Note: this article appeared previously in the Huffington Post, and is obviously meant for October-November, but I’m reposting it now instead because blah blah blah reasons.
We at Bad Advice for Writers have thus far only concentrated on the act of writing, ignoring important things to like how to behave like a writer and the importance of not understanding how social media works.
Today, on the eve of NaNoWriMo*, we will focus on bad advice for the novelist. We feel we should make this distinction insofar as some of this advice might actually not be bad advice if you are planning on a work of non-fiction.
(*NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It takes place in November because that is a month that everyone celebrates for the fact that it is indeed a month long.)
Advice #1: Start notifying people about it before you’ve written it
Before writing a great novel, it’s always a good idea to alert important people in the publishing industry, so they’re prepared to read it when it’s finished. You may receive requests to see it before it’s even done!
Our advice is to craft an email blast and send it to everyone involved in publishing, even if that someone is the security guard at the Time/Life building. Remember: selling is all about networking! And networking is something we read about somewhere!
Your email blast should give the prospective agent or publisher a basic understanding of what the story is going to be about, which you can do by comparing it to other really good things they may have heard of.
Here is a sample email. Feel free to alter the details and use it yourself.
Dear Important Person:
I am about to write a deeply fantastic wartime novel about a hyper-intelligent species of marsupials, a period drama in the tradition of Jane Austen, Stephen King, and Pablo Picasso. It will be set in Elizabethan England, except with Nazis. The title of the novel is Combat Wombats. The film version will be called Michael Bay’s Combat Wombats.
This ambitious novel will be completed very soon. Please respond immediately if you wish to be included in the bidding.
Sincerely, a Serious Writer
Advice #2: Start sending it out the second it’s completed
Your completed novel is in its purest, most creatively brilliant form in its first draft. There will be editing later, but that’s someone else’s problem, not yours. Yours is to show the world your special baby as soon as possible.
We recommend a second email blast:
Dear Important Person:
I’m pleased to announce the completion of my novel.
My creative process took me in a new and exciting direction. It is now a meta-commentary on the act of writing a novel itself, a complex mash-up of Franz Kafka, Dadaism, and the repair manual for a Maytag dishwasher. It’s a work people will be talking about for years to come! Especially chapter 87, which is forty-three pages of artfully rendered guttural noises.
The title remains Combat Wombats. Please let me know of your interest as soon as possible and I will send you the completed manuscript.
I look forward to your initial offer.
Sincerely, a Serious Writer,
*if possible, this should FLASH at a seizure-inducing rate.
Advice #3: Your editor is always wrong
You, the creator of the novel, have just spent a month focusing on the process, and now someone else—we’ll call them the editor—is only looking at the product, completely ignoring the fact that what you went through in creating it is at least as important as what you created.
Every last word in your novel—we’ll call it Combat Wombats—is invested with a piece of your soul. We at Bad Advice for Writers appreciate this. When editors say things like “this literally makes no sense”, or “we’re wondering if you translated this into Urdu and then back into English again before submitting it”, or “the part with Buddha and the alien space ship can probably be removed”, we recommend you push back. They don’t understand that without those abandoned, poorly defined characters, profound plot defects, and pages upon pages of rampant, aggressive gibberish, you would never have finished your novel.
Editors should only concern themselves with punctuation and spelling, and only if the misspelling isn’t actually an expression of creative neologisms on your part. After all, they haven’t finished a novel have they? Well, maybe they did, but did it have wombats in it? Probably not!
Advice #4: Correct negative reviews
There are only two types of reviews: the positive kind, and the kind where the reviewer didn’t understand the book. A bad review of your book is actually a cry for help!
Whenever you see a negative review that makes you say to yourself, “I should reach out to this person, perhaps in a borderline illegal fashion,” by all means do so. Find out where they live if you want! Show up on their doorstep and offer to politely explain how they simply failed to understand your novel. Make it clear that this is something they need to resolve within themselves and not a reflection on your work, and also that there’s no need whatsoever to call the police, so please put down the phone and stop crying.
Interaction is what reviewers are really looking for from you, the writer. Words like “awful” and “incomprehensible” and “this may have been written by a very dumb parrot” are really their way of saying, “I have failed to fully grasp your clear brilliance and would like for you to explain it to me”. So get out there and interact!
You may find that the sheer number of negative reviews makes it impossible to reach out to each and every person, however. When this happens you may want to consider writing a screed complaining about the nature of online reviews in general, and getting it published in a large magazine. This way you can tell multiple reviewers at once that you consider them unqualified to write reviews, and at the same time express a clear lack of understanding for how the Internet works.
Remember, nothing says “I am a serious writer” like a public inability to grasp how modern media functions!
That’s all for this edition of Bad Advice for Writers! Thanks for reading, and we hope you benefit from this, the best bad advice we can think of.
Postscript: We here at BAW would like to wish all of the NaNoWriMo participants the best of luck. We mean that sincerely.
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