I may not have the recipe for success in all things writing, but I’ve experienced enough now to be a gourmet chef in what it takes to fail. All too often for some writers bent on being failures, the bad writing is on the wall. But funny thing is: bad writing isn’t always what gets a person there.
Being a bother
Did the submissions guidelines say to put the manuscript in Times New Roman and you thought Copperplate Gothic Bold fit your story better? INNNNNK. Wrong answer. Is the anthology theme werewolves but you submitted a coming of age story about your dog named Wolfie? Congratulations, you’ve just crapped on yourself and the slush pile reader! For shame, the real Wolfie would show more dignity. Hey and by the way, is your ratio of email correspondence 5:1 with any of these busy editors, agents, publishers, etc? They probably aren’t going to read one of your emails, let alone five. And no, they don’t want to read your story again, not even with corrections. Just let it go. In this case, the squeaky wheel gets no oil; earplugs are firmly inserted, for good.
Being consumed with you, yourself and you
If you want to roll around in your own juices, go right ahead, but none of us want to watch such a spectacle (well…). Over the years, online and off, I’ve met some writers focused narrowly on one main topic: themselves. Sure, all writers want to have their voices heard and certainly we are a breed that can become quickly self-possessed, but don’t do it all the bloomin’ time! How exhausting! How foolish! No matter how much people admire your work, if you become trapped in it, you’ll look as one-dimensional as a leaflet and just as easy to throw away. Everybody has their own personalities and I’m not saying to become someone different, but people despise arrogance and public displays of masturbation, so kick it down a notch. I had this happen to me once when I went up to meet an author. “Hey there, Mr.X, we were in Such-N-Such magazine together. Nice to meet you. How’re you enjoying the convention?” And the author looked at me, nearly coming out of his seat, wild excitement in his eyes. “Did you like my story?”
Being Horrified of criticism
So you REALLY want your story to be enjoyed, loved, perhaps cherished. That’s okay of course. It’s the goal, after all. Turns out though, your first reader brought up things you didn’t want to hear. For one, the story didn’t knock them on their asses– it actually made them scratch their asses, in confusion. There are no Band-Aids big enough to endure this again. Hey– don’t be afraid. You want to discover all the imperfections in your work. If the criticism makes sense, then somebody just gave you a gift. You obviously didn’t see it yourself, so take it and run. You’re bringing your car to the mechanic to get it to run more efficiently for the big race. Do you really want to show up the next day and have the dude tell you, “Eh, looks good to me?”
Being Defensive about criticism
Some writers actually send his/her work out for criticism, get it back and then argue every… single… point… made. Don’t defend your mistakes. If you want to explain your intention, that’s fine, but remember that if one person thinks your main character would never defuse a bomb without prior knowledge, then another reader is likely to also. Don’t send back an entire dissertation on how your character is justified. Say something more like, “I wanted to show my character’s reckless nature.” That’ll get a conversation going. Maybe your reader can suggest how to lead up to this move. Just don’t argue. Accept, or don’t accept advice. We can’t have footnotes throughout our novels for everything that doesn’t work.
Being a self-publisher with yourself as sole editor
This should filter down from the other points I’ve made, but it’s important because self-publishing is spreading (some would say metastasizing) and I reserve judgment on those who feel the need to bypass the full potential of their work. I would say if you want to self-publish, do your readers a favor and invest in a professional editor. Not just a proof-reader. Come on, you can give a cockroach a bubble bath, but that don’t mean squat– well, the roach might find it therapeutic, but besides that– You’re spending all this time and energy getting your story out there. You’ve found a great cover artist and know how to convert a Word Doc into a Kindle file. Wonderful! And, will you look at this: you’ve also put together a marketing strategy. That’s stupendous. But if I buy your novel and halfway through I’m wondering when the story really begins, I won’t be purchasing the further adventures of your bomb-defusing werewolf.
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