Thursday, April 03, 2008

Responses to Comments for Trust Issue #3--Yourself

The comments we’ve gotten in response to our last post bring up some very important points, and we want to make some clarifications here. First, there’s a difference between practice novels and failed novels. Practice novels are those the writer intends as practice to improve his/her ability to craft a better book, with publication not even considered. Failed novels are those the writer couldn’t sell, so he/she wrote another book to try to see if that one would sell. The main difference is in writer motivation and intent. Remember, we're dealing with intangibles here, so hang in there.

We never said you have to mention the practice novels when you query an agent, but they can be included in your query with workshops, classes, degrees, and other preparation for writing for publication. Practice novels are for your education, not credits to persuade someone to represent you, and it’s all in how you present the information.

I’ve heard other agents make comments about getting queries with information about the six other novels the writer has written and how that makes a bad impression. And it does. If we get queries with descriptions of other novels because the writer is trying to sound prolific (based on an article that said agents don’t like representing writers with only one book) or trying to see if we’d like to see any other works in a variety of genres because they can write anything, then we consider that writer an amateur. However, if we get something wherein the writer states he/she wrote three practice novels and had them professionally edited and then re-wrote them for the experience of learning how to write a novel correctly, that’s different. This is one way a writer can learn the craft. The other might be to take workshops, take classes, get a degree, etc. The problem is most writers just sit down and write whatever comes out, and maybe they learn from the experience, but it isn’t really guided learning and in the end the motivation for writing those novels was usually to get them published, not learn from them.

We know, we know. Here we are, telling writers that they should plan to write at least—at least—a whole book to learn to write. Do we know how long that will take? Yep. Do we know how much work that is? Yep. But do you realize that most professions require some kind of certificate or degree or something that shows the person has engaged in learning and practicing the skills involved in that profession? Writing doesn’t require anything except that someone turn on a computer and start tippy-tap-tapping away. The strange thing about publishing is that you have people who have gone to school to be in the business, but yet if someone with no experience can produce a readable book during a time that genre is hot, he is automatically accepted into the fold. That’s not fair, is it? But it happens. Of course, those kinds of writers usually don’t last long because they have no idea what they’ve written and can’t reproduce it, or if they can, they don’t do it very well. And the worst thing is that their readers are cheated because the writer is learning as he goes.

What this all goes back to, and always will go back to, is what kind of writer do you want to be? We know—published! But that’s not what we mean. What are you willing to do to get there? Writing is hard, hard work. You might write ten novels before you get one that’s publishable. A hundred short stories. Five hundred poems. It is the journey that makes the writer, not whether he/she gets published. Ultimately, it is the journey that sells the work—maturity and skill gleaned from hard work and crafted into a fine story captivates a reader's subconscious.

A quote from Hemingway sums this all up: "Will work again on the novel today. Writing is a hard business Max but nothing makes you feel better." ...from Selections from Ernest Hemingway on Writing


Scott Jensen said...

But how does one know if a workshop is a good one to go to? I don't have unlimited time to waste. I wish I did, but I don't. Nor do I want to learn bad habits, sub-par writing styles, and such from someone.

I also don't think that just because an author is a bestselling author that they will make a good instructor. Nor do I think just because someone got a doctorate in English and/or Literature that they know how to write a bestselling novel or, even harder in my eyes (if not impossible), teach someone else how to write a bestselling novel.

What I have read said by many bestselling authors is the best thing one can do is keep writing. That writing is a craft that cannot be learned from a book but only learned from actually putting words down on paper. But then it only seems to be submitting one work to agents and/or publishers is the only way one will know if one is any good. And that isn't any guarantee either. Only the marketplace seems to be the true judge in such situations.

Jean said...

I agree. Writing a book teaches you much about writing a book. It reminds me of training for a marathon. I practiced running 26 miles before ran the actual marathon. Crazy, I know.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Ah, if it were only so simple. Knowing the right workshop or which instructor is best. I guess the only way is to venture out and find with works best for you. After all, a person might be able to connect and transfer knowledge to one student and completely fail with another. It would be simpler if a mind-meld were possible, but only Vulcans have that power and not many of them teach.

While this may not be a popular thing to say, we find that it is true. Not many authors can teach writing because not many are trained teachers, and some of them think they know what they are doing when, in fact, they really don’t. Literature professors are the same way. Many can write literary works, but can’t transfer that skill into commercial publication, or would even want to. Even professional teachers would have problems connecting with all their students well enough to implant an idea that might grow into a best-seller. We like to say that no one really teaches writing; you just have to learn it, and continuing to write and write and write is the only way to do that. We would venture a bit further with this idea and say that writing and getting constructive and informed feedback from a professional in your genre is the best way to learn to write. You are creating your own study materials when you do this and can see what you are doing wrong using your own words.

Even if a published author understood what makes a best-seller possible, it would still be difficult to teach someone how to write one. The reason for this is that even publishers are usually taken by surprise when a novel is capable of reaching this sales level. I say sales level because just because a book is a best-seller doesn’t always mean that it’s a great novel. What drives the best-seller, what makes it best? If publishers knew the answer to this question, every novel they published would be a best-seller. Writing a great book is not always the same as writing a book that gets published, so you might need to take more than one kind of workshop. :)

Lorelei said...

Ten? Heck, you might write eleven novels and get the twelfth one published!

—A slow learner, but a learner, pub. date Oct. 1, 2008.

Patrick McNamara said...

I think the difference between practice novels and failed novels is really a matter of semantics. There's not that much difference in the novel, just whether any attempt has been made to get it published. Many, if not most, may have their third or fourth manuscript accepted. Even if a writer submits an early manuscript and gets it rejected they're still likely to learn just as much as if they never submitted it.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

The difference between a practice novel and a failed novel has to do with intent. Many novelists write novels that they never INTEND to try to have published. These are their practice novels. They are for learning only.

A failed novel is one written by someone who just decides to write something and sends it off to be published. They figure they'll learn from the feedback they get from editors and agents. By the time editors and agents are giving you feedback that is vital to the sale of your novel, it's too late to salvage it.

Professional writers, or those who aspire to be professionals, go into the publication process with a whole different mindset than those who have failed novels under their beds. The difference is minute, but vital to understand if you want to get published and actually have a career in the writing field.

Sure,there are stories of people just suddenly deciding to be novelists and doing it; however, preparing yourself for a career in publishing usually offers more long-term success. How a writer decides to seek his fortune is a personal choice, and brings with it its own set of consequences and rewards.