Friday, September 15, 2017

How to Talk to Aspiring Authors about Their “Awesome Story”

I braced against being a career teacher for three reasons.

One, out of spite for all of those college professors who start out with, “Since you’re all going to be teachers anyway…”

Two, I don’t like the bureaucratic methodology of current academia.

And three, there are certain common breakthroughs that happen through experience and encouragement and cannot be sped up by words alone. After helping one person through it, or a class, you’re not really interested in turning around and going through the pain and agony again with a bunch of hard-headed optimists.

Truth is, you went through it yourself. You probably went through it the hard way. You’d like to make it easier on them, not to mention how inhibiting naïve beliefs can be to other parts of the process.

Most of these breakthroughs seem so stupid and obvious in hindsight: Acting is a lot more fun if you learn your lines. I can actually tell how hard you didn’t try by the results of your lack of effort. Who cares if you’re naturally good? Even if you are, you could be better if you actually tried.

I recently had a discussion with a man online who wanted to know what he had to do to get published. Unfortunately, he wasn’t asking for advice like, “What’s the first step?” He wanted to know where to find editors because he simply didn’t have the time to work on it himself. He knew that he had a great idea. He claimed that he may not be an amazing writer, but he had an amazing story. How much would it cost because he didn’t have a lot of money, should he do self-publishing, should he edit the full book or just the first fifteen chapters, should he CrowdSource. He wanted to be able to make enough money to be able to quit or cut down to part-time.

Many of these questions cause writers to cringe. Personally, the idea of seeking out editors itself is just horrifying concept to me, even though it’s a fair question. While a theatrical producer, I had to hire artists constantly, and as anyone who’s had to hire anyone finds out, you never really know what you’re getting. When it comes to art, there’s not a lot of standards on pricing due to name recognition and our tendency to undervalue our time. Just because you pay someone a lot doesn’t actually mean they will be good or accountable. True is same for editors. There are sites in which you can find standing rates, but now with self-publishing so prevalent and many freelancers out there—plus a greater increase in con artists or just amateurs targeting this pool—it’s hard to say what’s a good deal.

These kinds of naïve questions can come off as entitled and egocentric, even when you realize it is just inexperience.

Which is why it’s hard for writers to not turn around and snap, “YOU’RE NOT A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO CAN WALTZ IN HERE LIKE THAT.”

They’re not putting themselves into the shoes of others. They think their experience is unique to them, that the thing they came up with on their first try is going to be so much superior to the infinite number of books out there, hell, even just the 400 books an agent has submitted to him that month. People think if you’re destined to do it, everything will come easily.

I don’t mean to trash first books, of course, and I certainly don’t discourage taking your own opinion of your book into account—you’ll see me often promoting the merits of self-reliance. It’s more about the frustration of trying to explain the hard things you’ve had to learn as you went along without committing to catharsis and outright insulting who you’re advising. Or demoralizing them.

My best suggestion to aspiring authors? Aim high, but expect standard, and don’t confuse the two. If you know it’ll be hard to sell ten books, make your goal a hundred. When you sell ten, be happy. Feel that accomplishment. When you don’t hit a hundred, don’t feel like a failure. But do your research, and work your butt off to achieve better than average.

The problem is when writers haven’t done their research, and there is the possibility if they truly understand how hard it is going to be, they won’t want to do it. When in a pissy mood, it makes you want to say, “Good.”

That’s not a beneficial reaction and considering that us writers have to deal with that throughout our lives, there’s a lot of reason to let go of the anger and attack it from a more sympathetic manner.

I answered him in the most factual way I could, keeping my responses to the exact questions asked. In the end, it came down to if he didn’t have time or money, he would not be able to self-publish, not in a way that would allow him to quit his day job. And if he did go through traditional publishing, he would still be required to do edits himself, though with the suggestions of his editor and agent.

His response was he decided to not go through self-publishing, he would edit it through once, hire a good editor, and send it out. He was “not aware of how much promotion went into self-publishing.”

I’ll admit that tough love has its benefits, and we all have our own philosophies on the best way to encourage and teach one another. I see it as likely that experiencing different teaching methods is more effective than just one kind. For that reason, it’s up to you to decide how to explain to someone that their “awesome idea” isn’t enough. But if you’re anything like me, you might feel compelled to smack them upside the head, which I insist tends to cause them to dig in their toes even more. Truly understanding the difficulty of becoming a successful writer isn’t something people will get through description. They have to put themselves out there, try and try again. They won’t give up just because you told them off, they won’t believe you just because you explained your experience.

Admittedly, I don’t understand this man’s naivety; why wouldn’t everyone go into self-publication if it didn’t require effort? However, I do get what it’s like to bank on a little bit of destiny to help you out, and in some ways, that’s a big part of not getting demoralized. Try to be nice to people who don’t really know what they’re in for, and remember that even if they don’t take your advice immediately, sometimes words can have a lasting effect on them years later. I never took that adamant crushing of dreams to heart—to my benefit! However, there have been times that someone’s advice turned relevant years later, after I too had lived what they were talking about.

So, when someone approaches you with their amazing idea, you don’t have to bite your tongue if you don’t want, just consider what would have been best way to deal with you when you were in that stage.

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