Advice for Authors
Updated: Oct 21, 2022
Over recent months I’ve been watching a lot of videos on how to write. Most of them repeat things I’ve already heard, but occasionally I’ll hear a bit of advice that’s new - or at least said in a way that makes it new to me.
I’ve toyed with doing videos like that, but there seems to be a glut of Seven Things Agents Hate, Six Ways to Get Noticed, or Nine Tips on Effective Fiction Storytelling. The only things I could tell are simply a retelling of what’s already out there.
I just came across a FB post from an author on the verge of reaching a milestone for her FB Page. “When I get there, I’ll give you tips that might contradict what you know.”
Seriously? With all the videos giving advice about how to format a manuscript, you’re going to tell us what we’ve learned might be wrong? (BTW, simply follow the guidelines of the publisher or agent as specified on their website. You can’t go wrong with that.)
One of the things I’ve learned in the last few years is that technical perfection in writing isn’t (1) achievable, or (2) really that important. What’s important is to show you have a grasp of the language, can tell a gripping story, and find a publisher who thinks they can make money on it.
That’s pretty much it.
If there are rules, they’re something like this:
1 - Don’t tick off the folks who decide.
2 - Learn and love the language.
3 - Tell a good story.
That’s it. The rest is beyond your control. Write a rude query letter, you’ll get rejected. Write something difficult to read, you’ll get rejected. Tell a boring story, you’ll get rejected.
The guidelines listed on agent and publisher sites boil down to making the manuscript as easy on the eyes as possible. White space is important, but if you think an agent is going to get out a ruler to make sure your margins aren’t a tenth of an inch outside the mandate, you’re mistaken. If your line spacing is 1.9 instead of 2.0, they’ll never notice if your story is good.
When you have a boring story, or is too similar to the other thousand books in your genre, your 2.0 won’t save you from rejection.
I’m not telling you to ignore the guidelines. If you’re too far outside the limits, it’ll be noticed and will become a tick toward rejection. No sense committing an unforced error (see my rule #1 above).
Write what you like.
Rewrite the story (until you can’t make it better).
Edit the story (until you can’t make it better).
Submit the story.
Sooner or later you’ll submit something the gatekeepers think will earn them money.