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Okay, important stuff first. SciFiChick is giving away a free copy of Misspelled, an anthology of humorous fantasy, edited by Julie Czerneda. I wrote one of the stories in this one, and I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest. So go forth and enter the contest.

Now, on to the rant of the week.
Dear Internet Authors,

If you don't know something, that's okay. Please stop trying to fake it.

If you have limited knowledge of something, feel free to offer your experiences and opinions, but please stop presenting them as gospel.

Thanks bunches,
Maybe I've been spending too much time on the Amazon forums. Maybe it's one too many mailing lists. Maybe it's too many people who have self-published a book through Lulu and now want to be the knowledgeable pros, advising the newbies. But it's getting tiresome.

It's not just the Internet, either. I've had in-person conversations about how someone's cousin's friend was screwed over by a commercial publisher, and therefore we should all self-publish. Because extrapolating from a sample size of one is a great way to get reliable data, right?

I understand ego, and wanting to appear like we know what we're talking about. I also recognize that giving advice is sometimes motivated at least in part by the desire to self-promote. (I'm the author of the hilarious book Goblin Farts, and if I can impress you with my knowledgification, maybe you'll buy my book!) And like many people, I believe very strongly in helping newer writers and paying it forward.

But I also believe in knowing what the hell you're talking about.

Trying to follow my own advice, I'm going to acknowledge that the following might be wrong. I certainly don't know everything about this business. However, I've been working as a writer - writing, submitting, and selling my work - for 12 years. I've been under contract with a major publisher for 2, and I spend a lot of time reading about the experiences and opinions of people who have been far more successful than I at publishing everything from award-winning short fiction to New York Times bestsellers. Based on all of this, I've concluded that:
  1. Commercially published authors don't generally hate their publishers, and aren't planning the self-publishing revolution.

  2. E-books are evolving, and are probably an important part of the future of publishing. However, they are not poised on the brink, ready to drive print books and commercial publishers into extinction. (Also, there's a big difference bewteen an e-book from the Baen Library and the Yahoo web site where you posted your latest novel.)

  3. You the author really aren't as good at art, marketing, editing, typesetting, and distribution as a trained professional. (And neither is your BFF Jill who offered to edit your book if you sprang for the pizza.)

  4. Until you have written several successful* novels, you the author are not the best judge of whether your book is just as good as any of that commercially published stuff. Neither is your mom. Or your high school English teacher, for that matter. (Unless you're fortunate enough to have jimvanpelt as a teacher.)

  5. You're only a revolutionary because you're new enough that you don't realize how many thousands of struggling authors have posted the same screeds. To the rest of us, you're starting to get a wee bit boring.
The last and most important thing I've realized is that it's harder to be a new author today than it was even ten years ago. When I started, there were a few online sources for information about publishing, and they were generally reputable. Today, there's been an explosion of such "resources," and it can be harder to judge which advice to follow. Between the proliferation of scammers, the upswell of misguided revolutionaries, and the surge in commercial authors with online presences, you can hardly browse a blog without getting smacked with some sort of writing advice.

So be careful which advice you choose to follow. Check the source -- have you heard of them? Can you find their books on the shelves, if that's important to you? Do they come across as reasonable and helpful, or desperate and pushy? Is there a vested interest in convincing you that they're right? (I.e., a self-publishing site or vanity press that tells everyone that self-publishing and vanity presses are the wave of the future.) Do they seem to be a real, legitimate author, the kind you want to be, or are they one of those hacks writing crap about goblins and nose-picking injuries?

Thus endeth the rant.

*"Successful" is a loaded term, I know. Let's just say I had to write 5 or 6 books, several of them published by DAW, before I started being able to judge whether my manuscripts were ready to be published or not.



( 45 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 25th, 2008 03:29 pm (UTC)
goblins and nose-picking injuries?

Together? You mean like the goblin who got his fang caught in his nose?

Sorry - couldn't resist - I'll go back to work, now.
Mar. 25th, 2008 03:30 pm (UTC)
I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about.

I r srius writr. This iz srius rant.
(no subject) - controuble - Mar. 25th, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Mar. 25th, 2008 03:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 25th, 2008 03:32 pm (UTC)
What if your mom was your high school English teacher? ^_^

Yep, I take advice from no one, including you, because we are all different people, and nothing works for everyone. Just write an awesome book, that is about all the advice anyone needs.
Mar. 25th, 2008 03:35 pm (UTC)
Only if jimvanpelt is your mom. spiziks would work too, now that I think about it.
(no subject) - namelessarchon - Mar. 25th, 2008 03:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 25th, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
These trainwrecks of advice are such entertaining people to watch, though. And I think we all go through those phases. I know I've 'doled' out advice every now and then after being asked, and yet I don't consider myself an expert.

That being said, there are always one or two (or several) people on a writer messageboard that feel the need to share their 'knowledge' with everyone. They correct you and parrot information that they have heard on the boards or from other authors. They scream about trifling things in contracts and how people should not take this umbrage sitting down!!! They have an agent that has made no sales (including their projects) but will answer every topic with "My agent says this" or "My agent is priceless" or some such.

Or then there's the ones that are POD pubbed that feel the need to educate others on writing and the business.

*rolls eyes*

There are 'experts' everywhere. My advice is that everyone should research quite carefully as to who exactly is giving this advice, and apply the grains of salt as due. ;)
Mar. 25th, 2008 03:40 pm (UTC)
Yep. And obviously I'm not above sharing my own thoughts and advice from time to time, either :-)

I just cringe when I see someone with their very first manuscript pop up to ask for help, and they're promptly buried in bad* advice.

*Where "bad" = anything I disagree with, of course!
(no subject) - david_de_beer - Mar. 25th, 2008 06:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 25th, 2008 03:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you, sir, for this most excellent rant!
Mar. 25th, 2008 03:41 pm (UTC)
Well, it had been a little while since the last one. I guess I was due.
Mar. 25th, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)
Tangentially, I'm amused by any self-published writer who gives any kind of writing advice beyond the "capitalize appropriately, use punctuation" variety. It's one of the reasons, I think, that as neo a neo-pro I am (and man is it hard to get more neo), if I ever wind up discussing writing, I try to refer to the advice I've found helpful, rather than pontificating on my own. Which is some advice that I did hear way back in the way back--until you've established a track record, chances are people won't know enough about your work to tell if your advice is worthwhile or not. Unfortunately, I can't reference the advice, but it seemed fairly sound, and I don't think I've gone wrong with it yet.
Mar. 25th, 2008 03:52 pm (UTC)
Ironically, I think that's a pretty good piece of meta-advice right there.

And I do think there's a lot you can learn from self-published authors. Personally, I've picked up a fair amount about marketing, what works and what doesn't. My single-copy experiment on Lulu taught me a lot about the whole process of turning a manuscript into a physical book, and left me with a lot more respect for the process.

I think the key is that if you self-publish, you're probably in a good place to give advice about self-publishing, but you might not be the best person to make sweeping proclamations about the state of commercial publishers.
(no subject) - daveamongus - Mar. 25th, 2008 07:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 25th, 2008 03:50 pm (UTC)
Mar. 25th, 2008 03:54 pm (UTC)
I’ve actually found it much easier to be an aspiring writer now as compared to when I first gave it a go ten years ago. There are so many good resources out there that didn’t exist before. I’ve found the Internet much more valuable than my old writer’s group or creative writing classes.

Like everything, you just need to learn how to separate bad information from good information. Personally, I listen to the pros.

Mar. 25th, 2008 05:29 pm (UTC)
Good point. There's definitely a lot more information out there, and if you can learn to pick out the useful stuff, you're golden.

Even in my day, I learned more about the *business* of writing from the Rumor Mill than I did in any class.
Mar. 25th, 2008 03:55 pm (UTC)
I'm working on book #20 (under contract, another 1/2 dozen on spec) and I still rely heavily on outside readers and my editor to help me get the MS publishable.
Mar. 25th, 2008 05:31 pm (UTC)
True enough. I should rephrase that, probably ... I've gotten to know when the book is ready to go to my agent and editor. But at that point, it's still a long way from being ready for print.
Mar. 25th, 2008 04:14 pm (UTC)
One thing I like about self publishing on the Internet, and inviting comment, is that it can be a useful tool for improvement as a writer. Unfortunately, most self publishers believe that once it's written, it's sacrosanct: but I've seen writers who had a marketed book which did okay, and they revise and remarket it some years (even decades) later. A lot of people who self-publish don't look at writing as an organic process. *grin* Unless you're Stephen King, though, I would not expect too much of a return on it.
Mar. 25th, 2008 05:32 pm (UTC)
I'm told the fanfiction community in particular is very strong on feedback and interaction with readers, a lot moreso than commercial publishing.
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Mar. 25th, 2008 05:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 25th, 2008 05:05 pm (UTC)
Nice post, Jim! Thanks for the nod my direction, but I have to point out that experienced pros or professional teachers are capable of being full of it when they offer advice too, so I'd doubly ditto your suggestion to be careful about the advice you choose from. Not everything works for everybody, and there are a lot of paths to your goals.

I would be very, very wary, though, of anyone who professes to know the "secret" or who makes broad pronouncements.
Mar. 25th, 2008 05:28 pm (UTC)
Very true. I've disagreed with a fair amount of the advice I've seen or heard from Big Names. Sometimes it's because the industry has changed so much since they broke in. Other times, it's a simple case of, "I did it this way, therefore you must follow precisely in my footsteps in order to succeed."
(no subject) - argonel - Mar. 25th, 2008 08:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 25th, 2008 05:24 pm (UTC)
"Goblin Farts" Hmmm... doesn't seem like this would be your best work. I would try for a better title. ;)
Mar. 25th, 2008 05:33 pm (UTC)
So noted. I'll keep brainstorming :-)
Mar. 25th, 2008 05:41 pm (UTC)
Well Said
Great rant, Jim.

With respect to advice I read on the Internet, I try to remember that most free advice is worth what we pay for it; some less; and a very small fraction is worth more. Unfortunately, even some advice we pay for is, if not worthless, at least worth less than we paid.

Gray Rinehart
Mar. 25th, 2008 05:48 pm (UTC)
Just because you picked your nose hard enough to bleed, this does not mean you know how to extract blood from a patient. LMAO!

You've covered a lot of ground here. :) There are countless message boards and other online disaster areas (including the HWA board when I was there) where there is always a new breed of newbies who show up and preach about the "new ways" to the experts. The experts are getting a little tired of setting them straight because they're not doing their homework, and it gets very repetitive. Some are just sick of fighting over it all the time. When the newbies back each other up and "make a strong case" well, then we have much needed rants like yours.

Hopefully I never gave stupid advice when I was starting out - I don't remember giving advice. Nowadays I like to tell new writers to sit back and LISTEN for a while (even if you don't like it). If I can, I tell them who to listen to as well - and it ain't me. But the more we know, the more we realize how much we don't know, right? ;)

I'm not AS published (yet), but I've been working hard and *listening* in the meantime. I know more than my bibliography lets on, which is why I never have any secrets to tell or wonderful keys to success. LOL!

Great post. :)
Mar. 25th, 2008 06:09 pm (UTC)
I still need to do more listening and less talking.

And that's exactly it, the folks who band together and end up reinforcing one another. I'm all for support and encouragement, but it can get absurd, and I feel protective of the truly new folks who are looking for help.

Then again, you could say that bandwagon phenomenon happens here, too. I mean, it's not like anyone has argued with my little rant yet ;-)
(no subject) - dean_italiano - Mar. 25th, 2008 06:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 25th, 2008 06:05 pm (UTC)
Well, I do try to give my readers what they want :-)
Mar. 25th, 2008 06:54 pm (UTC)
I still want Jim van Pelt as my teacher..
Mar. 25th, 2008 08:02 pm (UTC)
You and me both. The man does some kick-ass short fiction.
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Jim C. Hines


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