Author Etiquette - Writer Advice, Taken with a Grain of Salt

by Jennifer 31. August 2018 09:25

No matter what you are doing, be it fixing a car, picking out what to eat for dinner, or how to handle a particular situation, you are going to run into advice. Some of it is great, like unhooking the battery cable if you are working on something electrical in your car. Other advice isn’t, or would run counter to your normal instinct. Writing advice isn’t any different.


If you search for “Writing Advice” on your favorite browser, be prepared to be hit with several pages of opinions from professional and not-so-professional writers. During almost every interview with an author, the question on best or worst advice comes up. Although it’s a very important question, it’s also a very unfair question. Writing, like so many other creative outlets, is a very individual journey. What one person finds comfortable, another finds limiting or impossible.


While most of this advice is well meant, it can put a lot of pressure on other authors who feel as though they are doing things “wrong.” New writers want to emulate their author heroes, and to try then fail at what works for their particular flavor of favorite author can set a negative experience.


Some advice can also lead unwitting authors into making deals that are not in their best long-term interest. Shady publishers and people who don’t trust in editors can mislead people into publishing works that can drain their finances and set the stage for poor returns.


However, there are some really great authors, editors, and publishers out there who post different types of advice that help give authors ideas on how to work, what markets to stay away from, and general author advice. The biggest issue is that some of it can be conflicting between different authors. It’s hard to know what advice to follow!

Types Of Advice

Author advice comes in many different forms but most of it can be separated into beginner, market, and crafting advice. Other categories do exist, but we’d be here all day discussing them.


Beginner Advice


Beginner advice is tips and tricks that authors, editors, and publishers share in the hopes that new authors will listen and incorporate into their craft. Things like reading guidelines, how to properly format a manuscript, punctuation, the differences between its and it’s, and many other formatting, grammar, and spelling tidbits are shared all over the internet. Much of this type of advice is repeated over and over on various channels throughout different genres. Beginner advice is non-optional. If you want to be considered for publication, know the rules, format the manuscript properly, and read the guidelines.


Market Advice


The next category of advice is on markets. There are thousands of different markets for all sorts of genres of prose and poetry. Some markets are great and only want to pay you for use of your work for a short period of time while other markets either have no idea what they are doing or will take advantage of the unwary. Researching a market before you submit, is always advisable. Look for unhappy clients, slow payments, and unresponsive email complaints.


Market advice can also lead an author to where to submit particular stories. “Starting at the top,” is often heard in submission advice columns. What this means is start submitting at the top markets first, and don’t self-reject. If an author receives some good critique and submission suggestions from respectable authors, by all means, submit that story--so long as guidelines are followed.


Crafting Advice


Unlike beginning and market advice crafting advice is much more opinion based. An individual who has success with doing x, advises other authors to do this also. Unfortunately, this might not work out as well for the other authors for various reasons. However, it is always possible to take a piece of that suggestion and make it work in another way. Crafting advice can be on submitting to agents, when to post an essay, what time of the day is best to write, and a multitude of different ways to write a story.

How to Determine if it Works for You

While some types of advice is non-optional, there is some leeway especially with some types of advice. Authors need to determine the difference between rules and advice. Much of the beginner advice is simple grammar rules, editing tricks, and guidelines that show a first reader or editor that the author has the chops to write and follow directions. Crafting advice, however, is often much more flexible.


An author states you should write when you first get up, but with getting the kids ready for school and you to work, and feeding pets, and dayjob, it just isn’t possible. However, recording story ideas on your drive to work is. While you’ve not exactly followed the author’s advice, you have figured out a way to carve in a few hundred words in.


Another argument that pops us is whether to outline or to pants a story. Every author will have a different opinion on this. While at some point, if you follow a traditional route, you might have to outline in detail a story, for the most part, outlining is optional. Outlining for a story isn’t like what most of us learned in high school, where everything is painstakingly laid out. Outlining a story can simply be a few paragraphs of details of the plot points of a novel or separate character arcs. Some authors like very detailed outlines while others pants a story. Some kind of work in between these polarities depending on what kind of story they are working on.


There are pages of blogs, books, and columns on writing advice. Except for the rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling, some of the advice an author will encounter during their career is either flexible or optional. What matters most is figuring out what works best for you and making writing a habit. It doesn't’ matter what program you use to write with, or if you use an outline. What matters most is the production of a good story.


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