Blogger: Wendy Lawton
PET PEEVE: People giving or passing along bogus career advice. I know. I know. It’s a symptom of our culture to dispense advice, wanted or unwanted, and some of us can’t help ourselves. After all, what is this blog but an advice dispensary? But I see so much off-the-wall stuff I can’t help commenting.
So let’s talk about bad advice here today. Let me start with a few sources of bad advice:
- Writer’s organizations— Some outrageous claims and advice have filtered down from online writers groups. The good thing is that an online groups is usually a forum where, if a person offers an opinion, several others jump in and give a balanced viewpoint. I have, however, experienced some in which certain viewpoints become so entrenched that those who normally offer balance become weary and tiptoe off. I’ve also observed that some Christian writers groups can paint an overly depressing picture of the industry because the writers who are succeeding don’t offer the counterpoint to those struggling. The successful seem to feel it is bragging or discounting the suffering of others to give a praise about a high five-figure deal, for instance, and so before long members are left with the stories of suffering. It’s like the old prayer meetings at church. When prayer request after prayer request concern lost jobs, bad diagnoses and prodigal children, who is “insensitive” enough to lift a hand to give a praise about a promotion at work?
- Writer friends— I’ve been part of a number of writer critique groups and noticed that in our eagerness to help we are all too ready to give advice based on one response from one editor or one conversation at a writer’s conference. Certain members seem to become advisors based on being just a few steps ahead of the others and dispense suggestions that can be way out in left field.
- Workshop presenters— Just because someone has been asked to present a workshop does not make that person an expert. For more than fifteen years I bought all the tapes from nearly every writers conference I attended and listened to them throughout the year. I’ve heard more crazy stuff than you’d ever believe. I’ve been a workshop presenter for many years and I never listen to my own tapes for the same reason. I know I can get carried away at times as well. When Janet Grant and I used to help plan the professional track at Mount Hermon we avoided offering a single presenter. Instead we offered mostly panels because the balance came out in the back-and-forth.
- Futurists— Yeah. ‘Nuff said. If you are going to take the advice of those who claim to know where the industry is going, more power to ye.
- Editors— Acquisition editors usually give excellent advice but remember, it is based on their house and their particular specialty. Don’t extrapolate this to be industry-wide. Each publisher is different.
- Other professionals— You may hear advice from publicists. marketers, social media specialists, etc. Often each one has a good idea or two but it’s important to collect many pieces of advice to try to find a happy medium. Just like with a panel discussion, listen to both sides of any opinion.
- Self-appointed experts— You know them. They establish a blog, try to gin up some controversy, and continue to position themselves as experts.
- Articles— Just because something is in print or on a website doesn’t mean the content has been curated.
- Anecdotes— Beware the stories that quote statistics. I’ve seen more bogus statistics than anything else. One trick with reporting success, for instance, is to take one statistical spike and build a pro forma model based on that. Dishonest.
So what’s a writer to do?
- Test the advice— Question it. Look for the dissenting voice to find possible balance. Be skeptical. Always remember the story of the ten blind men and the elephant. Each piece of advice may only be part of the picture.
- Look at the track record— If the person dispensing advice has a long track record of good advice or if you find a futurist who is wise and more right than wrong, give that voice more weight.
- Look at the motive— Some advice comes from someone who wants something from you– a marketer who wants your business, an agent who wants to woo you away from your current agent, a fellow writer who wants admiration, etc.
- Run it all by your trusted team— Build a team of wise, well-read advisors, people you can argue with and with whom you can rightly divide the truth from the fluff. Or just run it by your agent. 🙂
Even with our own Books & Such blog, consider each post as one single point of view. The nice thing about us is that we are a team of five agents who tend to run these things by our colleagues. There’s not a one of us who is afraid to say, I disagree with you. And, even better, we invite your opinion on each blog post. If we are off base, confront us.
So how about you? How do you test opinions and suggestions? How much do you trust futurists? What about a panel of professionals who prognosticate about what’s the next hot trend? How do you keep from being a wide-eyed believer?
Writers: Beware bad advice. Literary agent @wendylawton dishes. Click to Tweet