Trust Your Professional

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 5/30/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

First, find a professional you can trust.

For example, I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting. It costs less than you think.

Thomas D. Morrow wrote that “Advertising may be the only business in the world where the clients with the most money can make demands until they get the agency’s worst product, while the small client with little to spend must meekly accept the agency’s best.”

So if a guy walks into an ad agency with his hat in his hand, a small budget and the willingness to listen that usually accompanies a small budget, he will walk out with a much better product than the Know It All who barges in, perfectly willing to pay extra to force the professionals to do it his way.

But Mr. Morrow was wrong. It isn’t just advertising. The same holds true for other artistic endeavors.

Let’s read the important part of the statement again: “The clients with the most money can make demands until they get the agency’s worst product.” (Did’ya get that?) “While the small client with little to spend must meekly accept the agency’s best.”

Here are a few examples of wrong thinking on the client side:

Cover design clients often believe the cover must reflect the main characters or the storyline or both.

Uhh, nope.

That isn’t the cover’s job, and most of the time it will render a cover that’s far too busy. Reflecting the main character(s) and the story line is the writer’s job in the story.

The cover’s job is to attract the prospective reader’s attention and convey the theme or concept of the story. The cover’s job is to entice the reader into buying your book or at least sampling it.

When I was designing covers for others, I charged a low rate to design a cover based on the client’s ideas but on my preferences. I charged a lot more to design a cover over which the client demanded full artistic control.

And when I was designing websites, those clients often expected me to explain each nuance of web design as I was progressing. For example, if I told them I would host their website, free of charge, so I could more easily access it and work on it, they immediately became suspicious. The conversation usually went something like this:

“What do you get out of hosting my website free?”

“I get the ability to provide you with better, faster service than I would if I had to jump through hoops at your hosting service.”

“Yeah, but how much do you charge for hosting?”

“Umm, free hosting is, you know, free. What part of ‘it costs you nothing’ do you not understand?”

But that wasn’t good enough.

They expected me to spend a few hours explaining why it’s easier for me to access their site when I’m hosting it. So before I learned better and got out of the business, I would explain what I have to do—the actual process—to upload a particular premium theme framework and then access and change the permissions on certain folders and files through an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) client.

Eventually, finally, they saw the benefit. Or more likely, they tired of the explanation. Then they’d say something I knew all along was coming: “Ahh, well I didn’t know it was that involved.” At that point, they would usually giggle and say, “Oh, okay. Well go ahead then!”

That really sent me over the top with frustration. Why couldn’t they just believe up front that I know what I’m talking about instead of making me explain it all before assenting? I mean it isn’t like they learn anything they can use.

And then, having gobbled up two or three hours of my work day, they say something radically uncool like, “Well, I’m off to an evening on the town (or off to boating on Lake Havasu or off to board a plane for Hawaii or off to take a nap). You just have a really great evening!” Giggle giggle.

Ugh.

Right now, some of you are thinking But don’t we have a right to ask questions?

Sure. Yes, you do.

But why would you want to cost your professional service provider a lot of time that he could be spending on your project?

Seriously, think about it.

When you put new tires on your vehicle, if the guy at the tire store says he’s going to balance and mount them on your vehicle at no cost to you, do you grill him for a few hours about WHY he wants to balance them and mount them on the vehicle?

Do you then question him about the process of mounting the tires on the rims, balancing them, and finally putting them on your car?

Or do you just say, “Thank You” and let him do his job?

Finally, amazing as it sounds, Morrow’s statement about advertisiting also holds true for freelance editing.

A couple of years ago, I spent two precious hours (my fault… won’t happen again) explaining to a writer why most of the changes I made to his manuscript were very light nuances. After all of that, in his best the-reader-will-know-what-I-mean tone he said, “It makes a difference, sure, but not much.”

I said, “That’s specifically because I don’t want to change your voice. I just want to smooth out the reading experience for the reader. The reader won’t even realize the work has been copyedited. He’ll just know it reads like polished glass.”

Folks, it isn’t the presence of something good that the reader notices; it’s the absence of anything bad. In other words,  the reader will never notice that something’s written well; he will only notice if it’s written poorly.

The client said that was fine, but insisted that I never replace (for example) “he said to himself” with “he said quietly” because “all ly adverbs are bad.” Sigh. And he laid some more pretty strenuous requirements on me regarding his edit.

He responded by saying that three published authors had read his manuscript and “gave it a passing grade.”

I know, I know. The customer is always right. Blah blah blah.

Except that if he were always right, he’d be providing the service instead of purchasing it.

But I digress.

What I should have said is this: “Y’know, you’re absolutely right. You’re paying for this, so it should be your decision whether to pay me to actually do my job or subsidize me for not doing my job. Tell you what. I’ll charge you 1 cent per word to draw on my expertise and edit your manuscript the way I want to, or I’ll charge you 5 cents per word to edit it the way you want me to. I mean, it’ll read like crap but hey, it’s your call.”

But I didn’t do that. Instead, since he’d mentioned those “published authors” giving it a passing grade, I reminded him that a D is a passing grade.

Yeah, it all went pretty much downhill from there. Now he’s back in chasing-an-agent land wondering what happened. Well, he was back then. Today he’s in “whatever happened to” land.

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind at all when other writers ask me questions in an attempt to learn something, but it bugs me to no end when they ask with an inflection that implies they believe I’m trying to put something over on them.

I’m too busy to waste my time trying to con anyone, and I’m too busy to spend time convincing them that I’m not trying to con them. Eventually I got to the point where I would sigh, shake my head and say, “Remind me again, why did you hire me to edit your manuscript?”

Here’s some friendly, completely free advice: if you’re going to insist on doing everything your way, save your money and do it yourself. Remember, the reader will never notice that something’s written well; he will only notice if it’s written poorly.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

(Thanks to my friend Dan Baldwin for bringing the Morrow quote to my attention in his weekly Business Communications Tip of the Week. You may subscribe by emailing Dan at baldco@msn.com.)

I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

Pricing and Various Sales Venues

Hi Folks,

A little rant this time, but a well-reasoned rant.

It really is attrocious what Amazon does to authors regarding royalties. This problem came fully home to me awhile back when I uploaded the new version of The Wes Crowley Saga (10 full novels in one book) to Amazon and Smashwords.

At Amazon, to get a 70% royalty, a book must be priced between $2.99 and $9.99. All other prices glean the author a 35% royalty.

The Wes Crowley Saga is priced at $19.99. (Ten novels for $20 ain’t that bad, ya’ll.)

From Amazon, for each $19.99 sale, I get $6.99. Amazon keeps $13.

From Smashwords, for each $19.99 sale, I get $16.24. Almost $10 more. Can you believe that? Smashwords keeps $2.87 and charges a “billing fee” of 88 cents. Of course, that’s for sales directly from Smashwords.

But from Premium Catalog Retailers (B&N, Kobo, and about 30 others), for each $19.99 sale I still make $11.99. The retailers get $6 and Smashwords gets $2.

And what empowers Amazon to do this? Authors who publish through KDP Select, the exclusive program Amazon set up.

When you publish through KDP Select, not only do you cut off those readers who prefer to purchase from other retailers and read .epub files, but you aren’t even allowed to publish and sell YOUR book on your own website. Did you know that?

Oh, and just in case you wondered, yes, I could lower the price for The Wes Crowley Saga (remember, this is ten complete novels) on Amazon to $9.99 in order to take advantage of the 75% royalty rate. And I’d actually make a few tenths of a cent LESS per sale ($6.993) than I make at the 35% rate for $19.99 ($6.9965).

This is the same reason you can purchase my short stories (from 2000 to 7000 words) at Smashwords and all other e-retailers (around 50 of them worldwide) for only $1.99, but if you go to Amazon the same story will cost you $2.99.

Amazon is a business. I understand that. But their devaluing of authors and their works really chaps my butt. Please PLEASE never cave to Amazon’s KDP Select program. If you do, you’ll add one more straw to the problem.

I’m considering “unpublishing” The Wes Crowley Saga from Amazon altogether and doing a blitz advertisement sending Kindle owners to Smashwords to purchase the .mobi (Kindle) file there. The only reason I haven’t done so thus far is because I don’t want to cut Amazon buyers out either.

Maybe I should write a nonfiction book titled Why I No Longer Distribute and Sell Through Amazon and then offer it for sale ONLY on Amazon. (grin) I wonder whether they would even allow it.

Conundrums, conundrums….

‘Til next time, happy writing and publishing!

Harvey

I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

For Purveyors of the Soup Sandwich

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 8/20/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

I started to call this “Dueling Respondents” but that wouldn’t have been quite accurate. After all, as far as I know, the two writers who served as the catalyst for this post don’t even know each other.

One of those writers, upon reading my “Top 10 Mistakes Writers Make” argued, albeit lightly, that he had used many of the “mistakes” I argued against and that none of his readers seemed to care.

Point taken. Far be it from me to attempt to teach an old dog (I can talk because I’m an old dog too) new tricks, even if those tricks will help him retain readers.

The actual truth of the matter is that none of his readers seemed to care As Far As He Knows. That’s very different and more realistic than just assuming they didn’t care.

Most readers won’t bother to contact a writer to say “Hey, your book stinks.” Generally, I’ve found that most lay readers (those who are not also writers) have a dog’s outlook on life: if they can’t eat it or read it, they’ll tinkle on it and get on with their life.

Okay, to be absolutely fair, I should also mention that this particular author is a very strong writer and well-enough established that he probably can get away with some things that most of us wouldn’t be able to get away with. But that wasn’t the point.

The point was, having more readers is better than having fewer. Successful writers with bad habits also have a bad effect on writers who are younger in the craft.

Novices, while citing the success of other writers, often say silly things like “Well, Famous Author doesn’t use quotation marks around dialogue, so why should I?” or “Famous Writer’s work is replete with misplaced modifiers, so what’s wrong with them?” or “Famous Writer says adverbs are bad so I will never use an adverb.”

Or my personal-favorite avoidance clause: “The reader will know what I mean.” That, frankly, is a p-poor excuse for not learning and applying the craft. And no, when I wrote p-poor I wasn’t st-stammering. The reader will know what I mean.

The fact, plainly stated, is precisely this: Every single solitary time you write something that interrupts the reader, you’re running the risk of the reader having reached the point where he’s had enough. At that point, he’ll close your book and find something more enjoyable and less maddening to do.

I preach this constantly, even working it into seminars and classes and conversations and email exchanges that have nothing to do, directly, with the writer-reader interaction that occurs through your work. Yet some folks believe they’re immune, that “the reader will know what I meant.”

Of course, I’m a bit conflicted. As a writing instructor, I want what’s best for other writers. But I’m also a writer, and as more and more writers bow to mediocrity, the fewer I will have to compete against.

Okay, so if you honestly believe letting your narrator say the character “sat looking out the window” when she was already sitting or “gave his hand a shake” instead of saying “shook his hand” is a good idea, hey go for it.

If you believe it’s all right to let the narrator say in a tag line that your character “snickered” (or “laughed” or “cut in” or “gave back” or “returned” or “sentenced” or “tumbled out”) a line of dialogue instead of “said” a line of dialogue, that’s fine.

As an instructor, I have to shake my head in disbelief. But as a writer? Hey, I’m with you all the way!

If you believe the narrator saying the character “moved to the couch’s edge and pushed her glasses up her nose’s bridge” is as effective and clean as saying she “moved to the edge of the couch and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose,” that’s okay too.

If you believe it’s fine to let the narrator say “Bob’s nose pressed against the window” instead of “Bob pressed his nose against the window” or “Sharon’s legs raced wildly down the street” instead of “Sharon raced wildly down the street” or (Heaven forbid) “John’s eyes shot across the room” instead of “John quickly looked across the room,” PLEASE go ahead and write it that way.

If you think you should write “When he walked into the room several men sat at tables and others walked up or down the stairs” instead of saving reader confusion by writing “When he walked into the room several men were sitting at tables and others were walking up or down the stairs,” have at it.

And by all means, please, if you believe it doesn’t sound at all redundant and ludicrous to write “he thought to himself,” go right ahead.

At this point, I’m actually grinning, greedily and anxiously, and cheering for all those writers who know “the reader will know what I mean.” You betcha.

Oh, and the other respondent I mentioned at the beginning of this? She sent me an email recently. Here’s an excerpt:

I read only one chapter of a book I downloaded. That was as far as I could go.

“They both laughed. She nodded her head yes and they went in two opposite directions.”

And then there were words used incorrectly. For example, one guy was “nauseous” instead of “nauseated.” Then again, maybe he was. I never saw him. That was all I could take.

Do you suppose this reader (who also happens to be a very good writer) will contact the author of that book and tell him about these problems? Of course not. That isn’t her job.

The reader’s job is to suspend her sense of disbelief.

The writer’s job is to not buy it back.

‘Til next time, happy writing.
Harvey

I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting.

If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

The Saga of the Adverb-Finder Thingy

Hey Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 5/20/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

A correspondent on a ListServ I used to attend regularly wrote that she was searching for the name of “a bit of editing software that would highlight all adverbs if you typed search adverbs or all verbs if you typed search verbs.”

Hackles rose on my neck. Here we are, back to the topic that won’t die: the dumbing down of America.

This is a writer’s slippery slope.

Searching for, finding, installing and using software that highlights all adverbs put the writer a tempting single click away from deleting all adverbs. And that’s just plain silly. I strongly advise against such software, even if you can find it.

If you believe perhaps you’re using too many adverbs, follow these two simple guidelines. The third point is a tidbit of important parenthetical information (and no, parenthetical information doesn’t have to be enclosed in parentheses):

  1. Never use an adverb in a tag line (the bit of he said, she said narrative that doesn’t make sense by itself and is most often attached to the dialogue with a comma). If the narrator has described the scene well enough, you won’t need adverbs in tag lines.
  2. Use only strong action verbs in your narrative sentences. This will cause all unnecessary adverbs and adjectives to fall away of their own accord. If you use only strong action verbs, you will consciously select only necessary adverbs and adjectives to modify the picture you’re placing in the reader’s mind. Again, this will occur naturally. It’s as easy as falling off a stack of platitudes.
  3. Despite what some folks say, not every word that ends in “ly” is an adverb. For example, the widely misused “likely” is an adjective that is synonymous with “probable,” not an adverb that’s synonymous with “probably.”

English just isn’t a one-rule-fits-all language. DESPITE Mark Twain, who once wrote that when you find an adverb you should kill it, and DESPITE the felonious intent of wannabe writing instructors who tell their charges to use no more than three (or five or some other arbitrary number) of exclamation points per page.

I’ve heard similar advice concerning the use of em dashes (long dashes) and colons and semicolons. And of course we’ve all been taught that hunting season never closes on state-of-being verbs or “had” or gerunds (many alleged writing instructors call gerunds “ing words”) because those three word-types cause passive voice.

Uhh, no, they don’t, Grasshopper.

State-of-being verbs by themselves do not cause passive voice, and neither the word “had” nor those pesky “ing words” are within a thousand mles of having anything to do with passive voice.

Although it’s true that adverbs can clutter up your writing, some adverbs in some situations are necessary. And “necessary” is the key word. See item 3 above.

The secret to good usage is not to get rid of “all” adverbs, state-of-being verbs, instances of “had,” adjectives, or anything else, but to get rid of any unnecessary adverbs, state-of-being verbs, adjectives, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, narrative, and dialogue.

It is the Human Mind (yours) that should determine which words and sentences and paragraphs remain and in what sequence.

Okay, here are a few guidelines (flexible, not “rules”) you can apply to your own writing:

  1. The state-of-being verbs are am, is, are, was, were, be, being and been. When one of these is used in conjunction with a “by phrase” (e.g., The pizza was delivered by Harvey) you’ve written a passive construction (or passive voice). Passive constructions, unless you’re writing a service manual for a vacuum cleaner, are bad.
  2. Some state-of-being verbs are necessary. To describe the size or relative size (the state of being) of a city, you have to use a state-of-being verb.  But don’t allow your narrator to describe the state of being of a character. (Don’t let him say “John was angry” or “John was livid” or “Joaquin was frightened” etc.)
  3. Use Your Mind. Despite what your  father said, it’s a wonderful thing. The human mind is the original spell checker, the original grammar checker, and the original verb and adverb-finder thingy.
  4. As part of using your mind, Read Your Work Aloud. If it sounds good to you, it will sound good in the reader’s mind. If you hit a spot that sounds awkward or rough, that’s because it’s, you know, awkward or rough. Fix it.

Remember that you’re only in charge until the reader gets hold of your work. Only You can decide what to leave in or omit from your writing, but only the reader gets to determine whether it’s necessary or distracting.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

Note: I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

Are You a “Real” Writer? (Humor)

Hi Folks,

This topic doesn’t really fit with the current series of how-tos I’m posting here, so I thought I’d slip it in as a bonus. Just some things to think about.

A couple months ago on Facebook, which as we all know is a fount of absolute wisdom, someone posing as a professional fiction writer posted that writing is a “deliciously tedious travail” or some such nonsense. Yeah, I’m not kidding.

Being who and what I am, I quickly tossed in my two cents: “If you think writing is hard, you aren’t doing it right.” I then mentioned Heinlein’s Rules and the URL (my website) where the person could download a free copy. That’s it. (By the way, that’s http://HarveyStanbrough.com/downloads/. Hint: It’s not just for SF writers.)

About nine hours ago as I write this, someone else posted “U [sic] obviously are’nt [sic] a real writer.”

Oh man! Caught me!

Well, I’m just SO embarrassed at being exposed as a fake that I thought I’d better come out in public.

If being a “real” writer entails enduring “deliciously tedious travail,” then I guess I’m just not a real writer.

Now don’t get me wrong. I really really really WANT to be a real writer, but it’s just so HARD to write with one forearm flung dramatically across my forehead as I complain about how difficult my “process” is.

I understand now that “real” writers spend hours and hours THINKING about writing and TALKING about writing. Apparently that’s part of their process. And then from what I can gather, advanced “real” writers such as the Facebook respondent apparently spend more hours CHATTING about writing in online groups.

But I don’t do any of that.

For a long time, I’ve called myself a writer. Apparently I was wrong.

Somewhere along the line, I got the moronic notion that a fiction writer, by definition, is a person who puts new publishable words of fiction on the page. Probably I got that idea from Dean Wesley Smith, another not-real writer who does none of the above but has well over 17 million books in print through traditional publishing. Many MANY more now that he’s gone strictly independent.

If you look up many professions in the dictionary, you’ll find that a lawyer practices law, a mechanic fixes engines and a plumber, you know, plumbs stuff. By extension, pilots fly planes and painters (either kind) paint. Doctors repair people, veterinarians repair pets, and teachers teach.

I mean, if someone asked me if I was a real cable guy or a real contractor, somewhere in the discussion I would pretty much have to mention that I install cable service or oversee the building of houses. Right? I mean, right?

So based on those obviously wrong-headed definitions, I got the notion in my head that if I was going to call myself a professional writer, I should, you know, actually write.

So that’s what I did. After roughly 50 years of learning my craft, I began calling myself a professional writer on October 19, 2014. (You laugh, but don’t you remember the day you became a [fill in the blank]? If not, check in with yourself. Maybe you’re in the wrong career.)

And since October 19, 2014, I have written 717,024 words of published fiction. Almost three quarters of a million words of published fiction.

How did I do that? By setting a goal and striving to reach it. I often failed. My goal was to write 3,000 words of fiction per day. That’s it. Nothing more.

Now there are only 14 days left in the one-year period that began on October 19, 2014 and will end on October 18, 2015 (inclusive).

That means over the past 351 days I have written an average of 2042 words per day.

That means I spent two hours per day doing my job. Two hours per day.

Anyone know a mechanic or a pilot or a doctor or any of those others up there who work a two-hour day?

Okay, so anyway, here I am to confess. This is kind’a like Fake Writers Anonymous. “Hi. I’m Harvey. And I am not a real writer.”

But I’m okay with it. Actually, I don’t have time to be a “real” writer by the definition of the person on Facebook. Writing is not a “travail” of any kind for me, delicious or nasty tasting or anything in between.

Writing is great fun. Seriously, it’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on. And really, I guess you DON’T have to keep your clothes on either.

Please, don’t be a “real” writer. Instead, sit down at the keyboard, put your fingers on the keys, and write whatever comes. Trust your subconscious. It’s been telling stories since before you knew there even was an alphabet.

Hey, it worked for Bradbury. It worked for Dean Smith.

It works for me.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Harvey

Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out or just click paypal.me/harveystanbrough. If you’ve already contributed, thanks so much. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider forwarding this post to a friend or several. (grin) Again, thank you.

 

Learn, But Be Careful Out There

Hi Folks,

Note: I’m not sure why this post missed going out on June 1, but I’m looking into it. In any case, here it is a day late. Harvey

This is an important blog post. I first posted it over on The Journal in slightly different form. I encourage you to sign up for that blog. It is the more important of the two, and if this one goes away, that one will continue.

As you know, I advocate that writers never stop learning. The best way to learn (once you have a good working knowledge of grammar, punctuation, etc.) is to read for pleasure. Then, when you read a passage or a story or a scene that absolutely floors you, GO BACK after you’ve finished reading for pleasure and read it again, this time with an eye to HOW the writer did what he or she did to knock your socks off. Study. You’ll get it.

When you enjoy a particular writer’s style—the way the story flows or the rhythms or the unique word choice, for example—I even advocate writing the passage or scene or story again yourself, word for word, NOT to publish, but just to experience that flow or those rhythms.

I’ve gone so far as to write an alternate ending for a novel of one very famous writer to see how closely I could keep to her style. Others to whom I showed the work couldn’t tell a difference. Writing parodies or take-offs is another excellent way to study.

Now, will such exercises supplant your own personal style? Absolutely not. But they will inform it. They will help you grow as a writer, help your writing improve.

And best of all, you won’t have to THINK about it consciously. What you need will have seeped into your subconscious as you did the exercises, and it will flow out of your fingers into the keyboard as you write.

One of my personal favorite writers is James Lee Burke. The first book I read of his (a few months ago) was In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead. I intend to read everything he’s written before it’s all over.

Another of my favorites is whoever wrote the screenplay(s) for The Godfather series. Another is whoever wrote the screenplay(s) for the Lonesome Dove series. And for the film Tombstone (with Val Kilmer). And pretty much every episode of NYPD Blue.

Okay, so learning is good. We probably agree on that. And improving is even better. So what’s the beef? What’s that “But Be Careful Out There” part all about?

I know dozens, maybe hundreds, of writers and would-be writers who listen to and absorb at face value pretty much anything anyone says or writes about the craft of writing. That goes double if they’re listening to or reading something from a successful writer.

STOP IT.

Now it would take a whole other blog post to talk about false instructors, people who apparently get some perverse pleasure from teaching something they know absolutely nothing about. On that particular subtopic, I’ll just say this: If they say something that sounds ridiculous (like “get rid of all instances of ‘had’ from your work” or “I can’t explain xxxxxxxxx but I know it when I see it”), stop listening immediately. Seriously. They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about and I’d be more than happy to debate it with them. I DESPISE false instructors for all the harm they do.

But in this post, I want to talk about writers who are successful under pretty much any definition of success: they’ve hit bestseller lists, they’ve made a ton of money, they’ve achieved prestigious award nominations, they’ve sold tons of copies, etc. Any or all of the above.

Doesn’t that mean everything they say is gold?

No. Absolutely not. They are human.

Humans have quirks and prejudices, and no human being knows everything about any topic.

Also, no human being knows the intentions of other human beings. Period.

Please, be skeptical. If you’ve attended my own writing conferences over the years, you’ve heard me say you should Question Everything, even from me. Questioning costs you nothing and it helps you learn. And if the instructor (famous writer, etc.) becomes defensive or angry when you question what he says, listen to his future musings with an even larger grain of salt.

Let me give you an example of a usually great source of information who sometimes completely blows it. This guy has touched all the success markers I listed above. He’s written bestsellers. He’s sold millions of copies of his books worldwide and made good money (I assume) doing it. He’s also been in the business as a writer for over 30 years. Good credentials, yes? But he’s also human, with all that entails.

Dean Wesley Smith is my own unintentional mentor. He and I are about the same age, and we’ve both lived very active, physical lives albeit in different ways. We’ve both endured severe physical trauma (though again of different types) and come out the other side. And we speak at least the same family of languages, those that arose during the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s.

I have learned a great deal listening to Dean and reading what he’s written. I’ve learned more about writing in the past year, mostly from Dean, than I learned over the previous 60+ years combined, and I will be forever grateful to him for that, above and beyond all the money I’ve paid for his online workshops and video lectures.

But again, he’s human.

The fact is, sometimes Dean throws a broad blanket of degradation over anything he doesn’t understand or doesn’t like. He tends to generalize, and for me it’s a red flag. Generalizations indicate ignorance. Not stupidity, but a lack of knowledge or a lack of desire to gain knowledge. Just for a few examples, in the past, he’s written that

  • Nobody who edits can possibly be a good writer. (There is no possible way he can know that.)
  • All book doctors and freelance editors are scam artists. (Some of them are, but certainly not all. I suspect he had a bad experience with a bad freelance editor in the past.)
  • The only legitimate editors work for New York publishing houses. (Doesn’t WMG publishing, Dean’s own house, have an editor?)
  • Never have your work edited by anyone who hasn’t written at least [select any number over 50] novels (Huh? I thought editors can’t be writers.)
  • Nobody who started writing in this century can possibly be a polished (“Stage Four”) writer. (I started writing way back in the previous century but I don’t buy this for a second.)

And the list goes on.

These generalizations—like ALL generalizations—are myths, and they’re absolutely as bad as the generalization that “If he writes fast, he can’t possibly write well.”

For one thing, claiming to know someone else’s intent (all book doctors and freelance editors are scam artists) is a massive dose of bovine excrement. That’s no less silly than claiming to know how well someone writes when you haven’t read so much as a paragraph of that writer’s work.

And really? The twenty-something straight out of college who is working for a New York house is a “legitimate” editor whereas people who have a gift for the language and a thorough knowledge of all the rules of grammar and punctuation are not?

Now, had Dean written that

  • SOME people who are great editors couldn’t write fiction well, or
  • SOME book doctors and freelance editors are scam artists, or
  • SOME book doctors and freelance editors are scam artists,

I would agree.

You get the point.

But what bothers me most about this is that, judging from the comments on his posts, a LOT of young writers (in experience, not necessarily age) are ingesting whole everything he says.

So I’m just sayin’, don’t be one of those. Develop a healthy level of skepticism.

Certainly you should continue to learn from those with experience, especially those whose work you admire. When you hear or read something that makes sense to you, use it.

But when it doesn’t make sense to you, ask for clarification. And if when you ask, the source becomes defensive, then I recommend 1) disbelieving what he said and 2) listening to anything in the future from that source with even more skepticism.

And the same thing goes for generalizations.

‘Til next time, be careful out there, and happy writing!

Harvey

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