Wednesday, June 14, 2017

When Unsolicited Advice Hurts

New writers are often hungry sponges, who want to soak up the wisdom of the more experienced in the industry.

Which, don't get me wrong, is a good thing. Most of the time.

2017 is the ten-year anniversary of Amazon's Kindle. Like many tech advancements, it wasn't the first of its kind on the market, but it was the game changer, especially in the fiction side of the publishing industry.

So what does the Kindle have to do with new writers?

The newbies are getting a lot of advice from folks who've been in the trad publishing system their entire career. They're also getting a lot of advice from the indies who've been in digital publishing since Amazon launched Kindle Direct Publishing in 2009 (KDP had a different name when it first started).

I'm not saying this is all necessarily bad advice. But what both sides fail to take into account is that we're still in the middle of the digital disruption. Things are in no way settled. They are still changing. Ironically, my unintended vacation from publishing 2014 through 2016 makes the constant churn more painfully obvious.

If you're a new writer, you need to take a brutal look at what you want out of publishing your work, aka a solid goal. If you want awards, that's one path. If you want your letters (aka New York Times or USA Today bestseller attached to your name), that's a different path. If you want a long-term career, that's a third path. If you want a way to cover your costs when you compile Grandma's recipes into a book for the rest of the family, that's a fourth path.

I could keep going, but you get the point. And that's not to say some of these paths never cross. They can and do. However, your focus needs to be on your primary path in order to get what you want. And if you say you want Path One, but keep bringing up Path Two, you need to re-evaluate what it is you want.

The problem comes in when the more experienced writer tells the newbie "You need to X, Y, and Z to succeed ." However, X, Y, and Z are predicated on Experienced Writer's chosen path and their experience. If Newbie doesn't start with a solid goal, they can get sidetracked for years pursuing a goal that's not theirs. Not to mention, one experience does not automatically equal a second.

I've been the sidetracked newbie. It's frustrating when you realize your mistake. I've been the experienced writer, who's let their excitement overwhelm a newbie. And I've felt guilty when I realize that mistake.

For now, I'm trying to be the wise writer. If someone asks for help, I'm trying to ask questions to discern what the newbie really needs rather than what I think they need. Sometimes that pisses off the newbie, who thinks I'm hiding the secret handshake.

Folks, there is no secret handshake. And with the digital shake-up, it's a brave new world for all writers. Anyone who tells you different is lying, to themselves as well as you. The last thing I want to do is harm a new writer by giving them unsolicited or non-useful advice.


  1. I think there are some basics that apply to almost everyone (like not taking a year off writing to promo the book you just published), but yeah, I agree that things are generally complicated, and what's right for a given writer depends on a lot of things. For a lot of newbies (and a few old-timers I've met) just figuring out that it is complicated, and that there isn't a secret handshake, would be a major achievement.


    1. Oh, but so many new writers do take the promo year after their first book! And if you say anything, then you're accused of trying to hold them back. It's why I keep my mouth shut. LOL