The Big Secret


Yesterday Faith talked about how to approach an agent … and how not to. The same advice goes for approaching a published writer for help. Ever since “Mad Kestrel” hit the shelves, I’ve been receiving emails from nice people very politely asking me to help them. People I do not know.

Before I was published, I was lucky to have the guidance of a published author, Faith Hunter. We met when I joined the writing group she also belonged to. She encouraged me to try writing a novel when all I’d done up to that point was short fiction. She was constructively brutal when I needed it, supportive and kind when I was suffering. She took me under her wing because she believed in me. And she believed in me because she’d had time to get to know me and my writing.

I’ve had complete strangers offer to send me their novels. (If y’all could only see the stack of published books I haven’t read yet!) I’ve had people attach their novels to the email requesting I read them. (One lady, when I told her there were liabilities to me doing that, promised very sincerely that she’d never tell. Uh huh.) I’ve had people offer me ideas if I do the writing. (If only they knew how long it takes me to write the ideas I have now!) I remember how hard it was to write a whole novel the first time. The anguish of rejections, the stress of not knowing what comes next, the worry over whether I’d ever get an agent to represent me – those are all still very fresh in my mind. And who knows, one of those nice people might be the next J K Rowling, and I could discover her! I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t enticing.

But here’s the thing…I’m a writer first. I’m not the one who’ll spend her time showing editors your work, nor can I buy your novel from you. All I could do is look at it and tell you what works and what doesn’t. While I’m doing that for you, I’m not writing MY book. If it comes to my book or yours competing for my attention, mine is going to win. Especially if I’ve never even met you before. Yes, a published author helped me. I let her get to know me first, get to know that I meant what I said, that I could do the work myself and that I was willing to tough it out. In J K Holmes’ interview last Friday, she mentioned that she’d had the assistance of writer Carolyn Haines, but once again, that help came because they had a personal relationship, and Carolyn recognized J K was ready to put her money where her mouth was.

I don’t mean to sound like a downer – we do want to help. That’s why the four of us are here – this blog is a way for all of us to pay it forward. We welcome writers’ questions here. If you run into one or more of us at a con or writing conference, we’re happy to give advice and suggestions. Write, rewrite, make your book as good as it can possibly be. Take advantage of opportunities like writing critique groups or online support forums, and if you luck onto a personal relationship with someone in the business, treat it gently.

But you’re going to have to learn the craft for yourself, the hard way. The same way we all did. That’s the big secret to getting published.

Don’t forget to stop by tomorrow for a special guest appearance from Edmund Schubert, writer, managing editor of Diversity Woman and fiction editor of Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, an online sf/fantasy ‘zine.


3 comments to The Big Secret

  • Misty,
    I suffer from the *I-can’t-help-you* blues all the time. I *hate* turning people down. But I help and work with four people at a time. No more. No matter how grand the project.

    When one protege gets published, or goes elsewhere, I have an opening. And I always help someone I have *met* online or for real at a conference. Never someone who contacts me out of the blue. Not gonna happen.

    Right now, I am working with 2 people I met online and who came to SCWW con in 2007. They spent the time and money to meet me. That said that they were serious and wanted to work. It hasn’t been easy for them. Another writer I met at a Harriette Austin Writers Con *years* ago. The fourth is a poet. Yeah, Misty, I know. *Me* working with a poet? But she is reeeaaaly good!

    It takes a wannabee-published-writer a long time to to jump through the hoops and get published. Years for most of us. David B Coe’s story is a different matter and it still makes me shake my head to think about it.

  • Misty, all I can say is “Amen.” I don’t like to turn people away, but I barely have time to do my own work and be a Dad and a husband and all those other things I do. I give back far less than Faith does, but I do give back. To people I’ve known for years, people who I know are serious and who will accept my help when I offer it and respect my need to step back when my own work demands it of me. It’s harsh and perhaps even cruel, but I do feel that when it comes to reading the work of relative strangers, that’s not my job. They have friends and family, just like I did. It’s up to them to get the work done and find people in their lives who can help them out.

  • David,
    I don’t think it is cruel at all. We have to know our boundaries, and I am really bad at knowing my own. I overdo and then I crash. It’s been bad for my health in the past, and I can see it being bad in the future. I have to get my impulse to help under control.

    Because, I just remembered another writer I am helping. Dang. Not that I am unhappy about it from a purely *It’s perfect for the market* strandpoint. But that does make 5…

    Fortunately the poetry book is mostly out of my hands. So technically, I can still claim 4…