Bad Writing Advice
No, this post is not going to give writers bad advice.
It’s going to talk about all the bad advice writers are getting.
Ever since I started publishing novels several years ago, I’ve noticed (via Twitter, blogs, and other sources) the sheer volume of writing advice that’s dispensed online. You know what I’m talking about: “How to Build Your Platform,” “How to Increase Your Twitter Following,” “How to Make Your Writing So Gosh-Darn Good Everyone in Hollywood Will Line Up to Option Your Manuscript-in-Progress.” More often than not, these solicitations come with a price tag.
I don’t have a problem with such services. 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 teach is writing. 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.” That’s a truthful statement. Ignore it at your own peril.
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 to remain nameless, starts out with a legitimate claim 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 met with—though if that’s the case, I’d advise said blogger to meet with a broader and more reputable pool of agents and publishers.
When I, as a rookie writer with little experience and even less social media savvy, shopped around my debut manuscript to scores of agents, no one asked if I had a Twitter account. Which was a good thing, because at the time, I didn’t.
Ditto with the editors who saw the manuscript. No one asked me how many Twitter followers I had. No one gave a damn.
Can it be any coincidence that the above blogger is in the business of promoting fee-based services to grow one’s Twitter following?
I still don’t have anywhere near 10,000 Twitter followers. I probably never will. Apparently, the three novels I’ve published were figments of my Twitter-starved imagination.
Writers, as a group, are vulnerable people. They’re not as vulnerable as, say, homeless children, but they’re vulnerable: insecure, facing steep odds, lacking in confidence. To offer legitimate services to such people is fine.
To lie to such people in an attempt to get them to fork over their hard-earned money is inexcusable.
So please, if you’re just starting out in the writing business—or, heck, if you’ve been doing it for twenty years—be on the lookout for bad writing advice. Don’t fall for it, and certainly don’t pay for it. If you’re feeling really feisty, contact the dispenser thereof and give them a piece of your mind.
That’s what I did to the aforesaid blogger. I still haven’t heard back. They must have blocked me on Twitter.
Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). He is the author of three YA science fiction novels: Survival Colony 9, Scavenger of Souls, and Freefall. Josh loves to read, watch movies, and spend time in Nature with his kids. Oh, yeah, and he likes monsters. Really scary monsters.