Friday, 20 September 2013

I AM crabbit! I AM! *glares*

At the Festival of Writing at York last weekend, I was regularly accused of not being crabbit. I found myself having to defend my title of Crabbit Old Bat in the face of people rudely accusing me of being far too nice. I was mortally offended by this impertinence, so, just to make absolutely clear my credentials for being the first Google result IN THE WORLD for the title, let me explain why and when I am veritably crabbit.

I started this blog because I was seriously pissed off by what I call inexcusable ignorance by some [edited to add, in case it wasn't obvious from what I go on to say!] people wanting to be published. I have no problem with ignorance itself; we all start as ignorant and I certainly did. What is inexcusable is when, despite the massive efforts of many, many people generously giving good advice, and despite the terabytes of good information out there, neither of which things existed in my years of ignorance, a writer doesn't seek that advice, doesn't try to learn more, doesn't recognise that skills must be practised, will not have his eyes opened. I see this silly behaviour all over Twitter, at talks I've done about how to get published, on blogs by disillusioned and multi-rejected writers (of which I also was one) and sometimes when people collar me to tell me they've got a book in them and that they are planning to write it (one day, when they find time) and become rich. Just like that.

You know I want to help good writers become published with as few rejections as possible; I want to help not-so-good writers become better; I want to support those who understand how hard it is to create wonderful books; and I want to help those who don't know that but are willing to learn.

So, for further clarity, here are the main things wanting-to-be-published writers do that make me crabbit:
  • Not taking steps to understand how publishing works - especially, not understanding that it is a business and that a publisher must make a business decision. A publisher, for example, might a) love your book or b) think it could well be a success but still legitimately reject it if that publisher does not have the resources or space on his schedule, or if the book is not the sort of book a publisher wants on his list. Think about this: I have an online shop; I know that Nessie monsters sell very well in shops; but I do not want to sell Nessie monsters from my shop because Nessie monsters are not right for my shop. The fact that someone else might make a fortune selling Nessie monsters does not make me wrong to refuse to sell them. Also, I wouldn't know how to market and sell Nessie monsters so I probably wouldn't sell many. Now imagine that only one shop in the country was allowed to sell them and supposing I turned down that opportunity. I would still be right to, because I wouldn't sell them well, or want to. In effect, when we pitch a book to a publisher, we are asking them to be the "one shop in the country" allowed to sell our book. 
  • Not obeying the simple and easily found guidelines about submitting their manuscript. I see many submissions - either through my consultancy, or when I do critiques for another agency, or when publishers or agents tell me about them - and far too many are pitted with basic errors which reveal a failure to read the readily available and usually FREE advice.
  • Thinking that writing a book is easy and that the first/second/third draft is good enough and refusing to write a fourth. Writing is hard. Good writers make it look easy. A 4* review for Dear Agent, on Amazon says I probably wrote it in a weekend. No, Dear Agent may only be 25k words long, but it took me months, because writing short things is often harder than writing long things. All good writing is editing. 
  • Wanting to write for children either because they believe it's easier, or out of a desire to tell stories to their grandchildren without bothering to read the fantastic books being produced nowadays. Need I say more? It's ignorant and disrespectful.
  • Not realising that they must write another book. Yup, being a writer does not mean writing one book. It means writing. Writing and writing and writing. It means loving it or at least being compelled to do it so strongly that the idea of stopping writing is intolerable. If you plan to write one book only, you're a hobbyist, which is great, but why would an agent or publisher publish a hobbyist? Writing can be a wonderful hobby, health-giving, inspiring, creative, worthwhile. Be proud of that but understand that writing for publication is not a hobby. It's a vocation. Work and passion together. 
  • Not reading the genre they want to write in. This leads to so many horrible mistakes. I firmly believe that if you don't read the sort of books you want to write, you won't be able to write good ones. Can you imagine a musician who doesn't listen to music? 
So, there you have it. Those are the things that make me crabbit. Inexcusable ignorance. Delusionalism. Going round with eyes shut. Not asking questions. Not listening. And that's why I started blogging. Trouble was, it turned out that my blog-readers weren't delusional, or inexcusably ignorant. You wanted to know things, wanted to learn. Or you knew things already and you came to share. And the people I met at the York weekend were similarly willing to learn and therefore suppressed the crabbit in me. Also, there was wine. And I'd brought chocolate.

If you'd like to read the most crabbit posts, they should be here. Now tell me I'm not crabbit...

*glares and peers fiercely over specs*


catdownunder said...

Shall I be devastatingly honest and say you scare me and all that advice scares me - and I keep having huge doubts about the whole writing thing - and then I get even more scared of what you (and several other people) would think if I stopped trying. That's not because I think I am actually likely to succeed or not succeed but because you have put all the work into telling us what we need to think about and do an be. It seems to me we need to keep trying so that we show you we appreciate your "crabbitly" advice.
Now does that reaction tell you that you are or are not being Crabbit? :)

Nicola Morgan said...

Erm, it shows that you misunderstood my point...?! You have never shown inexcusable ignorance in any of the ways mentioned - or any other ways, as far as I know :).

Imran Siddiq said...

Always, always, always, Nicola deals out the truth with no 'ifs' or 'buts'.

Great points above.

Listen to her.

widdershins said...

I find myself wanting to a)slam my head against my desk, or b) slam someone else's head against a desk, when I come across 'wanna-be's' who still don't these very simple, absolute basic writing profession concepts!

Cat, just so you know, I'm one of those peeps who will seriously frown at you if you stop trying. I read your posts. There's proof.

widdershins said...

*head desk*

... what was that bit about editing before hitting publish?


*slinks away into the Canadian night*