It’s been going on since the first cave scratchings back in Troglodyte days…unsolicited advice from “Helpful Friends.”
Trog: Dude, awesome rendering of last week’s Wooly Mammoth hunt…but you might want to re-draw Blorg’s broken foot mishap when the Wooly stepped on him.
Grog: Really? Hmm…okay. [artistic editing ensues]
Krog: Dude, cool drawing, but you might want to re-think those bushes. Looks more like green hornets.
Grog: Really? Hmm…okay. [artistic editing ensues]
Wog: Dude, amazing wall painting, but the sunset was more purple than orange…
Grog: Really? Hmm…okay. [artistic editing ensues]
Slog: Dude…what is that you painted on the wall?
Grog: I have no fecking idea.
And this is what happens when there are too many painters in the cave. The original version is now an unrecognizable rendering that doesn’t reflect the painter’s vision.
I’ve seen this many times over the years, and it never ceases to send me running for the tequila bottle because these “Helpful Suggestions” tear away at the author’s confidence.
It usually starts small…“Oh, I loved your book, but you might want to change the _______(fill in the blank).”
Once the author gives power to that suggestion, the “Helpful Friend” realizes he/she wields some power, and offers more “Helpful Suggestions” to “improve” the book. It’s about this time when emails come to me asking whether these “Helpful Suggestions” have merit.
Here are some things to remember:
- You and your editor spent countless hours poring over your manuscript, discussing intent, nuance, pace, flow…the whole enchilada.
- No one knows the inner workings of your book or your soul better than your editor. She is your head cheerleader, chief bottle washer, and overall den mother.
- There is no better, stronger advocate than your editor, and the last thing she wants to change is your voice or your story, or have you wake up one day wondering, “Holy crap, who wrote this?” Eeeek.
Your “Helpful Friends” didn’t take this journey with you. They’re imprinting their version of what they think you should have written…and here’s the thing: Opinions are like belly buttons…everybody’s got one. It’s a fact that you’ll never satisfy every reader, and if you give weight to every critique that comes your way, you’ll be special ordering a designer straightjacket post haste – along with changing your book into something that didn’t come from you.
I know it’s hard – because you adore your friends – but resist the temptation to listen to their every comment. By the time they read it, that book of yours is in granite. It can’t and won’t be changed. The time to elicit offers of critique is when you’ve just completed your manuscript, and you’re asking for beta readers – not when they’re reading your galley proofs!
If you run into some “Helpful Friends,” and believe me, you will, smile politely, grit your teeth (because unsolicited critiques are a pain in the ass), thank them, and put those comments where the sun don’t shine. The literary ship has sailed, and you don’t need the aggravation of wondering if what you wrote is good. It is. Have faith in yourself and your editor that you got it right.
Don’t be Grog. Don’t allow too many painters into your cave.
You know, there are all kindsa milestones: Getting married, having babies, having bestselling books, rescuing errant beagles. But I never considered having a heart attack as one of those milestones. I don’t recommend it. I spent this past Wednesday in the ER with one such offender. After rotting in the ER (where I got amazing care), they moved me to a room and did a heart cath – which scared the ever-lovin’ SHIT outta me. But they drugged me so much, that I’m sure I belted out my high school locker combo and my shoe size. The upside was that I didn’t need a stent, so my arteries appear not to have abandoned me. Yay. But now I have a buncho pills that will be hitched to my side for life. Meh. For someone who doesn’t take so much as aspirin, this is a real buzzkill.
I know there’s nothing worse than a reformed anything…ex-smokers (even though I never smoked) and the formerly overweight drive me particularly crazy…but I’m convinced that had I paid attention and taken better care of myself by getting yearly lab tests to measure my cholesterol, I wouldn’t have had this little reminder of my mortality. So if you avoid doing the doctor thang (“I’m too busy,” “I’m fine!”) take note and get thee to the doc and have your labs run. This shit really is a silent killer – or, thankfully, in my case, a silent “Hey, dumbass, take care of yourself.” The alternative is definitely unpleasant.
And it’s the same with writing. It’s so easy for a story to get away from us. Sometimes it’s a good thing because we can go off in directions that we hadn’t considered before. Other times, it’s as bad as ignoring going to the doc for checkups. I’ve been going round and round with one particular author for a couple months now. I think it could really be cool, but I have the distinct feeling she simply doesn’t have a good pulse on what she wants her story to say, so there’s no direction. Just like when the doc says, “Pricey, your enzyme levels just went up again,” (insert Pricey swearing here), your writing is challenging you to check its literary enzymes as well.
You gotta be present at all times, or you may end up with something that requires electricity, a mile’s worth of wires, some bells and a whistle, two paddles slathered with gel, and a brave soul who will yell, “CLEAR!” You are the heart and soul of your story, so be very clear and confident about its direction.
I will say that the ER went very quiet when it was determined that I was, indeed, in possession of a heart. Who knew?
So. I’m turning another year older on Monday, the 23rd. While I’m bemoaning the fact that my 50s are rapidly waning, I’m going to celebrate by offering 10 free ebooks from our stock. Takes a look at our site – http://behlerpublications.com – choose what you’d like to read, and email me – email@example.com – and tell me of your choice. Please state which file you’d like – Kindle or nook/e-reader. Please put “Birthday Book Special” in the Subject line.
This deal starts now and ends Monday evening. Happy reading!
What an awesome video put together by our inspirational author, Scott Damian. Scott was a severe stutterer, and it taught him one thing; to stop using his voice. Can you imagine anything so tragic than a small kid understanding that he couldn’t speak without making everyone make fun of him?
But a funny thing happened on the way to Life…he actually found his voice, and his book is the amazing journey from pointing at things to communicate to becoming a wonderful actor.
I hate spiders and simply stepping on them isn’t enough satisfaction for me. I have to smoosh them into the pavement with sweated brow, gritted teeth, and a “take that, you hairy six/eight-legged biting bastard.” Reason being, I’ve had more than one spider beat feet for cover after I’ve stepped on him. Gah! The horror! Any spider that’s survived one of my stilettos is bound to be pissed off and seek the immediate services of every poison-fanged arachnid this side of the Rockies. I’m certain of this.
So for me, it’s overkill in spite of my hub’s admonishments: “Babe, you spread him all over the patio. I’m pretty sure it’s dead.”
Which is what brings me to the point of my post: Being Unique
It’s been said a million billion times at writer’s conferences and writer’s sites on the ‘Net…IF YOU WRITE IN A CROWDED CATEGORY, YOU MUST MUST MUST DISCUSS THE UNIQUE QUALITIES OF YOUR STORY.
It’s not enough to talk about your personal issues with infertility, because, well, um, no one cares. This is a discussion that’s crowding store shelves in every bookstore and online store.
The only way to capture an editor’s attention is for you to show the elements that make your story different from everything else out there. I’ll yawn hearing about the lengths you went through to have a family, because I’ve read this before, and you’ll become the proverbial smooshed spider. Many times over, in fact.
However, if you tell me that inverting your eyelids while doing the Hokey Pokey in a biker bar got those eggs and sperms doing the mambo, I assure you that I’ll read further.
Platform – Who You Be?
Yes, yes, I know. Much has been made of author platform, so I’ll continue to belabor the point. You may be well known in a particular field – say advertising, or website production – but that won’t transfer over to your topic of infertility. So the question for me is always, “Who are you? Do you have a big enough presence that I can promote you?”
Let’s face it, a national figure can pretty much break wind in church, write a book about it, and have it hit the NY Times bestseller list. But we mortals can’t. It’s incredibly helpful if your platform complements your subject matter. It’s incredibly helpful if LOTS of people know you.
There are many good books that die an unnatural death (much like any spider that dares cross my threshold), and it’s because the authors’ platforms aren’t large enough to attract an audience. No one knows them. Those books get caught up in the white noise of every other title clamoring for a readership.
So, once again, I bleat on like a yak strung out on crack…please, dear writers, if you write in a crowded category, do your homework and read your competition so you understand what makes your book different. Then ask yourself why someone would buy your book instead of the well-known actor/researcher/politician/expert in the field. If you’re not sure, then you need to work on finding a way to carve your own niche.
And speaking of carving niches, I think my friend, Sonia Marsh, is a prime example of doing an amazing job of creating one’s own niche. She took her story, Freeways to Flip-Flops, a wonderful travelogue about living on a tropical island, and turned it into an industry of what she calls Gutsy Living. She’s worked her apostrophe off promoting her book and ideaology into the mainframe, and it’s heartening to see the response. There are many travelogues in the marketplace, but Sonia added a twist of Gutsy Living, which is something that everyone can mumble, “Hell yeah, I’d like to live more gutsy.”
I’m sure Sonia would agree that creating her platform was the hardest thing about publication – and she’d be right. You can write like the wind, but if you don’t have a unique message and an established footprint in the marketplace, you may find yourself the goo under someone’s shoe.
Don’t be the spider. Tell me what makes your story unique and how your platform supports/enhances your story.