I’ve been neglecting Making Light on account of the flu, and the catching-up that follows it; but when Neil Gaiman asked me to point him toward some good resources for people to who want to find an agent—apparently his readers have been asking about that—I sent him an infodump. You can find it here. One of the items in it is a longish list of Making Light posts about writing, editing, scams, and related subjects.*
Something I found myself saying along the way is that the more I look at the world of advice about writing and publishing, the warier I am of collecting my own articles on the subject. Years ago, Elise Matthesen and I tried to talk Patricia Wrede into letting us put together a collection of her online writing-about-writing. Thing is, Pat Wrede has a genuine gift for teaching writing. The idea of the book had come up because some apprentice writers had been carefully collecting all her posts on the subject, and had a substantial hoard. All we wanted was permission to organize them into a book.
Pat was perfectly gracious about it, but she said no. Why? Because, she said, there are already so many books about writing. We pointed out that there weren’t any books like the one we had in mind, but she still said no.
Now, years later, there are even more books about writing and publishing. When we talked to Pat Wrede, digital printing technology and POD publishers hadn’t gotten together yet. It wasn’t nearly so easy for J. Random Yourdog to write a book about writing and get it published by Xlibris, or iUniverse, or PublishAmerica, or 1stBooks/AuthorHouse (what is it about subsidy publishers and intercaps?), et cetera et cetera et cetera.As I said in my letter to Neil,
A phenomenal number of articles about how publishing works are written by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. This is partly because writing about writing, or writing about publishing, is what wanna-be authors do when they’ve given up on writing, but don’t yet want to admit it.When I ask Amazon to show me just books that are specifically about writing fiction—not writing a killer query letter, not marketing your self-published book, not writing screenplays or making money off your e-zine—I get twenty-eight pages of results.
Not all of those books are awful, but far too many are, and the latter always seem to have an aggressively self-promoting author attached to them. For instance …
… Huh. Okay, a weird thing just happened to me. I looked at the paragraph I’d just written, and found myself wondering whether I really wanted to get into arguments with four or five combative fuggheads at once. I don’t know where this is coming from. Is it possible that I’m finally developing a sense of prudence?Anyway, here’s that same paragraph, only shorn of its links and its more identifiable character strings:
————, whom we last saw running ———— because she’d been unable to get her work published by conventional publishers, has written a book about ————. So has ———— (a reliable source of error in online writing discussions), on the basis of his vast and successful experience: two ———— published as e-books, one subsidy-published ————, and he’s edited two ———— that were published by ————. In all the years I’ve been listening to her whine, I have yet to hear a useful word come out of ————; but she’s now co-authored a book with ———— about ————. There are innumerable others written by people who have no particular ————. There are publishers who appear to specialize in ————. And then there’s ———— (some of you may remember him), who at last report had a book about writing coming out from ————.Have fun.
2.Contemplating this universe of bad advice makes me feel at once curmudgeonly and appalled. It makes me want to put out a book called The Oppressively Real Guide to Writing and Publishing. Sample chapter titles:
Why You Shouldn’t Write. A Taxonomy of People Who Are Out To Get You.Alternately, I could just keep working at editing books. After all, it’s my job.
Myths and Legends of the Author Tribe.
Ever Wonder Why They Call It Submission?
Things That Won’t Happen.
Some Mistakes We Have Seen.
Recurrent Episodes in the Life of the Writer.
You Can Still Escape.
This afternoon I was talking to George Scithers of the Owlswick agency, and toward the end of the conversation we got onto the subject of books about writing. He mentioned one I’ve never seen: On Writing Science Fiction: The Editors Strike Back, by George Scithers, Darrell Schweitzer, and John M. Ford (Owlswick Press, 1981, ISBN 0913896195).
I have to read this one.Anyway, George told me the three rules of writing from their book:
1.You have to put it in a form someone can use.That really does cover it. The best writing advice tends to be very simple. It’s using it that’s the trick.
2. You have to make it interesting enough to be worth the editor’s time and the reader’s money.3. You have to put it where someone can read it and buy it.