Every so often (usually on Twitter), someone will see that I’m a writer and want to give me advice. It is usually done with the best of intentions. People want to see me succeed, which I deeply appreciate. Maybe they think the advice will comfort me somehow, or present a solution to the problem I’m tweeting about. I doubt it is ever done maliciously, or with the aim of annoying me.
Here’s the thing, though: unless I have specifically asked for it, odds are that I do not want your writing or publishing advice.
I have been writing novels with the goal of publishing in mind since 2007, and have written six books. In 2012, I started researching the publishing industry, because I believed I was ready to start sending out my work. I quickly learned that I wasn’t. After sending five or so queries to literary agents, I stopped and focused on areas of weakness, such as my lack of familiarity with the market, my issues with plotting, my terrible pacing, etc. This also allowed me to immerse myself in the online children’s literature (kid lit) community and make connections.
I finally felt ready to seriously query a project after graduating college, in 2016. When that project didn’t work out, I queried another in 2017. In 2018, I got a publishing job at a traditional publishing house in New York, which is largely unrelated to my author journey but will be relevant to this post.
Let’s tally that. I’ve been writing novels for eleven years. I’ve been educating myself about the publishing industry for six years. I’ve been sending out my work for two years, and have gone through two rounds of querying with two different books. I work in publishing after trying to land a day job in the industry for two years.
Can you tell I’m a little irritated with random people on the Internet giving me advice I probably don’t need?
Before you give me writing or publishing advice, see if it’s already included in this post.
“You should try self-publishing.”
This is probably the one I see the most. 99.9% of the time, it’s from someone who does not self-publish themselves, and who is heavily uneducated on the subject. Some of them think it’s the “easy route” if you want to be a published author. It isn’t.
There are two routes you generally take when you want to be an author. One is traditional publishing, a.k.a. my chosen route. You query an agent, and if an agent likes your work enough, they take you on as a client. They then send your work out to editors, which is called “being on submission.”
If an editor likes your work enough and their publisher agrees to acquire the book, you get a book deal. The publisher supplies you with an editor, a cover, a publishing schedule, a copyeditor, a production editor, a printer, a marketing plan (though publisher involvement in marketing varies from book to book), etc. You get an advance and, if that book sells enough copies to match that advance, start earning royalties. The publisher and your agent also make money off your book. You may or may not sell many copies, but depending on the publisher, bookstores are more likely to agree to carry your book.
The other route is self-publishing. This means that, while you do not have to share the money you earn with anyone, you also have to pay for an editor, copyeditor, cover designer, printer, and any marketing you do. Unless you are extraordinarily lucky or very knowledgeable about how to promote self-published projects (especially if you write in a genre that is more self-publishing friendly, such as romance or erotica), you will probably not sell many copies. It is unlikely that bookstores will agree to carry your book.
I do not want to pay for all these services myself. I want to see my books in bookstores someday. I want an agent who will champion my work and push me to be the best writer I can be. I don’t care about that writer you read an article about who self-published and became a bestselling author. That is extremely rare and, again, that is not the path I want to take.
“You should publish your work on Wattpad [or insert similar website] before you try sending it out.”
Not gonna happen. Have you ever noticed how similar the word “publish” is to the word “public?” That’s because to “publish” something is to make it public. If I posted my novel to Wattpad, that would also be publishing it, in a sense. Agents and publishers generally don’t want to consider work that has already been published. That’s why agents ask writers not to query books they have previously self-published. They can’t sell something that’s already out there.
“But Fifty Shades of Grey!” you might cry. True, Fifty Shades of Grey was originally posted online as a popular Twilight fanfiction and went on to sell millions of copies under a large publisher. Is that common? Hell no. That’s why this sort of thing makes the news. Because it’s unusual. On top of that, many agents nowadays put their clients through at least one round of revisions before sending the book on submission. Then, the editor and writer will go through several passes of revisions after a book has sold. If I posted the book I’m about to query to Wattpad, it wouldn’t even be close to the final product.
“My best friend’s cousin’s wife is a literary agent. Let me put you in touch.”
Erm…cool, but what does this literary agent represent? Do they represent YA fantasy, which is the genre I write? If you can’t answer that question, then bringing this up doesn’t make any sense. Writers need to select the agents they submit to carefully in order not to waste anyone’s time.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for learning about agents who might not be on my radar. If you’re an author whose agent may be interested in me and you’re offering a referral, that can also be helpful (though it doesn’t guarantee anything). Most of the time, though, people who say this seem to think that by having a vague connection with any literary agent, they’re paving the way to my success/giving me something I’ve never had access to before.
At this point in my life, I know dozens of literary agents, and many of them know me. I’ve interned at an agency. I’ve had coffee with agents and geeked out over fandoms with them on Twitter, which is super normal in the kid lit community. Does any of this guarantee one of them will become my agent, or that all of them are even interested in becoming my agent? Nope! But it does mean that next time I query a project, I know which agents may be interested, and that they’ll likely recognize my name when it comes up in their slush pile. It also means connecting me with your best friend’s cousin’s literary agent wife isn’t necessarily going to change my life.
“You can improve your writing with feedback. I’d be willing to take a look at it.”
If you’ve spent six years in an online community, you probably know a wide variety of people in that community. That means if I want feedback for my work, I have many trusted writer friends I can turn to. Some are unagented and/or unpublished, some have agents, some may have book deals, etc., but the important part is that all of them are knowledgeable about writing and the industry. I trust them to give me useful feedback. The same can’t be said for some random person on Twitter who’s asking to see my work in a way that is, frankly, condescending. Every writer in the world knows feedback is helpful, and necessary if you’re interested in getting published.
This post may qualify as more of a rant than an informative article, but I still hope you found it educational. If you’re a writer who’s also sick of being asked these questions, feel free to direct people here. And, if you’ve asked questions like this before and now feel bad about it, don’t! Now you know, and can avoid it moving forward.
As always, thanks for reading!