Friday, April 27, 2012

Go forth, young grasshopper

As a writer, you get a lot of advice about how to write but not so much about being a writer. If you do get advice, it’s mostly about what you should do. Write everyday. Read. Make writing a priority. Edit. Revise. Repeat. Read some more. Network. Attend conferences. Read. Write.

How about what not to do?

 Let’s skip the foreplay and get right to it.

The Don’ts:

1. Don’t ask an author to read your manuscript.

 2. Don’t expect not to suck.

3. Don’t think getting published won’t cost you time or money.

Screenwriter Josh Olson covered much of this in his viral screed No, I will not read your fucking script. Here’s my take on the subject.

Don’t Number One. 
Don’t ever send this email:

Dear author: You are my favorite writer. I love your work. (So far, so good. We writers are frail creatures and soak up the flattery) Your latest book, OMG! I creamed my panties, it was that freakin’ awesome!!! (Now my bullshit meter is starting to ping) I would love, love, LOVE if you could read my manuscript. It’s urban fantasy like yours, only about a unicorn vampire with self-image issues who must stop the evil underworld overlord only to fall for a rogue mage on a quest...blah, blah, blah...

The problem? To begin, I’m annoyed because 1) you sucked up to me big time and 2) you say you’re a fan and have put me in the position of telling you to get lost. You’ve asked me to take eight-twelve hours out of my life for you, a stranger, and what do I get out of it? Karma points? Try paying the rent with those. And it’s not that I enjoy being an asshole. Imagine if you’re a dentist and people came up to you and said, “Hey dentist, I love your work. You don’t know me but that’s okay because you can do this root canal with gold fillings for free and in return, you’ll have my undying gratitude.”

This advice continues after you’ve been published. Authors are swamped with stuff to read--books to blurb, judging contests, manuscripts from friends and critique partners, their own work--so don’t think you’re doing any writer an honor by handing them your steaming pile of words. If a writer is interested in your work, they’ll buy a copy. (Hurray! Royalties!)

Don’t Number Two. 
Don’t think it won’t take a long time to not suck as a writer.

When I first got published, I was eager to share my mote of knowledge with the writing community (karma points in spades), and I learned several lessons. Those people who ask for a manuscript read usually don’t have a clue about how much work it takes to succeed as a writer. To put it more bluntly: their writing sucked big time. What they wanted was for me to tell them how great their writing was. I’ve volunteered twice to serve as a writing mentor and the wanna be writers latched onto me like barnacles, convinced I had nothing better to do with my time than obsess about their stories. Plus they thought I had my hand on the levers and valves that control the publishing industry. If I was any kind of a chum, a true pal, a decent human being, I’d pick up the telephone and demand that my agent immediately sign them and for my editor to offer a seven-figure deal. Ha! If I had that power, why would I use it on anyone but me?

So how do you get your manuscript read? Let’s move on to:

Don’t Number Three.
Don’t think getting published ain’t gonna cost time and money. Probably a lot of both.

The easiest way to get your manuscript read is to pay someone for it, a writing coach or an editor-for-hire. You can expect to shell out anywhere from two bucks a page from the cheapest and on up. So a 400-page manuscript is going to set you back around a grand, maybe more. It’s not easy being on either side of that transaction. Too many beginning writers assume that because they’ve completed a book-length manuscript, they’re in. They expect nothing but praise. However, to repeat the refrain--they suck.

It’s not any easier for your hired reader, a professional who can tell within twenty pages what the problems are with the manuscript and that they won’t improve as the story grinds on. The comments in a nutshell: You suck. You suck some more. You continue to suck.

You, the poor wanna be feels taken. You forked over a house payment just to be told your story is one ugly baby that deserves to be tied in a burlap bag, dumped in the river, and forgotten.

So you’ve admitted that you have a writing problem. Now what?

Assuming that you haven’t given up, the next question is: How do I get my manuscript read without paying for the disgrace of getting continuously depantsed? It’s called paying your dues. Sweat equity. Join a writers group. A critique group. Beta-readers. A tribe of like-minded writers who Kurt Vonnegut referred to as ink-stained wretches. It’ll take time, expect years, to hone your craft and get close to figuring out what writing is all about. You’ll also learn to live with anxiety, because we all (and especially our writing) fall short of the Glory of God.

Down the line, you may feel the need to hire an editor, and that’s okay. I know of NYT bestsellers who get a professional read--but that’s to address story problems, not to fix rookie mistakes--before they turn in the manuscript to their publisher’s editor. In this case, the money spent is an investment, not cash flushed down the toilet.

So heed these words, young grasshopper. Go forth and not suck!


Aaron M. R. said...

Hello Mr. Acevedo! I pretty much should have read this when I was 12 years old. I have made all three mistakes, and just made the first one a month ago.

I am humbled. But you are correct, sir. You're also handsome.

Mario said...

You are as clever as you are insincere:-) Thanks for the comment.