Wednesday, May 25, 2022

"Beginner mistakes"

Dear Madam Shark,


I was taught that there are “amateur mistakes” that will likely knock a writer straight into an agent’s circular file. I’ll leave out the most obvious, such as careless typos. The ones I’m questioning include:


Creative speech tags, instead of the almost invisible “said,” “asked,” etc.


Too many exclamation points.


When I see these in excellent novels, I wonder if, when these writers were newbies, they avoided these habits, but now that they’re well-known, they can do what they like? What are your thoughts?




If I like a book, if it has a fresh, vivid voice, an interesting concept, and the writer isn't a self-aggrandizing professional PITA, do you really think I'm going to let exclamation marks get in the way??



Hello, I'm an intterobang!



Of course not.

These are minor things.


Fixable things.

That's what editing is all about, although I'm not keen on doing copyediting level work on your ms. That's YOUR job.


Authors are quick to blame almost everything but the real problem: uninteresting writing, stale concepts and inter-personal communications that make me want to smack them upside the head.



If you're reading this blog, most likely you've avoided that third one.


It's much harder to assess your own work for stale concepts and uninteresting writing.


As to seeing those small errors in published books, well sometimes established writers get away with stuff that all y'all debut author cannot.



Established authors can write terrible books and hit the NYT Bestseller list cause they have an thriving fan base.  Case in point: the otherwise amazing Robert Parker started phoning in his novels at #13 or #14. 


Don't sweat the small stuff as Richard Carlson famously said. (Which is hilariously ironic if you ever had a chance to work with him, as I did back in m publicity days. That guy was as meticulous as they come.)





Kitty said...

Would using ‽ correctly make a good impression in a query?

nightsmusic said...

I once tried reading a novel by an established author I will not name who used the word "had" 278 times in the first four pages. Yes, I know how many because it got to be so annoying, I copied those same pages into Word and counted them. That's a quarter of the word count for those pages. The book became a wallbanger and I never picked up another by them. Can an established author get away with those things? I guess. Do they always? I think eventually, no. But what do I know? I'm a reader, not a published author. Yet.

Amy Johnson said...

LOL While working on my story this morning, I’ve paused several times to say to myself, “Is this uninteresting? I must add more tension.”

Katja: I loved your comment from yesterday. The fight you’ve fought is admirable. As I say to my kids, I’m proud of you — in a good way. They laugh, but they know what I mean (we don’t need any of that bad kind of pride). Really, really proud of you. I hope all goes well with getting the job!

Katja said...

Awwwww, Amy Johnson, I am getting goosebumps, thank you so much 💓. And it's a massive boost for me to keep fighting when people like you tell me they're proud of me because I feel they recognise how hard it's been. 2010-2013, I only existed, now I have so much of my life back.

I'll still have to face a battle. After getting the job, I need to be able to keep it. I lost my last one due to OCD back in 2006. This time I'll fight, fight FIGHT for my job. It would be a dream job with people from all over the world. And I'd start learning Italian next, then I could speak all Swiss languages (except for Romansch) plus English.

I'm soooo excited. 🙃😃🤗

Sorry for babbling on. I'll shut up now. But THANK YOU, Amy!!!! ❤🧡💛😘

E.M. Goldsmith said...

In my university days, one professor told me (a great breaker of rules) that I needed to know the rules before I broke them. And then I had to be some kind special to break them. There are bits of that professor I would like to go back in time and break as this advice actually stifled my writing for years.

I wish Jeff Somer's had published his Writing Without Rules about a decade earlier.

Do what works for you. Rinse. Repeat. You will get there. I had to unlearn a lot of what I learned to become a better writer. Rules only exist to be broken.

And sometimes breaking the rules means following the rules. Depends on your voice. It's how your writing is elevated. It's how all things change for better or for worse. What is true of one writer might not be a true of another - regarding such trifles as speech tags, Oxford commas, point of view, and adverbs.

Brittany said...

When people talk about dealbreakers with a query, I've come to think of it like a points system. You start at 0, get to -5 and the agent stops reading, get to +10 and they request. (Numbers arbitrary, I doubt any agents are actually keeping those kinds of rubrics.) For one agent things like typos might not register unless they're seriously terrible, for another it might be -1 or -2 points--not enough to merit a pass on its own, but you will need enough positive points to outweigh it. Same applies to bigger things like prologues or word count or any of the other things we hear about as "instapasses." It's not that you can't ever get away with them, but they're likely to put you into a hole where the rest of your work has to be that much better to make it through.

Craig F said...

Don't sweat the small stuff because at the end of the day, it is all small stuff. That is what editors are for.

Write a query that makes agents want more and make sure your first pages are the stuff dreams are made of. It helps if you plot and characters are trending, which might be sheer luck, by the time you get it done.

No big deal, just put your heart and soul into every line. because no one can really tell what makes a best seller. Some of the best books I have read were nowhere near a best seller list, and the best sellers I have read have never lived up to the hype.

AJ Blythe said...

Yes to everything that has been said here. I tried for years to write what I was told I should be writing or doing or [insert advice here]. I've learnt I need to write what I want to write because in doing that my writing is better and I enjoy the process 100% more.

Katja, I'll have to go back and read your comment, but I gather it's *the* job in *that* country, so I'm happy dancing for you. Keeping everything crossed it all works out for you.

Julie Weathers said...

I read a variety of things. One thing that I read at least once every two weeks is the Sullivan Balou letter because it gets me in the heart.

Sullivan wasn't trying to be poetic. He was writing from the heart to his beloved wife. I read it, or listen to it, because it reminds me to write, as Hemingway said, to write that one true sentence. Write it as true as you can.

That is the important thing. Then I shall try to clean it and polish it, but first, I will write from the heart.