Thursday, June 10, 2010

Writers ARE NOT Paying Attention to What People Tell Them

Writers follow blogs of agents and editors religiously.
Writers are logging into FACEBOOK and other social network sites to read what the professionals are say.
At the moment of writing this blog, there are over 700 of you listening to what I say.
You attend conferences, read articles, sit in chats, attend workshops both in person and online...

And yet you aren't listening...

I was thinking about this during the last weekend. Actually, the thought popped up in my head as I was discussing the issue of the youth of today doing what they want to do even after being told to do something else. I honestly see writers doing the same thing.

Now don't get me wrong. I am not saying the agents and editors out there are the end all be all; or for that matter, that these professionals have all of the answers, but darn it, if you are paying attention to what we all say, then why aren't you doing it???

I was surfing the blogs of several other agents and found that, just today, the majority of them were saying things that one or the other of us said just last week. In fact, we have been saying many of the same things over and over again. And yet, as I look over the submissions that come in on a regular basis, I see stories from authors that apprently believe their story is the exception.

I'm not talking here about simply the guidelines we have posted on what we want. You know, the format of the query, the materials to be submitted, the genres we are accepting. While there are clearly many writers out there that don't read those, I am talking about a bigger issue here. I'm talking about the quality of the writing and what goes into a good story. I'm talking about the elements that are in stories that each one of us is really looking for. Consider...

  • I say I want Contemporary romance with real people in real situations without baggage... and yet you send me stories where the heroine is not only abused in a past life, but is also being chased by a stalker, is dating an alchoholic married guy with issues of his own and now they each find they are pregnant.
  • I say I want some new paranormals and not just re-worked vamps and werewoves ... and yet you send me demons who can't bear the light and angels that "shift" into human form but do so with the crunching of bones that we see with the weres.
  • I say I want romances where the relationship is the cental story arc and the other elements are the tools to get them through it... and yet you send me stories where we spend the whole time watching the detective investigating the robbery of a hair styling salon, but only thinking about the sex with the heroine.
  • I say I want a story with a high concept that demonstrates it is something unique and special... and yet you send me stories where the only thing unique is that the story is set in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia and no other story is set there.

Yes, this might seem to be a rant, but there is a purpose here. Yes, we want you to write the stories you want to write. This is where your unique voice shines through the most. With that said, though. If we tell you that story isn't going to sell, don't submit it to us and then complain that the editor or agent just didn't know what they were doing. We told you and you didn't listen.

Just something to think about since we are about 8 weeks out from Nationals.



  1. I don't think this is so much as a rant, but some really good advice to those writing in the romance genre.

    Thanks for putting it up front, perhaps alot more writers will challenge their muse and surprise you with what you're looking for. :)

  2. I try to read what people publish before I decide to send something. I get a better idea from what they publish of what they are looking for as well as reading their submission guidelines. I can see why they send you the stuff you aren't looking for. They think their stuff is brilliant and you won't be able to resist doing something different. They are impatient. I used to be impatient, too.

  3. Hello Scott,

    I agree with everything you say, on each level as well. I run a short story competition with very clear submission guidelines. Do you think I actually get stuff submitted that meets, let's say, half, or maybe one-quarter of what I request? Not only are the submissions sloppy messes, but they come from people who have bypassed the brief entirely.

    Bloody hell there are even stories who ain't any way near the bare minimum of words and others that do not make any sense when constrained within the theme of the competition (identity). I could go on until the cows come home.

    Sometimes I visit writers' groups where I try, very gently, to get some of these messages across. Then they get defensive like I've started a personal attack while telling me that they've been doing really well over the past 18 years, they all got letters published in the local papers. I despair. I want to slit my wrists with my fountain pen.

    The info is out there for the taking. Why are people so hopelessly stupid? All the best,


  4. Hmmmm. It is a rant. Some of those 700 writers are reading you to see if your personality is a good match for us. Your blog is an interview of sorts. I'm not sure if I'll send you my story. Maybe.

    It's early yet; I'm still honing my craft and am in no hurry to send it to you.

    Part of being a writer processing rejection. Part of being an agent is spending lots of time reading crappy drafts. One would hope both parties handle these things with maturity.

  5. Because there's a lot of "churn" in the writing pool, and the 700 people who read your blog aren't the ones screwing up. There will always be a large pool of clueless newbies who, only slowly (if ever) wake up to the importance of finding, reading, and following instructions. It's true that there's a whole world of wonderful advice from editors and agents, but it still takes that first step of discovery. The people who have begun that journey are your choir. We hear you.

  6. Steph,

    I used to be in a writers group where the writers would rant about editors touching their precious words or altering anything (they gave this as their reason to go self-pub). Left that group because it wasn't helping me as a writer at all. LOL

  7. Perhaps some of it needs to be said over and over as there are always new writers coming on board and haven't gone through the process enough to know you can't make your own rules.

  8. Don't you think that characters without "baggage" are - ummmm - really boring?

    How are they going to grow as the novel progresses if they don't have some inner problem to overcome?

    Victory always tastes sweetest when it's built on a solid, tamped down foundation of hard won defeat.

  9. Authors are listening. Whether it appears they actually do what you say depends on (1) their ability to transfer the information to their writing based on where they are in their journey; (2) whether the faulty submissions are coming from the pool of listening writers; and (3) whether they agree with your counsel. Nothing wrong with hearing the same thing said over and over. Kind of like talking to your children. It will eventually take root.

  10. usual, I think your comments are common-sense, yet I too am not sure how an ordinary character, or two, will ever make into an engaging story. To make things worse, we are in the midst of an epidemic of paranormals and the apparent mass determination of American women to date and go to bed with vampires. That would seem to be about as far from normal, ordinary, as one can get. The only stories I can think of that might have fit in this subset, are the two classics I've mentioned before, Ordinary People, and Deep End of the Ocean, which portray average families torn apart by unexpected events, and fighting to find their way through these tragedies. Perhaps that is exactly what you mean, to which I can only say, you would have to be one H--- of a writer in order to crank out something half as engaging as those two books. Most are not.

  11. Scott, I hope you keep doing what you're doing, and even though I probably won't submit to you I read your blog every day. I almost always learn something useful here!

    The only reason I likely won't submit to you is because literary fiction isn't on your wish list. Other than that, I think you'd be a great agent to work with.

    So you've saved us both from at least one useless submission. And that's a good thing.

    Thank you!

  12. Another Anonymous, the one who posted the first message that I am not sure I will submit to you.

    I agree with you, Anonymous. Why do agents want what they want? Is it because it's good stuff? Not exactly.

    Contrary to what Scott says in this blog post, all agents are NOT giving the same punch list. Some want stories that are "bigger" or "punchier" with "original" and "evocative" voice.

    I don't see any single truly excellent piece of fiction in the published books on you list, Scott. They are mostly forgettable. Genre fiction doesn't have to be this way.

    That said, nearly every writer submits too early. Most of it is unpublishable. But to rant like this-- ugh.

  13. A lot of you have said the same thing. People are not reading the blogs and you are soooo correct. They should be.
    Keep up the good work all of you really learning the business and working hard to produce high quality writing!


  14. Anon,

    When you make the comment that blogs are like interviews, you are so right on the money. This is where you really find the right person to work with. You certainly can't do that from some random list of email addresses.

    Finding the right agent is a personal thing. The approach I take with writing works for some writers an doesn't for others. As an agent who does believe in finding and producing high quality writing, I want to encourage people to truly find the best agent-writer connection. If it is with me, great. If it is with someone else, fantastic.


  15. Terri,

    You are right on the money with this. I think this is why many of us find ourselves re-posting things.

    Keep up the good work!


  16. Sue,

    There is a big difference between baggage and backstory. I think that too often, writers have created characters with so many past problems and intrapersonal problems, that a successful relationship is really out of the question.


  17. Other's have said this, but I'll reiterate: a lot of writer's aren't reading the blogs, so your point is well taken.

    And there are writers who do listen.

    Like me.

    (Notice I haven't sent you any queries? Yeah. That's because you don't represent my genre. I read your blog anyway because you have a lot of great advice for writers!)