There are two kinds of writers, the hobbyist writer who writes for fun, and the serious writer whose intent is to make this silly writing thing a career.
The hobbyists don’t know the business and don’t necessarily care because it’s simply a fun weekend thing. They don’t want to promote their books, and they don’t really care if the books are a huge hit. Hobbyists usually go to Kinkos, Lulu, or go the POD, or vanity route, which is perfectly acceptable for their needs.
I am grateful to the hobbyist who has defined themselves as such. But what happens when he hasn’t? They leech over into our world. We work very hard to weed out the hobbyists from the serious-sts because publishing isn’t a lark for us; it’s our day job, and we need committed authors.
The Weeding Process
So you’re wondering how we identify the hobbyists.
- They have little or no understanding of the business.
- They are in a hurry to publish. They cranked out their story, and it’s suddenly full steam ahead.
It begins with the query letter.
Awaiting the book deal before finishing the book
The hobbyist is the type who tells me their novel isn’t completed yet, and they’ll either finish it once I offer them a contract. If no one picks it up, they’ll walk away from the story because, hey, why bother, yanno?
Am I the only one who has a problem with this? How an author expresses himself indicates where they fit on the writing ladder. The I’ll-finish-it-when-I-have-a-contract writer isn’t committed to his craft or his story, so he’s standing on the bottom rung. There is no reason for me to invest more time than it takes to whip out a form rejection letter.
“Readers will love this story”
The hobbyist query letter is usually filled with description like, “the reader will be riveted to this story because everyone loves a good father/son angst story.” Well, that might be the case provided we know what causes the father/son angst and it’s a compelling angst-y story. Otherwise, I’m just as happy with father/son happy stories. See, it depends on the PLOT – the who, what, when, why, where. And the details of the plot are what hobbyists usually fail at.
I know, I know, I can hear you screaming from here; “but, Lynn, you cranky old broad, I’m a serious writer, and you told me my query sucked!” Yes, I probably did. The reason I put you into the hobbyist category is because you didn’t take the TIME to learn how to write a proper query letter. You blindly stabbed about like the beagle does after a few margaritas and shot your wad on prematurely querying editors and agents, when you should have taken that time to learn how to write an effective letter.
It’s like dating someone who speaks a foreign language. Why on earth would you do that? You aren’t prepared to communicate with them. And unless they look like Antonio Banderas, I’d call that a wasted evening. Chances are you wouldn’t get a second date. Likewise, you won’t be able to re-query those agents and editors. What would you say? “Could you kindly ignore that crap letter I sent a couple months ago; this one is much better.” Uh huh. That’s a hobbyist move. A serious writer learns the language first in order to have a great first date because, let’s face it, the genie is already out of your bottle.
Hot off the press
The hobbyist query letter may say, “I just finished writing this…”
Now, I realize this sentence is a bit innocuous, but, to me, this statement makes it appear as though the cyber ink is still damp on The End. Hobbyists don’t realize that The End is only the beginning of a long road they must travel BEFORE they even think about querying. There is the editing phase, the cooling-off period (where you put your manuscript away for a month or two only to realize later that it’s utter crap – or is that just me?), the major rewrites.
By the time the serious writer is ready to query, her manuscript is anything but “just completed.” It has battle wounds, a few scrapes and bruises. But those wounds shaped the writing into something well-thought out and fully developed. The serious writer never tells anyone, “I’ve just finished this,” because they haven’t.
Marketplace? Readership? Huh?
The hobbyist writer is invariably unaware of the pesky thing called the Marketplace. They don’t understand the fierce competition and tend to live on Writer’s Island, happily tippy tapping away at their stories, unaware that a whole industry is centered on nothing but forecasting which books they believe will sell.
And it’s mostly because they don’t care. It’s a hobby. They tread on our turf in order to throw a literary dart at the giant industry bull’s eye just to see, “do I have something here?” It’s not a burning desire for major publication, but rather curiosity.
“Am I the accidental success story?” Meaning, will he be an instant success without having to work at it? For the most part, these folks are a myth.
Many hobbyists write memoirs or family histories. Nearly every one I receive is either too personal (meaning they lack overall interest except to those closest to the story) or lacks a marketable story. It may be that you wrote about living on a farm, or how your Irish Auntie Bess came to America aboard a ship, but I can’t sell that. There needs to be poignancy to the story because most readers will become impatient with a long-winded accounting that has no red meat (which is the crisis, the conflict). Even the most lovable characters need something to react against, and the hobbyist writer often omits this in their memoirs. These stories end up being interesting only to the writer’s family and friends.
Publication is hard work
Writers must define who they are.
- If you are unwilling to do any book promotion, you may be a hobbyist – or Tom Clancy. Edited to add: Editors understand that authors have day jobs in order to keep the lights on, so no one is suggesting national book tours or publicity 24/7. I’m talking about local events in your own area. The first three months are crucial to getting a book to catch fire, and those weekend events, newspaper and magazine articles go a long way toward helping support our national efforts.
- If you don’t care whether your work is edited within an inch of its life, you may be a hobbyist – or very arrogant.
- If you don’t really care whether your books are on store shelves – you simply wanted to write your story, you may be a hobbyist – or have gotten such a great advance that it doesn’t matter to you. Edited to add: The reason my teeth grind over the author who doesn’t care whether his books are shelved is that we are at odds with each other. I need those books to be shelved so they can sell. So the author can earn back their advance. Random House may not care because they’re so big, but they should. Author and editor must be on the same page.
May I be so blunt as to suggest that hobbyists need not apply? It’s the clash of the Titans because the hobbyist and I are opposing forces whose relationship usually ends poorly. See, I’m in it for the long haul because we sink major bucks into our books. If the hobbyist looks at me as the one who published their little story – and, gee, wasn’t that nice of me? – and doesn’t care whether the book sells well or not, I won’t think nice things. Things that would make my mother blush. I need the books to sell to keep the beagle in designer chewie bones and expensive tequila.
Decide who you are – hobbyist or serious-st – before you get too deep into your story. If you’re having fun, that’s fabulous. All writing should be fun. But if your vision doesn’t go beyond the confines of friends and family, then let’s not let our worlds collide. Either print it up at Kinko’s and share your story at that upcoming family reunion, or do the Lulu thing. Keep your darts in your desk, and only pull them out when you’re seeing who will pay for the next round of margaritas.