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No One Can Tell You What to Do
So just try something. it might work
I think there is a point in everyone’s career, no matter what industry, where you just start shrugging when people ask you for advice. Think about the last time you asked for advice and the person was like yeah, you could try that, see what happens. Had that person been in their job/position for a long time? (Long can be relative per the industry, but you know what I mean.) I think that might be happening to me. I’ve been in publishing for going on 20 years. I’ve seen a lot. And when you’ve seen a lot, you start to realize that yeah you could try that, see what happens.
This is not a great place to be when I am trying to give people guidance here about how to get an agent and get their books published! I know! I can even look back at the beginning of this newsletter and see how PRESCRIPTIVE it is. Do this! Query letters are this! Start here! And yes, when you are just learning, just starting out, you need this guidance, because you have no working knowledge. You haven’t done anything so you don’t know what the options are to even just try something. This is ok! Everyone has to start somewhere. Everyone needs the basics.
But there gets to be a point, in everyone’s career, usually right when they’re making some kind of pivot or leveling up or some kind of change, when they’re like ok, I need help. I don’t know how to do this part. And they’re often at a point, because life has gone on and they may have more responsibilities and less time (or they never had it to begin with), where they can’t just try stuff and see what happens. They need to know the BEST and RIGHT thing to do because they don’t have time, are too tired, are busy, are fed up, are vulnerable, and can’t risk experimentation. I think this is the exact point where advice seekers and advice givers meet with a collective ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. How do I get a bigger advance? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ How do I sell more books? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ What’s the best way to market this thing? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ What should I write next that will sell a lot? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
There are no answers to these questions. Or, there are no universal answers to these questions, and sometimes the advisor doesn’t have enough information about the advisee to give an exact answer. Sometimes answers are just opinions. Sometimes there are actually 50 answers. Sometimes answers are just nudges in a direction. Any direction. Sometimes you think you’re asking for advice and what you’re really asking for is support. Tell me what I should do. is really I am nervous about this and nervousness feels like helplessness. There is a false assumption in publishing that leads people to think that since so many books come out every year, there must be A Verified Way to publish books, and once you know it, the sky’s the limit. This is not true. There are ways for ONE AUTHOR to publish THEIR BOOKS and that might work a little for other people, but I cannot stress enough how different each book is. What works for one—even in the same genre—does not work for another! Book publishing is like 3 million individual product launches a year. Every one is a new flavor of Coke.
You are probably throwing up your hands in defeat now. Or disgust. Or are convinced I am wrong, and/or old, and/or jaded. Maybe! But I think more than any of those things, I think I am just experienced—in the narrow way I can be from just seeing the books I work on get published, or not—and after a while, experience flattens out into try it, it might work. I think I’ve said before that if there were One True Way to do anything, then everyone would only do it that way and you wouldn’t even need to ask for advice. No one is hiding the Secrets of Book Marketing from you and all you need to do is know the right person to ask to get the checklist that equals 100,000 book sales. If only. And if anyone promises that, they’re selling you something.
I think also this is why people say you can’t teach writing and MFA programs are a waste. Maybe! Maybe they are a waste and maybe you can’t teach writing. But I think moreover, those who are teaching writing are experienced and have seen things work and not work a hundred different ways and know there’s nothing left to say but try it, it might work. Maybe there are a few tried and true pieces of advice—the 2nd person is not as cool as you think it is, be mindful of the reader at every turn, don’t go overboard with the adverbs—but otherwise ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
I will keep giving advice, but instead of always outlining a specific plan any one author should do, I’m going to try and see if the author just needs support, and give that, too.
The pandemic is still raging, my loves. Please take all the precautions you’ve been doing, and get your shots if and when you can. But also, please pay attention to state governments passing dangerous transphobic laws. This is real. This is happening here. This is horrible. Please don’t look away. Please write your representatives and vote in local elections.