Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The value of learning as much as you can about your occupation (in this case, writing)

by Rick Blechta

Like all published authors, I have been buttonholed many times at parties, meetings, book signings and even once at a funeral (!) by people who’ve written a novel (or a book of some sort) and want to know what to do next. The inevitable question is: How do I find a publisher? Sometimes they ask if I have an agent, and if so, would I help them get their manuscript in to him?

Now, I don’t mind helping people, but after the fiftieth such request, it gets a little old.

First of all, I’m not going to contact my publisher or agent and recommend your work unless I’ve read it and found it good enough. By recommending someone, I’m putting my reputation on the line, too. Second, doing that takes a lot of time and I have little enough of that to spare. Look, I just met you and now you want me to grant you a very large favour just because you asked and are a nice person?

But besides the effrontery of such a request, there is something else that bothers me even more. These people want to become a published author but they don’t know anything about the business and haven’t bothered to educate themselves? If I were blunt enough to say that, my guess is they would get quite angry — but that doesn’t make it any less true.

I’ve been around for quite awhile now, and I’ve worked hard to learn a lot of things about the book publishing game, and it’s a good assumption by the neophyte that I could supply them with a lot of useful information. But what they don’t realize is that their request that I help them shows me that they aren’t really prepared to be an author. What I’m going to tell them from what I’ve worked hard to find out is also easily found on many websites, blogs and in numerous books.

The really shocking thing, though, is that these people are also telling me that they’re going into a very complicated business with zero knowledge of what’s involved, and what’s expected of them (a lot) besides good writing. It’s much akin to someone who’s received a compass as a present. That person then decides they’re going to become a great explorer and immediately leaves for the Amazon jungle, packing only their new compass (with little idea how to use it). How successful do you think they’re going to be?

Becoming a published author and then attaining enough success to keep going is a very tough accomplishment. The first order of things on the path to authorial success is to learn as much as you can about the job description. That requires hours of research and reading. Even if I were to pass you on to my agent, you need to know how things work and what the expectations are. Until you know that, you’re just a babe in the jungle.

Don’t get me wrong. Someone who has produced a novel — no matter how good or bad it is — has achieved a major accomplishment. When I tell them that they’re barely halfway there, I am greeted by blank expressions or downright unhappiness. (“What? I’m not even close to my goal?”) It’s sad to disillusion nice people, but I would be doing them no favours by telling them what they want to hear. A writer who doesn’t know the ropes is a writer who is going to risk falling on their face at best, and at worst, they’re going to be taken advantage of — sometimes in a huge way. I know of more than one author who signed away the rights to their series character in order to get their book published. How stupid is that? The publisher said, “No deal unless we get this.” Any sane person would have walked.

Most authors, me included, are more than willing to point the budding author in the right direction (First on my list is How to Get Happily Published* by Judith Applebaum), but please don’t expect us to grab your hand and take you where you want to go — especially if you’re just meeting us for the first time!

*And I purposely didn’t give a link for finding this book online.


Aline Templeton said...

My favourite cartoon, Rick! I have a copy pinned to my noticeboard.

Rick Blechta said...

I used to have one, as well!