The Cardinal Rule

Money flows to the writer.  Not from the writer.

That’s the rule.  Remember it.  Tattoo it on the back of your eyelids.  Nothing makes me angrier then when I hear about an aspiring writer who had paid someone a lot of money to read their manuscript and comment.  These so called “writing coaches” are preying on the hopes and dreams of people who want to write and it’s disgusting.  They have no power to put your manuscript in front of an agent or an editor.  They can’t do anything to further your career.  They’re just taking your money.

Join a good writers group and you can get the same thing for free.  The only cost to you is that you have to play fair, read other people’s submissions and comment.  There are on-line critique groups like the OWW.  They do charge a membership fee of $49.00 for a year, but that’s a much better price then paying a single individual five hundred, or a thousand or more to get that one person’s opinion.  There are writing organizations in most cities where you can connect with other writers and aspiring writers.  There are proven courses like Clarion West, or Odyssey or Taos Toolbox which are taught by actual writers and editors.

Are there exceptions to this rule?  Yes.  If a person is determined to go the self published route then it behooves them to hire an actual copyeditor to check for typos, correct commas, etc.  A copyeditor deserves and should be paid.  You’ll probably have to pay for cover art for your self-published novel.  All of which are reasons I don’t recommend going the self pub route.

Publishers have editors who can help you improve your book and you don’t have to pay them.  They have art directors who specialize in putting evocative covers on books that you don’t have to pay for.  They have sales forces that market your book so you don’t have to spend all your time doing self-promotion instead of doing what you should be doing which is writing.  They have the means to set up autograph sessions and a distribution network to get your book into bookstores so you’re not driving around in a van filled with copies of your book that you paid to have printed.  You’re not sitting behind a table in a dealers room at a convention trying to hand sell your novel instead of mingling and networking, meeting editors and colleagues, being inspired.

Money flows to the writer.  Not from the writer.

7 Responses to The Cardinal Rule

  • I have heard about writer-taught seminars, and my beef there is that, while I don’t have a problem with these people making a profit, I’ve never heard of one taking a “scholarship” student. There’s one called “Viable Paradise” that is taught at Martha’s Vineyard every year, and someone who had taken the course advertised it on twitter, said something to the effect if “if you aren’t signing up for Viable Paradise, you aren’t serious about writing.” I pointed out *very politely* that not everyone could afford it– and I got first called names, then blocked.

    Martha’s fricking Vineyard. That is a hell of an expensive area to stay in, and never mind access to writers. At the time, I was a mall security guard trying to keep my head above water financially. Now? I’m waiting on a disability hearing and living hand-to-mouth. The $49 for the OWW would be out of my reach, even. Even if it weren’t, because of my autism, I have a really hard time interacting with groups, even online, and would probably be unable to play fair, read others’ work, so wouldn’t join.

    So, while I don’t have the means to go paying one of these scammers you’re talking about (I pay attention to Writer Beware), and I wouldn’t even if I had the money, *I can understand why people fall for it.*

    When something looks like your only hope, well, sometimes you do stupid things.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      I agree the workshops that charge to attend maybe beyond the reach of people, but I felt it only fair to mention them because they do a good job nurturing writers. There are however other ways to get feedback such as forming a writers group. If face to face interaction is difficult for you then find a trusted group of beta readers who can read you novel and give you written notes. The main thing is that a writer must be willing and able to accept criticism. It’s the only way we can improve.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      I should add another method I use to try and hone my skills and get better. I read writers who are better then I am and I try to study their techniques. How does GRRM make a scene so evocative? How does Max Gladstone paint pictures with words? I’m not saying you imitate them, but you try to study their technique and add it to your writer’s tool box.

  • Wolf Lahti says:

    Regarding your last paragraph: Big publishing houses used to nurture the careers of writers, but the development editors and copy editors and proofreaders have been shuffled aside to make room for the accountants, resulting in the publication of books rife with grammatical errors and inconsistent characterization and a plethora of other sins.

    The worst of it is that readers don’t seem to notice — or care. Badly written books (I’m looking at you, Brown, Jordan, James, Jordan, and Meyer, among others) sell well; this makes the bean counters happy, and that’s all that matters. And writers who care about language and presentation are looked upon as snooty.

    Also, most every professional writer I know says that promotion has dwindled to the point of being reserved exclusively for the guaranteed big sellers and that they have to spend their own time and money to get their books sold, or it doesn’t happen at all.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      I haven’t experienced any of that nor have most of my friends. My editor on the 3rd Edge book gave me a great note that significantly improved the book. I received a copyedited manuscript as well as galley proofs. Any mistakes would fall on me for missing something. The team did a good job of turning out a lovely book with an absolutely terrific cover. Yes, promotion is often limited to the big names, but my marketing team got me a number of interviews and sent me on a small book tour. Publishing is business with a very narrow profit margin. It is filled with people who work for low pay and put in long hours because they love books and writers and it shows. Yes, there are people in the corporate offices who try to sell books like bars of soap and it always fails. No one can predict why one book will hit and another won’t. To blame all of that on the publishers seems unfair. Bottom line for me — being a “New York author” sure beats being a self-published author.

  • mac says:

    What a great blog post, Melinda. That you’re thinking about the great mass of scribblers out here toiling away and trying to get published is really appreciated. For those of us who have day jobs and such, it’s hard to find a place to have the work read and critiqued. I especially appreciate that you’ve linked a couple of suggestions. The grind is that you submit stories and such to so many places, and the return comments, when they come, push you about like a small boat in a hurricane. It’s easy to get lost in trying to re-tool the work in various opposite directions to be published, and risk losing yourself in the scrabble. I’ve had positive comments on a lot of my submissions, but short of accepting the work for publication, and it just seems that so much of the reluctance has to do with personal preference as opposed to the actual quality. Finding a place to objectively work stories over in the midst of everyday life is so hard. Thanks for thinking of this and pointing us to some resources.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      Thank you for the very kind words, and I wish you luck with your writing. It’s not an easy gig, but it’s certainly rewarding. Keep on collecting those rejection slips. We all do that and it’s perseverance and continuing to work that ultimately earns the win. I think Steven Donaldson got 41 rejections before he finally sold Lord Foul’s Bane and it was the first fantasy book to go onto the New York Times best seller list.

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