Saturday, May 4, 2013

Bad Writing Advice

No, this post is not going to give writers bad advice.

It's going to talk about all the other bad advice writers are getting.

Ever since I announced the sale of my novel, joined Twitter, and started trying in my modest way to build a platform for my writing, I've received lots of information from writing-service bloggers and websites.  You know the kind: "How to Build Your Platform," "How to Increase Your Twitter Following," "How to Make Your Writing So Gosh-Darned Good Everyone in Hollywood Will Line Up to Option Your Manuscript-in-Progress."  Typically, though not always, these solicitations come with a price tag.

So okay, I'm cool with that.  It's a legitimate business to dispense writing advice.  (I'm doing it here.)  It's also a legitimate business to charge for it.  I teach at a college, and one of the things I do is teach students to write better.  So I am in fact getting paid to deliver writing advice.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's even legitimate to scare writers with horror stories, and charge for it, if those stories are true.  I do it all the time with my students.  As in: "If you don't work harder in this course, you're going to fail."  Or: "You're a Professional Writing major, but you don't know what a comma splice is.  If you want to get a job in this field, you'd better learn."

But it is never, ever, ever legitimate to mislead writers, to scare them with misinformation, in the interest of selling them your services.

So, for example, this piece of advice, which I read in a blog on increasing one's Twitter following, starts out okay but ends on a note that is completely illegitimate:

When it comes to building your author platform, there’s no question that the more visibility you have, the greater your chance at building relationships, gaining visibility, and potentially, greater sales, more reviews, and stronger word of mouth about your book. Also, if you want to have an agent represent you or sign with a publisher, know that they will expect you to have a minimum of 10,000 followers on Twitter (I’ve met with two agents and a few pubs — it’s true.)

Actually, it isn't.

Oh, maybe it's true for the two agents and "a few" publishers this particular blogger corresponded with--though if that's the case, I'd advise her to correspond with more reputable agents and publishers.  Or maybe it's true for self-published authors--though it's important to note that as phrased, the statement seems to apply to all authors.

But during the two rounds of querying and submission for my novel Survival Colony Nine (a process described in my earlier post "Double Agent"), I received eleven requests for the full manuscript and three offers of representation, and in no case was I even asked if I had a Twitter account.

Which is a good thing, because at the time, I didn't.

Ditto with the editors who saw the manuscript.  I can't recall the exact numbers, but roughly seven editors looked at it, and one made an offer (with two others showing interest before my agent and I accepted the first).  No one asked me how many Twitter followers I had.  No one gave a damn.

Can it be any coincidence that this blogger is in the business of promoting fee-based services that grow one's Twitter following?

Writers, as a group, are vulnerable people.  They're not as vulnerable as, say, homeless children or the mentally retarded, but they're still vulnerable: insecure, facing steep odds, lacking in confidence.  To offer legitimate services to such people is fine.  But to prey on such people by lying to them is inexcusable.

I'm on a bit of a crusade here, it seems: exposing bad writing advice, by which I mean deceitful writing advice.  (Unhelpful or incompetent writing advice is another matter, which I'll address at another time.)  So please, be on the lookout for it.  Don't fall for it.

And when you find it, send it here.


  1. Great subject, Josh! I've been writing for several years now so I take this kind of advice with a grain of salt, but when I first started I believed EVERYTHING I read. So, I think you're crusade is totally justified.

  2. Sorry, I meant "your" crusade (I wish there was an editing option in blogger!)

    1. See, if I was some kind of ultra-critical advice-giver, I'd have pointed that out!!