Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sage Advice on Publishing

This post is for Les Becker of Where the Walls Are Soft.
She just got her first copy of the 2007 Guild to Literary Agents, and she's all eager and sassy to send her stuff off. When she ordered it, her excitement was palpable, and provoked me, veteran of the publishing wars, to promise sage advice. In today's post, I said
Okay, here's my sage advice:  What your writing is to you has nothing
to do with what it is to the people in that reference guide. To them, it
is A Business. Nothing more; nothing less. They may like to read; they
may appreciate Great Literature; but at the day's end what they want is

And her response was: "Ouch. Almost sounds as if the advice is to trash the reference guide."

No, that's not at all what I'm saying. Rather, I'm suggesting that she (and you, if you're in a similar position) try to keep your writing mind separate from your publishing mind. They are two different minds, after all. One is focused on sales; the other on self-expression.

What I'm saying is to keep the agent business in perspective. They're trying to do their job, earn a buck, pay the rent, whatever. They are not your best friend, your confidante, or, especially, your mother who loves everything that comes out of your mouth. When an agent gives an assessment, it is not the word of God handed down from the Great Font of Literary Publishing. It is, rather, one person's take on whether your manuscript has, in their humble (ha!) opinion that day, sales potential. That means different things to different people, and often is dependent on who had what for lunch or whether the kids acted up on the way to the train. In other words, it's a subjective opinion which is guided by knowledge and experience, but, bottom line, it carries with it all the vagaries of any human interchange. You should remember that when you are getting a host of different responses.

You should also remember why you write in the first place. I have a friend who is very successful, and he says he writes to entertain. Me, I write because I can't not write. My friend has to tailor his stuff to the marketplace; I don't. Different purposes; different goals; different strategies.

Why do you write, Les? And you, over there, who are also reading this with interest, why do you write? My sagest advice is this: work on that until you can answer the question clearly, cleanly, and--um--honestly.


  1. Although hardly always the case, I'm writing now, I think, to get my guts back. Build my life back. Get something, finally, that LIFE always got in the way of. Something that's just mine. Some days it seems like I'll never get it. Other days it seems like I'd BETTER get, because it's all there is now.

    I've wasted a lot of time. But I've always written for me. Just never had the nerve to "keep on keepin' on" before.

  2. I understand that. What makes the keep on keepin' on hard is when it is dependent on other's opinions. I don't know what the "it" is that you'll never get, that you better get . Do you????

  3. That is probably the single most useful piece of advice on writing for publication that I have ever read.

  4. Yes. The "it" is the knowledge that I finally tried for real, and didn't give up this time.

  5. queen: thank you. I guess this is what it means to pass on earned experience.

    les: if you need any more "sage advice"--I'm here....

  6. I'm grateful for that, Jane. Thank you so much.

  7. Thank you. I will keep all of that in mind.


So--whaddaya think?