As others see us…

Sometimes I get some intimation of what people think about writers – and it’s not quite what one may expect.

Here’s a question from a poster on a Message Board about sff:

is everyone a potentual writer?

Is it jus me or r there many would-be writers out there, it occuered to me that many people could think up a good story and be a good enouth writer to get it published but many do not have the connexions needed am I right.

And here is part of my somewhat acerbic reply:

I am an Australian, but I have lived most of my adult life (since I was 24) in Malaysia, which has no sff publishers, or fan clubs, or spec fic writing classes. I never went to a sff con. I never met another fiction writer, editor, publisher, I hardly ever met someone who read sff! I wasn’t on the internet and exchanged no emails, nor read webpages by any of those people. In fact, I was a real innocent abroad. I never even attended a course on how to write.

All I did was read and write and hone my skills. ALOT. The book that got me an agent was about number seven or eight, I think. ONE MILLION WRITTEN WORDS LATER. At least. (I started at 13, after all)

And finally I sent off my work. I had no idea how to write a query letter or what one should say when one submitted work. But I do know how to be polite, and I had enough common sense to know what is relevant and what is not. And I READ ALOT of the kind of books I was writing – fantasy.

I got a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, ran my finger down the pages of agents, came to the first one that said they took fantasy, and wrote a letter.

I don’t have the letter in front of me, but it said something along the lines of: “I enclose the first 3 chapters of a fantasy novel entitled X, of Y number of words. If you are interested in reading the remainder with a view to representing me, the book is already complete and I would be delighted to send the whole MS. I have only had non-fiction articles published prior to this. ” (I did not send samples of these articles, or say what they were or where they were published. They were irrelevant.)

I sent it off and waited. And in due course the agent read the whole MS and took me on.

Contacts? Connections? What contacts? What connections? I had none!

Do you tell your doctor – “well, anyone can be a doctor, can’t they? We just don’t all have the contacts to get into Medical School.” Have I got news for you. The ability to stick a bandaid on a cut does not mean you have the potential to be a doctor. The ability to write a few words on paper doesn’t give you the potential to be a published novelist.

Maybe I am being silly, but if someone were to say to my face – “Well, you are only published because you had connections! Anyone at all can do what you do.” – I would feel insulted and be very very rude to such a person. How dare they say – or even think – that the years and years of work I put into learning my trade, into writing and reading and learning, before I was finally published, didn’t count for anything? That ‘anyone’ can do this? That all you need to get published are ‘connections’.

Was I a bit hard on the poor fellow? As I say, it is extraordinary how many people think writing is easy, and there is some kind of conspiracy that keeps all but those “in the know” from being published.


As others see us… — 12 Comments

  1. Glenda, darling, the person is a barely functional illiterate. And an idiot. Don’t waste valuable emotional energy on them, life is waaaay too short.

    And you have too many more fabulous books to write.

  2. Hmm, someone else looking for the magick key to the Publisher’s Keep.
    They’ll discover the truth eventually: There’s only one way in, and that’s the workers’ entrance.

  3. Self righteous? Not at all. Just sick and tired of smiling and pretending insenstive and insulting assumptions like that, written in barely recognisable English, don’t matter and can’t hurt. They do and they can, demonstrably. To hell with being PC about stuff like this. Why should it be tolerated? And why should writers apologise for defending themselves from such public ignorance and insult? Are you suggesting we are somehow not worthy of self defence because we’re the ‘lucky’ ones, as opposed to this individual?

  4. I was annoyed at the time, but I rather feel sorry for the guy now. He just doesn’t get it. Any of it. He’s like all those American Idol contestants – the ones who can’t sing a note – and still think they have a chance of being a celebrity, then swear at the judges when they don’t make it.

    Self-righteous? Maybe. I’ve earned the right. But I shan’t everdo it – sooner or later along comes a young author aged twenty or so, (Zaidie Smith, a few years back now, springs to mind) who writes a fantastic book that knocks everyone endways, and we old sloggers have to shake our greying heads and pretend we aren’t as jealous as hell.

  5. I wanted to stand up and cheer when I read your response, Glenda!

    The sooner (s)he realises that being a writer is bloody hard work the better! If a few pointed replies help so much the better…

    It might be that I’m overly protective of my writer friends but I find the assumption that writers are only published because they know the right people really offensive. ‘Cause acquisitions meetings are really just an excuse for editorial and marketing etc to have a nice cup of tea and catch up on office gossip ๐Ÿ˜›

    But it might be that I’m in a particularly ranty mood about this, too ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Jenny – that was tactful?

    Fiona – did you know Stephanie and my agent got together yesterday somewhere in the UK? Making connections, obviously…my ears were burning.

    Anghara – I saw that you had posted, went and posted what I had said, then went back and read yours! You are inspirational, you see.

    Ah, Karen, Simon H., Anghara, Jenny, we know the truth, don’t we, and that path to the workers’ entrance…

  7. Me, I’m still trying to find my way to the workers’ entrance:-) Meantime, I hang out with writers in the hope that some of their talent will rub off.

    Now and again I get a piece to critique written in about the same standard of English as that person’s. I always tell the writer that everyone has a story. It’s skill in getting it on paper that counts. And that includes, for heaven’s sake, decent grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax.

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