Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Growth As An Author Is The Key To Success

When I look at new authors and I consider their new submissions, one of the added items I look for is their growth as an author. Now I know I can't see it when I look at a partial, but, after I have looked at a full, now I start to consider it. One thing I have found is that to be successful in this business, writers have to be able to demonstrate growth and learning in their writing. Agents want this. Editors want this. And yes, the reader too want to see the writer grow throughout their career.

Unfortunately, too many authors don't do this. The end result for those new and unpublished authors is probably a string of rejection letters. For the authors who do make it, their career becomes pretty short-lived.

At Greyhaus (and I am sure other agents do something similar) I keep a database of all submissions. I record the who submitted what, when it was submitted, when I replied, and also what my thoughts were on that project. In this way, if I have an author who submits something new to me after a prior rejection, their name pops up as someone I have already seen. When this happens, I go back and visit those prior comments. I don't use those comments as the basis of my decision. Instead, I look to see the quality of the manuscript by itself, as well as whether or not the author took any of my prior comments to heart and did something with them. In other words, did they learn? Did they grow? Too often, I see the same mistakes on those next projects.

Editor will often do the same thing. If they see an author with some potential, you might get some pretty extensive revision notes. This is not just a long rejection letter, but a chance for you to demonstrate that you can take those notes, and, independently, learn how to shape that story in a new way. Again, this is a chance for you to demonstrate growth and learning.

As I said, however, this idea also extends to authors who are published. The market changes in terms of what the readers like to see in a story. The tone and the voice of each generation of writers is completely different from the prior generation. If you cannot change and grow with the times, you will die out pretty fast.

I do see this from previously published authors who had to take a break from the writing for one reason or another. Now they are back to writing, but it is like they traveled through time. Their thinking, their voice and tone, are all stuck in the time period they were writing before the break. Unfortunately, the rest of the world moved on.

When I do bring this up with authors, I always hear the same thing. "Of course I can grow and learn." As a writer, however, you should see this as an example of "telling not showing." It is far too easy to simply tell us you can change. The real question is, can you show us?


  1. I have always been ruthless upon myself for improvement. At one point, I cut 25K words from a manuscript in one fell swoop simply because it was short of my personal standards. My computer cringes whenever I highlight large amounts of text.

    But then I shared my 'baby' with another writer. She had three books under her belt, several anthologies, and had worked in TV/print journalism for years. After I sent my piece, she asked me out for tea. As I drank chamomile and mint with my pinkie out, she slaughtered my child in front of me. After the shock wore off, I realized that she had rescued me from the wraith that had masqueraded as my manuscript. Painful as it was, it spurred me on to improve, change, and grow. And now I wait for the next person to point me to another level. I will not be so arrogant as to assume my growth is inevitable; I can only hope I have the fortitude to continue.

    Perhaps writers don't change because they can't move past the point where their own hand is poised over the band-aid, ready to rip open an old wound that has healed incorrectly. It really is masochistic, but until there is an entry in the DSM for writers, insurance companies will not cover therapy. We must simply keep our eyes on the goal—and pull quickly.

  2. Thank you Scott for this valuable insight - it's something I don't think I've seen written about much, though I'm reminded of Michael Fleishman's book 'How to grow as an illustrator', directed towards artists/illustrators. And very well said Joy. It's not hard to see, in your writing, the humility learnt through hard lessons. I visited your Red Ink Society blog and love the Arthur Plotnik quote!