Reader Friday: Best and Worst Advice

What’s the worst writing/publishing advice anyone ever gave you?  Best?

The worst advice I got was from an early critique group leader, when I was writing my first attempt at a novel, who said, “Don’t let anything bad happen to Sarah.” Happy people in happy land, anyone?

Best advice? “Do what you’re good at. Do what you love. Hire out the rest.”

36 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Best and Worst Advice

  1. BEST ADVICE: Just ‘barf’ out as much of the story as you can. You can clean it later.

    WORST ADVICE: You don’t need people to edit. There are software packages for that.

    • Hard to believe people would trust a software program to edit fiction. Catch a bunch of typos, maybe, but the story? Nope. I tried a software program, giving it 1 chapter. It caught 27 “errors” none of which were errors at all. It tried to tell me that when I wrote “What the heck are you doing here?” it should have been “What the heck IS you doing here.”

      • “What the heck IS you doing here.” is what you say to yourself when you’ve overrun second and now you’re caught in a rundown play between second and third. It’s neither a question, nor is it an answer. It usually comes with a moment of hope that a huge thunderstorm with cataclysmic rain will wash in and end the play without you getting tagged.

  2. Worst: Write what you know. (it’s also the most poorly phrased piece of advice ever given)

    Best: I think I’d go with Carl’s about just get the story written–you can clean it up later.

  3. Worst Advice: Omniscient POV is the best way to tell a story. How else will the reader know what’s going on? (And that advice came from an instructor at a MWA conference!)

    Best Advice: Study story structure. All successful books, movies, and TV shows follow a similar road map.

    • Totally with you on that omniscient advice, although Nora can pull it off. But “If only he’d know what lurked behind the door” — nope, nope, nope.

      • Nora Roberts doesn’t write onmiscient but shifting viewpoints by bouncing between the hero and heroine’s heads. She manages to do this without giving the reader mental nausea like they are watching a viewpoint tennis match because she is a master wordsmith. She learned her craft in the early days of the romance when omnisicient and romance created this viewpoint bastard child, and she’s one of the few survivors where tight, warm/hot viewpoint is the norm.

  4. Best advice from novelist David Cates: Make it your goal to collect 100 rejections.

    If you’re submitting that much, something will be picked up for publication.

    Unfortunately, these days, few editors or agents bother to reject your query; they just trash it.

    Perhaps that changes the advice to: Make it your goal to collect 100 ignores.

    Bad advice I don’t remember.

    • Your worst advice is very good advice to newer writers. Narrative and storytelling techniques have changed drastically, particularly in the last 20 years. You can learn from the dead and older masters of literature but don’t emulate them totally. John D. McDonald and Elmore Leonard are 1975 station wagons in a world where most readers want a 2020 Corvette.

  5. Worst advice: You need to explain all these random details you put in (like why are they sitting on the floor and eating?), or cut them out.

    Best advice: I’m with Sue on story structure.

    You know you’re doing something right when those “difficult” questions you struggled with so much come so easily on your new ideas.

  6. Bad advice: “You need to write in the romance genre…because that’s what sells.” I’m not trashing romance novelists at all. It’s just that I really can’t do it. I don’t read it. If a family drama, or an espionage thriller, or a mystery/crime novel has a bit of romance on the side, I’ll read it. And my stories usually contain a little, but it’s not the main event.

    Good advice: “Get an editor.” Best thing I ever did for myself.

    And a freebie: “Never stop learning.”

    • Romance readers have the biggest bullsh*t filters in the business. They can always tell when someone either doesn’t understand romance, or they are writing down to “those stupid readers.”

      Many years ago, I took a summer writing course at Duke given by Lee Smith, a highly regarded Southern Fiction literary writer. The subject of the romance came up in class, and Smith told me that she tried to write a Silhouette Presents when the market was wide open. The book was a failure, and her agent couldn’t sell it. Lee confessed that she never intended to write another because they were too darn hard to write.

      • Don’t you just love it when someone says, “Oh, when I have a free weekend, I’ll write a romance novel.”

        I was at a mystery conference trying to explain to a mystery writer, that yes, I did have two protagonists in my books, and they both have major story arcs. Plus, there’s the mystery (because it was a romantic suspense). He shook his head and walked away.

    • Those daily goals help keep the work moving forward.

      I’m not writing ‘great’ fiction, but I have managed to learn a few things about the craft along the way. I never studied writing. I just needed a new creative outlet in my 50s, and gave it a shot.

  7. WORST: No one will want to read a how-to book about digital printing. (it went on to sell 50,000 copies)

    BEST: Just do it (Indie authoring/publishing). I did.

  8. I had a friend who gave the same warning about not hurting the hero in my second book. Boy, was she ever smitten with Tony. I told her he had to earn his happy ending, and, fictional sadist that I am, he did, he did.

    The best and worse career advice that was the same thing: Follow your dreams. You can make a career out of this.

  9. My best advice came from myself–never give up. I wrote for 30 years before I got a book contract, selling magazine articles along the way. Just enough to keep me encouraged.

    My worst advice: writing is a pipedream–you’ll never get a book published. Do something else. I wish that person was still here to see my twelve books. 🙂

  10. Coming late to this, Terry. I’ve encountered a lot of the worst and best advice mentioned above as well. As for other worst and bests, well here’s one of each:

    Worst: “Don’t write from your heart, write to market.” (Admittedly an awareness of the market is vital, but that’s different IMHO)

    Best: “There’s only one rule of fiction writing, you must affect the reader emotionally.”

    • Being able to write from the heart AND be aware of the market is good. I’d say writing to trends would fall under bad advice, because they’re probably gone before you write the book. (Although if you’re fast and self-publishing, you might be able to do it.) It used to bug me no end when agents would say “Vampires are trending. We want vampire stories.” Of course, the reason they were trending is that they were flooding the market and there were no choices other than vampire stories. That’s another perk of indie publishing. There are readers out there who are looking for non-vampire stories, and there’s no problem about where to shelve your book.

      Definitely make those emotional connections with readers.

    • “write to market” is another one of those poorly phrased pieces of advice like “write what you know”. I know they’re trying to keep it to a sound byte, but geesh.

    • My version of that advice is make the reader care. If the reader doesn’t care about the characters, the plot, and characters’ goals, the book will either be put down or is instantly forgetable.

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