Is your planter box too small?

I have a plant that I’ve nurtured for a couple years now. This is a real feat considering I can kill a flower faster than most sentient beings. This little plant has achieved what others before it couldn’t; survive despite my best efforts. I know it should be growing and flowering more and the reason it doesn’t is because I need to plant him in a bigger planter. Problem is, I really like the one it’s in. And that’s a problem because I’m not allowing him to be all he could be.

The nicest thing I could do is move him to larger digs. In return, he’d reward me with lovely flowers and greener leaves.

My little plant reminds of some writers I encounter. Like many of my colleagues, when I reject authors after reading their pages, I include a critique as to why it didn’t work for me. I do this because I want to help them understand how they can improve – knowing full well that my opinions are purely subjective, though they do come from an informed source.

Maybe the work was overwritten. Or maybe they are juggling a ton of characters and it results in a mish mash. It’s possible the voice and story is fabulous, but the narrative is muddy, or the humor forced. Whatever the reason, the crits are meant to benefit the author – to guide them toward a successful story.

But I can’t compete with authors who live in a too-small planter boxes. This means their roots are poorly defined and it’s pretty crowded in there. The soil’s nutrients are probably all used up, and it’s struggling to stay alive. In a word, there’s little room for anything else – like critiques.

Rather than seeing crits as an opportunity for improvement, they are defeated because there’s no room for growth. They’ve gone as far as they can go – like my little plant. Instead of digging in and doing some serious rewrites, they believe their only option is to…vanity pub their book.


If you have visions of shelf space and marketplace dancing in your head, why would you give up so easily? Is your planter box that small? I’ve seen all the excuses for defeat:

  • “Editors won’t accept debut authors.” Bullpucky
  • “They want to edit my work, and I want to leave it exactly the way it is.” Oh puhleez, get over yourself already. Your work does not come directly from the hands of the Great Cosmic Muffin. We. All. Need. To. Be. Edited.
  • “I want complete control over my book.” Ayieeee. Vanity publishing does not give control. You do not set the price, the cover (unless you submit it yourself), the distribution, or a return policy.

These are excuses for not moving to a bigger planter box. It’s easy to be complacent because it demands nothing in return; a contract, publication, success, a feeling of triumph.

Expanding your four literary walls is an admission that you’re not done, that there is room for improvement. That you won’t settle for second best. And yes, it might even be an admission that this manuscript isn’t marketable. What better way to honor your desire to be better than realizing you wrote a dud. Heckfire, wanna see the duds sitting under my bed? No, I’m not talking about the beagle. She sleeps on the bed.

The idea of not being done when you thought you were is tiring, for sure. It’s so much easier to simply stay put and settle for a vanity option. And just like my poor plant, your manuscript will never grow, and you’ll never grow as a writer.

“Yah, but I’ve had over a hundred rejections!” you scream at me.

And is this not a screeching indication that a larger planter box is needed? Is this not a sign that something is inherently and consistently wrong with your story? When you’ve been handed comments on a silver platter, this is the time to hit up the Literary Garden Store because you need to be nurtured and developed so you become a better, wiser writer. This will prevent you from ever saying,  “I give up, the only option is vanity.” You’ll know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.

Vanity pubbed authors rarely make the jump to mainstream publishing because their small planter box doesn’t allow enough room for improvement. They’re satisfied pumping out inferior work in the belief that the “system” is against them. Nothing could be further from the truth. All we want is brilliant writing, and that takes a willingness to listen to crits and work to become better.

So for crying out loud, pick up your roots and move!

12 Responses to Is your planter box too small?

  1. Yea, Lynn! You are an inspiring reality check. I wish I wrote in your genre – I’d love a crit from you.

    Love your blog! It’s the highlight of my day.

  2. I’d love a crit from you

    Hah, you say that, but I can be tough. Not cruel. But very tough.

  3. Ah, but what is the point of an easy crit? I’ve had crit partners say “I love this.” I despise those crits. If I thought it was perfect, I wouldn’t ask for their opinion. They probably hated the crit I did of their work, though. I gave them the information I had hoped to receive.

  4. Gail Handler says:

    Great analogy and I, too, wish I wrote in your genre because I really appreciate brutally honest critiques. I taught school for 30 years and always spoke to students and parents in a honest manner. Sometimes that earned me the title of “mean teacher” but now that I’m retired and connected to former students on FB, most of them express their gratitude for pushing them to achieve and excel and always being honest and fair with them.

    I am considering writing a memoir- if I do, I will certainly query you because I know you’ll tell me the truth.

  5. NinjaFingers says:

    And to be frank, a writer that can’t take a tough critique needs to either learn or quit, because otherwise, how are they going to take a bad review?

  6. Polly Dunn says:

    I love your blogs! They are always rich with insight and motivation. All this time I thought my writing was just too full of mulch and over-fertilized…now I realize that I need to see if my planter box is the wrong size. What would I do without you?

  7. Wonderful analogy, Lynn. It so happens that I have been in correspondence with two such writers in the last two days. Both are set on vanity–with optimistic expectations of their sales and promotion abilities–because they blame outside forces for their failure to find a publisher rather than look within. Both say, ‘I can’t do any more.’

    Having said that, I have a plant that was forcing itself out of its pot. I gave it a bigger one, fed, it, watered it. Hell, I even talked to it. Since then it has merely sat and sulked in its freedom. It’s not dead but it’s not growing either, damn it.

  8. Gail: trust me, I’m far from being the only editor whose blackened heart carries a soft spot for helping authors. Most of us are like that.

    Ninja: no truer words were uttered. How many times I’ve said the same thing to a thin-skinned author. “Crikey, if you’re coming apart at the seams with my crit, pray tell what you’ll do with a less-than-flattering PW review. Explode?” Bah. Grow a pair, I say.

    Polly: Thank you so much for reading. You’ll swell my head and force The Hubby to once-again widen the doorways. He’s getting tired of all the work, so I think a slap down is in my future!

    Sally: Ach, it’s a mantra you and I hear all too often. When authors get to that point, I let them be. Strength comes from within – either you have it or you don’t. As for your plant moving to larger digs, now you’ve scared me. Maybe I should leave my little buddy right where he is. Then again, knowing my luck, he’d kick just to spite me.

  9. Brendan Cody says:

    Thanks Lynn.

    Flowers don’t choose the size of their planter boxes – they grow within the ones the gardeners choose to put them in.

  10. Ah, but you are the gardener, Brendan. Never forget that.

  11. Brendan Cody says:

    I’m not the gardener by your metaphor, alas. But I am a writer, with that special gift given to all writers, to choose our own metaphors 😉
    Happy Christmas and New Years!

  12. Great reminder that we need to stretch out and grow. Growing can be scary and painful even, but necessary. Thanks for the reminder!

    PS: Vanity pubbed authors: One thing I swear on my life I will never be.

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