The Weekender for April 29 – May 1: Negative Advice


Welcome to another blast from the past! The Weekender series is here for another critical thought for your writerly minds. This week I want to talk about writing advice. Two weeks ago I was at I-Con 30 and took the opportunity to sit in on two writer panels: “Managing Your Writing Business” and “Breaking Into Print”.

The business writing panel was really about financials and managing your taxes. This is good information for those who are knee-deep in freelancing or working on their own but for this guy, I was out of my league. Luckily after 10-minutes my friend called that he had arrived and I had to quietly slip out to meet him & get his badge / ticket.

The “Breaking Into Print” panel was much more interesting and featured a number of authors, editors and others who deal with the ‘industry’. The information was nothing new: perseverance is key, keep writing, you’ll get a ton of rejections but if your work is good you’ll get an acceptance, follow submission guidelines to the letter, beware of people trying to scam you.

One interesting point that was made was a panel member stating that we should all be trying to network with each other and them as well. The opportunity to speak to people within the industry was there and we need to make the effort to speak to them. Everyone took the hint and at the end there was a big rush to the table to get some words in. I took the opportunity to thank some of the panelists for their time and advice and then focused on one writer who has been published. This is when things got strange.

I asked a question I’ve heard conflicting information about: ‘how many people should you query at a time?’ My question was met with a vague response on how it doesn’t matter and to simply query. He asked me what I write and when I said novel-length work I was told his company is only looking for short stories. He suggested I write some. I told him I really only write novels but I have a complete work that I’m looking to send out. His answer: You may think it’s complete but it’s probably not. This was said in a dismissive tone. At that time I accepted his business card, smiled and left the room.

I’m not sure where these were from or their intent but it felt condescending and gave the impression that I am incapable of writing a novel-length (80,000 word) book unless I’ve written short stories. Personally I think this is completely wrong and to pass on advice like that is guiding people in the wrong direction. Spirit Hackers is almost 73k because that’s how long it is. I intend for Loopback to surpass that word count.

So was this advice I was given out of line or do shorter works really contribute so heavily to novels that we’re doomed without dabbling in them first? Sound off and let me know what you think.

Enjoy your weekend.

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    • JLC
    • April 29th, 2011

    In every aspect of life you will get a ton of opinions on any subject. When I had a horse, there were people who thought riding English was better than Western, that some breeds were better than others etc etc… You’ll find opinions (often stated like they are facts) in scrapbooking circles, Mac users, parenting, marriage, relationships, grocery shopping, food, politics… and *gasp* writing. Some opinions are based on personal experiences, some are based on hot air. But the main thing to keep in mind is to weed out the stuff that doesn’t ‘fit’ with your style and learn from the stuff that does make sense to you. Now, with self-publishing growing by leaps and bounds, any story (Novel-length or not) can achieve success. It all just depends on what you think ‘successful’ is. So.. yeah, I definitely wouldn’t lose any sleep over that dude’s comment. 🙂

    • In the words of my wife’s aunt: “Opinions are like a$$holes. Everyone’s got one.” Your comment exemplifies this to the Nth degree. I didn’t think of it in context to any other hobby and it makes even more sense now. I’m not taking his advice at all since I haven’t done short stories since HS. I’m a novel writer and that isn’t changing any time soon. 🙂

  1. I think that writing short stories is a whole other animal. The pacing, plotting, and character development are developed differently. That’s not to say that you couldn’t write short stories *and* novels. Plenty of authors do both. But I don’t think short stories are a prerequisite to full-lenth publication.

    I think you should focus on improving your craft with what you’re interested in.

    In my experience, every agent/editor/author is different. They’re people just like us. One will tell you to have a website before you’re published. Another will say it doesn’t matter.

    Trust your instincts.

    • I completely agree about the plotting and structure of short stories. I wrote a few in HS and I think they’re harder in a ways since you have to compress the story and still have it fleshed out. This is why I love knowing so many writers like you because we can all come to a consensus as to what’s the best way to go. Instincts only go so far when you’re working in this solitary field.

      Finally, it’s just frustrating that this guy felt the need to blow me off by saying I need short stories.

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