Who Should Be Giving Writing Advice?

In the last year or so as I’ve been switching onto a more indie-focused writing track, I have read COPIOUS amounts of advice.

(This is me, only a lot thinner, younger, with more hair, and better skin, and…OK, it’s not me at all, but the expression on her face pretty much captures how I feel.)

There’s a huge market out there for people who are offering help to writers.

Very often it turns out this advice is coming from someone who, when I look them up, has only published two self-help books (on how to write a bestseller…with no evidence that they’ve ever written a bestseller themselves). As I’ve purchased a few of these books, I’ve noted that they’re full of generalizations. They won’t tell you exactly where or when to advertise or what venue to publish in. Part of that is because that seems to change with alarming speed. What works one month may not work the next, so if they get specific, it will date their advice/book.

So it tends to be a frustrating world out there. I am certainly not a big success story, so to some extent, that invalidates my giving advice, too.

But my first piece of advice is this: Check out the source of the advice.

See whether they’ve published anything. See whether they’re even in your genre. Do they write novels? Or books on how to write novels?

Are they one-sided? Do they recommend ONLY one method? Does their advice FEEL wrong?

I’ve seen advice out there that makes me cringe. I suspect that there are people out there holding workshops who spew out the most ridiculous ideas, and it doesn’t matter to them because they’re getting paid, right?

The most egregious example of this I have is a cautionary tale about a newbie writer I met back in 2010 who, at lunch during a writers conference, told all the strangers sharing the table with her that….

1) she was in the writing to make money and if her (only) book didn’t sell well, she was just going to quit writing;

2) because she was sure that she was going to be a success, she’d gone ahead and–as was recommended to her in a workshop–spent $10,000 setting up as a LLC to protect her in case she was ever sued; and

3) she wasn’t sure what genre her book was, so she’d just picked a random agent off the list to speak with, but they were sure to like it because it was going to be a blockbuster. (The agent informed her, after listening to her pitch, that it was chick-lit).

By this point, the other people at the table (and I) were sitting there with our mouths hanging open. The woman involved delivered all this information with supreme confidence that she would soon be too wealthy to care what we all thought. It was…

…well, someone had told her to do all this stuff. In a writers workshop. Someone had told her that she needed to spend all that money to legally protect herself in case her book got published. (NOTE: you can get an LLC for FAR LESS MONEY THAN THIS, but you don’t really need one.) Someone told her that she didn’t need to research her potential agent, or know anything about her genre, and that she would make big bucks straight out of the gate.

When I talk about Researching for Historical Fiction, I start off by telling my audience about my writing. Because I want them to know that I HAVE written and published Historical Fantasy. I’m not just pulling these weird recommendations to use Street-View and Facebook out of my butt.

And yet I suspect that there are a lot of people out there giving advice who have no chops at all. Instead they see a market full of writers who are desperately seeking that snippet of advice that will make them millionaires…and they take advantage.

So before you take advice, look at your adviser’s writing record. See what they have published, and where. Check their reviews and people’s comments. Don’t follow them off a cliff.

(NOTE: Self-published is perfectly valid. There are a lot of self-published authors who are doing really well. Personally, I prefer the idea of hybrid publication, because I don’t put all my eggs in the same basket, but that’s a personal choice for each writer. If you desperately want to pursue only traditional publishers, then do that.)

Anyhow, all of this is to say that if you’re going to take writing advice, make sure it’s from a valid source. Not the random internet guy.

 

 

 

 

 

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