Saturday, November 18, 2006

Real Advice for Frustrated Writers

Working in book publishing and being accessible online, I hear from a lot of frustrated writers asking me for help in getting published. I don't know if every industry person does this, but I always listen to what they have to say and almost always read what they've written. Generally, they all fall into the same category: the writer has been rejected everywhere, by every major publishing house and literary agent, and they don't know what to do next. A very good example of this is an exchange I just had with a gentleman named Justin, who sought my insight in this capacity. The advice I gave to Justin probably applies to a lot of writers out there, so I wanted to share it.

Here's what Justin said:

Hello, I am justin. I am seeking your advise on getting published. I have been rejected from main stream Lit Agents citing my story is to dark, or to depressing, or it isnt a positive story that we would market. Fuck that. I feel my novel is a great read and an inspirational story about finding how fucked up and mad people can become when they are confronted with the real pain in life. Anyways, any help you can give me would be great. If you say get a copy of the WRITES MARKET I may puke, it is getting old hearing that one. THanks for anything. Justin.

So I wrote back to Justin and said, "Okay, send me something." He sent me a sample of his writing, which I read, and the problem was immediately clear: it wasn't good. The lit agents who rejected him had done so for good reason. Unfortunately, they weren't giving him an honest explanation of why they were passing on his work, which is precisely the kind of feedback that might have helped Justin become a better writer. I suppose it's easier to be "kind" and say "it's just not right for us" instead of being brutally honest. Sure, these writers work very hard on their craft and it's tough to say to such a person, "it's just not good enough." But that's the only way they're going to improve. To give someone a sugar-coated rejection is to give up on them and assume they won't become a better writer.

This is what I told Justin:


The problem with your story is not that it's too dark or depressing; the problem is that the writing is not good enough to be published. Your story lacks a useful structure, style, and an engaging voice. Without those things (or at least one or two of them), you're sunk. Maybe those lit agents didn't have the guts to tell you their unvarnished opinions, but I don't care. If you listen to what I tell you and don't let your pride get in the way, you'll be a better writer.

You're not ready to be published right now. You need to get more critical feedback on your work, which means more people reading your stories and telling you (honestly) what works and what doesn't. Find a local writers workshop and join it. Find some other writers whose opinions you trust and ask them to tear your work apart. If you don't know anyone near you and can't find local workshops, look for them on the web.

There are plenty of writers just like you who are trying to improve their trade, but can't get the kind of critical feedback they need -- usually this is because most readers are too kind to say the writing isn't good. All of you however are sophisticated enough as readers to be able to tell each other what works and what doesn't.

I hope you're not offended. I just want you to understand why the agents said no, but more importantly, tell you what you need to do to get better. If this is something you really want to do, you have to constantly push yourself to do it better.

Good luck, and don't give up.


So, my advice to all of you is: if you find yourself in a similar situation of constant rejection, go find some readers who will give you honest feedback and help you improve. You can't trust agents and publishers to give you honest explanations of why they're rejecting your work.


Blogger Newsandseduction said...

interesting blog.

10:25 PM  

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