I sat down at my computer tonight intending to write about general writing tips, but thought I'd breeze over to Twitter first, just in case I was missing out on ground-breaking news. Like, you know, Borders filing for bankruptcy. I could wax poetic on my feelings on that subject, but since I'm an author and a reader, I figure my stance is probably pretty obvious. But back to the subject at hand. Before starting this post, I swung by Twitter and discovered a link to a blog Lilith Saintcrow wrote in September 2006 on why the hard sell doesn't work. She gave several excellent tips on breaking into the publishing industry, and if that's your goal, I'd highly recommend reading the entire post. Here's a link. One part of her post in particular stood out to me, and I'm going to quote it here:
“Publishing is really a small business. You never know when the person you’re rude to on a convention panel or in an elevator at a trade show may hold the power of life or death over your wee manuscript in the future. It’s best to be tactful and interested in other people at cons and shows, not to mention writer’s group meetings.” --Lilith Saintcrow
Publishing is a small business. Simply put, everyone knows everyone. Instead of the “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon” we play the “Six degrees of Julie Strauss-Gabel.”
But back to writing tips. Since I turned SILENCE in to my editor last week, I've been playing catch-up with my email. One of the most popular questions I'm seeing is some form of this: “I'm an aspiring author and I was wondering if you could share tips on writing and breaking into the industry?”
This is a tough question to answer. I always feel like I need more information before I can give a solid answer. Often, I want to write back with a few questions of my own. Are you an aspiring author with a seed of an idea, or do you have a finished manuscript? Are you part of a critique group, and have the members given you feedback on your manuscript? Do you know what a query letter is? (It's fine if you don't, it just means my answer will be different.) Do you have an agent?
Regardless of the answers to these questions, I think there is one piece of advice that is universal, no matter where you find yourself on the path to publication. And that is: be nice. Be courteous. Be generous. As Lilith Saintcrow says, Be tactful. Be interested.
Let me tell you a story. In the weeks leading up to HUSH, HUSH's publication, I thought reading early reviews of the book would be helpful. Or maybe I didn't even think that. Maybe it all boiled down to simple curiosity. But whatever the reason, I frequently visited Goodreads and Amazon, determined to learn what people thought of my book. As you might expect, there were glowing reviews, mediocre reviews, and scathing reviews. One particular review that fell into the latter category caught my eye. I stewed over it for a few days, and eventually forgot about it.
Fast forward several months. An email arrived from an editor asking if I'd be interested in reading a manuscript. If you're two steps ahead, you might have already guessed that the author of the manuscript was none other than the author of the scathing review I had, up until this point, forgotten about. The editor introduced herself and made the comment that her author adored HUSH, HUSH and would love if I'd read her book with an eye toward writing a blurb. It was an awkward situation, to say the least. In the end, I did the only thing I felt appropriate: I laughed it off, then politely informed the editor I was swamped and unable to read the manuscript, but thanked her for thinking of me.
You might think I turned down reading the manuscript out of revenge or to give the author the finger, so to speak. I hope I'm not that petty. The reason I decided not to read the manuscript was because I wondered what would happen if I did read it...and loved it. What if I sent the editor a handful of glowing words, and she decided to stick them on the front cover of her author's book? Would the author love having my praise splashed on her cover? Probably not. In the end, I decided to take the higher road and let the author breathe easy. (It didn't slip my mind that the ultimate revenge would have been making sure my name got on the cover of her book. But again. Higher road. Always the better path.)
Interestingly enough, this once-aspiring author didn't limit her somewhat rantish reviews to HUSH, HUSH. She'd made quite a habit of belittling authors' books along the way, and I suppose it comes to no surprise that, as far as I know, she was never able to find an author to blurb her book. This isn't to say an aspiring author can't be honest when writing reviews, but if your goal is to be published, it might serve you well to drop the books you don't love, and talk up the ones you do. You don't have to love every book, every time. But I think a bit of courtesy in saying, “This wasn't for me, and here's why,” says volumes about you as a reviewer and a person. No one wants to start their career surrounded by nothing but a lot of burned bridges.
Whether you believe in karma, the Golden Rule, or the old saying, “What goes around comes around,” all have stood the test of time. If you want agents, editors and authors to respect you, take the first step. Extend kind words. Talk up books you love. Be polite and respectful at conferences. Attend author book signings. All of these things will go along way.
So, yes. That's my writing tip of the day. Be nice.
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