Tag Archives: advice

The Advice I Didn’t Take

14 Jun

by Savannah J. Foley

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Over a month ago I posted an entry to my personal blog called ‘Knowing What Your Dreams Are In the First Place.’ It recounts my story of growing up as a writer and not knowing any other novelists, and shares some of the bad advice I received.

Today I thought I’d share this bad advice, some even from other writers (though not novelists), and why I’m glad I didn’t listen. Then I’ll share the advice that I did take, that really helped me.

 People Whose Advice I Didn’t Take

Non-Writers.

Non-Writers who love you are all around you. They’re your parents, your teachers, and your friends. They want what’s best for you, and often they think they know what that is, even if they aren’t writers themselves.

Non-Writers have told me to do a lot of stupid things in regards to my writing career, but only because they didn’t know any better. Here is some of the advice they gave me:

  • Be a journalist
  • Be a judge
  • Don’t write until you’re older
  • Don’t write until you get a degree
  • Don’t write until you get an MFA
  • Be a teacher
  • Don’t write fantasy
  • Write about dreams
  • Stop reading so much
  • Don’t post your work online
  • Don’t start a blog
  • Get published in some literary magazines first
  • Submit directly to publishers
  • Don’t be a writer at all

Obviously I didn’t take any of this advice, and I’m very glad. It’s easy to listen to the concerns and fears of others, but oftentimes they don’t know what they’re talking about. My parents were convinced if I posted my work online people would steal it from me, publish it under their own name, and make millions off my ideas (yeah right). If I started a blog it meant I’d get stalked and killed. If I didn’t study academically I wouldn’t be able to write well. If I didn’t focus on another career I’d starve to death.

None of that was true, and somehow I knew not to trust anything a non-writer said about writing. I trusted my passion for writing, even when it felt like I’d never be good enough, never be prepared enough to be a writer. And eventually I discovered this wonderful community we’re a part of, where we make writing work and it’s fun, and we all have day jobs but write at night anyway, and your capability to write a good story has nothing to do with your age or education level.

The other day (as I’ve already told you in this article about ‘coming out’ as a writer) I was offering some anonymous critiquing to a writer who had posted a short story online and asked for suggestions. At the end of my review I said that I’d been a writer for 7 years, and had an agent for 2, if he wanted to know my credentials. Another user added a comment asking me just in what capacity I had ‘been a writer for 7 years’, because all the writers HE knew had been copywriters for years before moving into fiction.

I didn’t exactly see red, but I saw shades of pink. Though I didn’t respond to his comment, internally I thought, ‘I know people who have been writing for a single year and produced work so amazing it made my jaw drop.’ I’ve been focusing on and learning about writing for seven years, regardless of my publication credits or how much experience as a copywriter I had (none). I know good writing when I see it, period, and I’m knowledgeable enough to pinpoint exactly what works and what doesn’t work when asked for my opinion.

So, you know. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too young or too uneducated or too inexperienced. Remember, they don’t know what they’re talking about. We do. And you’re okay 🙂

Writers Whose Advice I Didn’t Take

As I’ve learned from first-hand experience, writers can misadvise you and let you down as well, usually because you work in different mediums. A writer who only works in poetry isn’t going to be able to give you the best advice on your novel. Neither is someone who specializes in short stories, or in fashion articles. Here’s some of the advice they gave me that I’m glad I didn’t take:

  • Be a journalist (I’m so sick of that one)
  • You have to go to workshops or you’ll never be a good writer
  • You have to have an MFA or you’ll never be a good writer
  • Self-publish; it’s the only way to make money and traditional Publishing is full of thieves and sharks
  • Don’t get an agent; they’re all scammers
  • Write short stories first, only short stories
  • You have to be published in literary magazines before anyone will take you seriously
  • Write every day, otherwise you’re not a real writer

Perhaps it was ego or arrogance, but whenever someone said something that didn’t ring true in me, I ignored it. Here’s the thing: If someone’s not doing what you want to be doing, they might not be capable of giving the best advice.

I remember being SO thrilled to finally meet some ‘real writers’ when I went to a critique group at a local Barnes & Noble, but when I got there I discovered they’d been in the same group for 12 years – and none of them had published anything yet.

Or the time Kat Zhang and I went to a book fair in Nashville and met an obviously very self-possessed illustrator who insisted we could only make money through self-publishing. He’d never been traditionally published, nor was he, actually, a writer.

Or when I showed an edited version of Nameless to a friend of mine who dabbled in writing on the side, only for her to tell me I was ruining the story by making some essential changes both my agent and I felt were healthy for the manuscript, as well as making it more marketable.

You know that feeling when someone suggests a plot point and you just know that’s not going to work? That’s the feeling I get when someone gives me advice that’s not going to work for me. I think ‘yeah that could work, but I’d be forcing it and it wouldn’t make me happy.’

Writers Whose Advice I DID Take

 I will never forget the moment I realized I was not alone.

I grew up never meeting a novelist, never knowing anything about the publishing industry, or the community of writers out there. None of my friends or teachers felt what I did, this wonderful resonance with writing and creating stories. Even the friends who did actually write didn’t ‘get it’ – they wrote terrible, and failed to recognize how to improve.

Then I read Fahrenheit 451. It was a great book, but it was the author’s note in the back that really changed my life. Ray Bradbury mentioned feeling as if he was just following his character around with a notebook and jotting down what they do. What he said about writing rang so true in me that my eyes teared up a bit.

That day marked a turning point for me in my writing career. I started seeking out writer autobiographies, and reading instruction books. Stephen King’s ON WRITING came a little too late to be truly formative for me, but it’s also on my list of highly-recommends for aspiring writers.

Another turning point came from joining Let The Words Flow. I’d had my agent for nearly a year but was still lacking in real writer friends or sense of community. LTWF gave me that and showed me all the other people out there I’d been missing so desperately as a teen. I can chat with novelists like me on a daily basis, Twitter provides me with an endless supply of interesting links and ideas, and the contributors here have been an invaluable resource for encouragement, advice, and knowledge.

Disclaimer

Finding and trusting ‘experts’ is really important. Someone may be a NYT best-selling novelist but their advice still won’t ring true for you, or you may meet a lone blogger online with no agent or publishing creds who gives you a greater insight than you’d ever expected to receive. It’s important to be able to identify who’s an expert and who is just blowing their own horn, as evidenced by this article.

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What are some examples of advice you DID and DIDN’T take?

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Mistaken Newbie Writer Beliefs

7 Apr

by Savannah J. Foley

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I have been a noob. Or, as I have often seen it called, a ‘huge, flailing noob.’ Now, I’m still pretty new to the writing business in general, despite having written over six complete manuscripts, having an agent for two years, and of course being a part of this blog. I don’t have a publishing deal, and obviously I’m not an old veteran, but there’s a difference between ‘new to the industry’ and ‘noob to the industry’, and I have definitely been a noob. Noob is unaware there even IS an industry.

I see a lot of mistaken beliefs out here on the internet, so despite the fact that I’m not the world’s greatest expert on writing and the writing business, I was hoping to use today’s post to clarify some of the most common mistaken beliefs,  in an effort at educating all those ‘huge, flailing’ noobs out there:

Mistaken Newbie Belief #1: I am God’s Gift to Publishing

Sigh. I’m guilty of this one. Without a peer group of writers at a young age, I thought I was probably the best, youngest writer of all time (OF ALL TIME!). Clearly that was not so. But it’s something I see over and over: new writers think they’re the best ever. And they lack the perspective to see that their writing actually needs a lot of work.

So if you think  you’re probably, like, at LEAST in the top 10 greatest writers of all time, you might want to step back and reconsider.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #2: My Work Will Be Stolen

I see this on the internet a LOT, and I experienced it first hand during the meet-ups for NaNoWriMo.

Listen very closely: No professional in the industry is going to steal your work. Seriously. Agents and editors are SWIMMING in writing. They have editing and agenting to do; they’re not going to steal your work and pass it off as their own. Then they’d actually be responsible for revisions and promoting and detailed analysis of characterization, and I promise you that they all believe that’s a job best left up to the writer.

Now, will people plagiarize your work if you post it online? Absolutely sometimes. Some of our own LTWF members have been plagiarized by users taking their stories and posting it somewhere else under a different name. Whether or not to post your work online is a big debate, with lots of good points on both sides, but again I say that editors and agents are extremely unlikely to try and pass your work off as their own, so don’t be afraid to query. Not for that reason, anyway.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #3: I Have to Copyright My Work

This ties right into what I said above. It’s a common misconception that you have to manually copyright your work or else it doesn’t belong to you. I even wrote an article about an encounter with a young writer who believed she had to mail her manuscript to herself before attempting to get it published.

(Confession: I emailed Nameless to myself. It was like 5 years ago, shut up).

The truth? Once you create something, you own it. You hold the legal copyright for it, whether you put that obnoxious little (c) sign by it or not (Pro tip: do NOT put the copyright sign in your query letter or anywhere on your manuscript when you query. It screams ‘noob’).

Mistaken Newbie Belief #4: The Bigger the Book the More Publishers Will Love It/The More Genres I Combine the Better

Who hasn’t fallen in love with the phrase ‘sweeping epic’? Who hasn’t once thought ‘omg my SciFi/Detective/Romance/Literary novel is going to be a game-changer!

The truth is that, though there are very minor exceptions, you need to stick to the word count acceptable for your genre, you need to actually HAVE a genre (something I still guiltily struggle with to this day), and the likelihood that your book combining two opposing genres will be a game-changer is about nil.

Here’s the thing about books that combine genres: No one knows where to put them on the bookshelf at the bookstore. And that’s a huge problem for agents, editors, and booksellers. If they can’t figure out how to market you, they won’t buy you. Period.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #5: My Book Will Appeal to Everyone

Could literally everyone who is literate read your book and probably not hate it? Yes. But that doesn’t make the world your audience. An audience is the people you target with your books, and the demographic that will most enjoy them. It’s not the diverse types of people who would, if waiting in a doctor’s office, pick up your book off the coffee table and be able to pass the time with it while they wait. Figure out your audience.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #6: Publishing is Dead/Publishing is Out to Get Me/I’ve Been Blacklisted/I’m Too Good for Traditional Publishing

I’m not an agent. I don’t see nearly the number of queries and complaints that agents do. But I see a few. In my experience, people who claim that the industry doesn’t understand them/isn’t worthy of them/won’t take the time to see that they’re sitting on a gold mine, are… bad writers.

Yeah, I said it. If no one will take your work, maybe it’s not that Publishing is a Good Ol’ Boys club, maybe it’s that your work isn’t ready yet. Keep trying.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #7: I Don’t Need an Agent

Yes you do. Yes, you do. YES, you DO. And this article by an Editor explains why better than I ever will.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #9: My Book Would Be A Great Movie

You should never write a book because you want/hope to see it turned into a movie one day. Writing a book about a story is a great way to NOT get it turned into a movie. Movie rights are complicated, and just because your book gets ‘optioned’ doesn’t mean a movie will ever get made, or that the people who optioned it ever have any intention of seeing it get made. Yes, I’ve heard stories about people who option books just so the movie WON’T ever have an opportunity to get made!

In short, have a great idea for a movie? Write a film script, not a book.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #10: It’s Going To Be Easy/My Book Will Be Out Next Month

Sure, there’s always that one person who writes a book in six months, signs an agent in month seven and sells in month eight. But is any of this easy? No, it’s just fast. Even on this ridiculously short schedule, the book could still take two years to come out.

Personally, I’ve had my agent for over two years, with no sales. Lots of writers (more than you think) sign with an agent for one book, it doesn’t sell, they write another, and that one sells. And it takes years.

Other people query for years to no success. Others don’t even get to the querying stage; they labor for decades on their novel until they feel ready. But even those people who have ‘miracle’ publishing stories still have to put in the time and effort into making a marketable product. They put in  hours over revisions, they brainstorm every spare minute, and they keep up with their day job at the same time. Fast it may be, but easy it is not.

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Any other Mistaken Beliefs you see frequently out there on the internetz? Do share in the comments!

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Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal. She is currently working on editing Nameless to go out on submissions. You can read an excerpt from Nameless here.