now, just in case you wondered what sort of advice famous authors have offhandedly offered, here’s a selection:
“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” –Saul Bellow
“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.” –Ray Bradbury
And my favorite:
“Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.” –Kurt Vonnegut
What affect do you think social media has had on offering/receiving writing advise?
How do you discern which voices are the ones you want to listen to?
Care to share some bad advice you’ve received? Why was it bad for you?