Today’s guest post by author Smoky Trudeau Zeidel (On the Choptank Shores – A Love Story) offers tough-love advice for aspiring writers who have become frustrated with the road to publication. Zeidel is the author of two novels, two non-fiction writing books, and a book of prose, poetry and photographs about the natural world (Observations of an Earth Mage). A book reviewer and a former writing instructor, Zeidel is also a professional editor.
KNOCK IT OFF: How to Be Treated Like the Writing Professional You Aspire to Be
Smoky Trudeau Zeidel
Recently, I’ve done a little bit of Web surfing, checking out places writers and aspiring writers hang out. You know the places: water coolers at Websites, Facebook pages, Yahoo groups. As I surfed, I found a disturbing trend.
There is a lot of whining going on among unpublished writers about the fact they are unpublished. Some of that whining is aimed at those of us who are published. Not only whining, but some very unpleasant name-calling.
I have a bit of advice for any of you who may be in that category of frustrated, unpublished writer, that advice being: KNOCK IT OFF!
You heard me right. But before you brand me a heartless meanie with no compassion for the little guy, let me assure you that isn’t the case. I taught fiction writing for many, many years. I’ve taught and coached literally thousands of unpublished authors, helping them learn their craft, polish their manuscripts, giving them guidance. Heartless meanie is not the right modifier here.
Let’s look at a handful of problems I’ve seen this past week:
Writers who want others to do their legwork for them. I’ve seen at least ten writers post comments to the effect that they’ve written a book, but don’t know what to do next. They beg “someone who’s been there” to tell them what to do next.
Writers who have an over-inflated opinion of themselves and their writing. I’ve seen people swear their book is as good as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or that it is a guaranteed best seller. I’ve heard them say they write like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.
Writers who cannot spell, yet complain they cannot get a publisher or agent to look at their book. The word “your” is spelled Y-O-U-R, not Y-E-R. It’s “for sure,” not “fer sher.”
Writers who complain that those of us who are published have written books that aren’t as good as theirs, or, worse still, they bash another writer’s blog, or Goodreads book reviews, or other online writing—or bash the author personally. This, perhaps, is the most dangerous thing of all I see on the Internet—writers complaining about—and sometimes downright bashing—other, currently more successful, writers. Bad karma, bad karma! If I see those posts where you trash talk someone else, publishers can see them, too. Don’t think for a minute they won’t find out you said unkind things. All they have to do is plug your name into a Google search and they can come up with who said what and where, and yes, they do Google writers. There is no anonymity on the Internet. If you can’t say something kind, it is best not to say anything at all.
If you are guilty of even one of these transgressions, you need to shape up! Here’s where that bit about me not being a heartless meanie comes into play: I’m going to give you some suggestions for doing exactly that.
Do your research
Do a Google search with the words “How to Get Published” in the search box. When I did that, I came up with 165 million results! If you can’t figure out what you need to do with that wealth of information at your fingertips, you perhaps need to find a different avocation.
I’m not suggesting you can’t ask for tips on your Facebook pages. Asking politely for tips is completely acceptable. But complaining that published writers won’t tell you what to do next is whining. No one likes a whiner.
Along the same lines, if you do happen to find an author who is receptive to giving your some hints, don’t abuse their good graces. It is fine to ask if they have any tips for you. It is not fine to ask them to critique for free your book, or to introduce them to your publisher. It is not fine to email or message them ten times a day.
Control your ego
Of course you think your novel is wonderful, and you should! Writing a novel is hard work; just completing the task is worthy of a congratulations. But don’t brag about how great it is. It’s up to readers and reviewers, not you, the writer, to say if your book is as good as some other book, or if your writing style is like a famous author’s.
Learn to spell, and learn proper punctuation, grammar, and syntax rules
I can’t emphasize this enough. If spelling is not your strong suit, look up words you are unsure of, and have someone who can spell well proofread your manuscript. Buy a Chicago Manual of Style, the industry-wide standard for all things word related, and study the chapters on punctuation. Learn how to use a comma. Never, ever have I seen so many books where the writer didn’t have a clue how to use a comma than I have in the past few months. It’s enough to make this editor pull her hair out. And watch your syntax. “This morning I saw a deer driving Rachel to work” is bad syntax—unless you have very talented deer in your neighborhood.
Be polite – Everywhere
That means on Facebook, in chat rooms, on Yahoo Groups, and when you comment on blogs. If you cannot be polite, do not say anything. I know my publisher lurks on Facebook, and I know of at least two other publishers who do the same. If I see your post, they will, too. One snarky comment could cost you dearly. You don’t hurt the author or publisher you are snarking about, because serious authors (and publishers) don’t take these snarks seriously—except when it comes to judging the person who is being snarky.
Bottom line is, if you want to be treated like an author, and not just a wannabe writer, you need to act the consummate professional. It’s no different from being a doctor, lawyer, or barista at Starbucks. Do your job well and be kind, and you will be treated accordingly. Whine and whimper about how unfair the world of publishing is, and expect to live with the consequences.