Over at Nihilistic Kid, Nick Mamatas offers Ten Bits of Advice Writers Should Stop Giving Aspiring Writers. To his post I say: YES. (If it isn’t clear, I’m implying that it’d be good to read that article before starting into this one. Or at least reading it in conjunction with this.)

I touched on this a bit in my post Caveat Writer, though that focused more on knowing if you can trust a publishing professional with whom you’d like to work. Much of that applies here as well, so it’s worth a peek, and as a bonus, it lists some excellent resources for writers.

And so I offer here some important things to consider when you read or hear advice on writing or publishing (including this post):

1. Beware of newbies giving advice

And by newbies, I mean:

  • other unpublished writers: unless they work in publishing but in another capacity
  • debut authors: they really haven’t had much experience in the industry, even if they’ve been querying for years
  • new agents who’ve only interned before taking on clients: they’re probably spouting what their mentors told them, so it might be better to get that same info from their source (mentor/boss). That way you can make sure it wasn’t interpreted or stated incorrectly.
  • New and/or tiny publishers that spring up fairly frequently: e-publishing is a burgeoning industry, and people are obviously looking to benefit from that; just be wary when their book list is small and their book covers or even the text on the website are poorly done. I’ve seen plenty of typos, some egregious, on publisher, editor, and agent websites.
  • any person offering advice: they might not be a noob, but look at their bio and analyze their experience. Tip: Use of the term “best seller” has been rendered almost meaningless, from overuse. Unless  it’s preceded by “New York Times,” “USA Today,” “Washington Post,” or other high profile paper or list, I’d consider it highly suspect. Just about anything can be a bestseller if you word it right. A bestseller on a community newspaper in rural Idaho is not even close to best-selling nation- or worldwide.
Now here comes the admission. This summer I had a startling moment of clarity where I realized I don’t know as much as I thought I did. I’ve worked in publishing and media for about seven years now, but there are some areas in which I’m not terribly experienced. (See the next point for elaboration.) I’d commented on a blog about something to do with publishing contracts, which I know a bit about, but I’m definitely not an expert. A few weeks later during a discussion with an agent, I learned that I misunderstood that exact point. What I thought I knew wasn’t true at all. It was a rather humbling experience.
Since then, I’ve really thought hard about every piece of advice I offer writers. When I do freelance editing and critiquing for writers, I can tailor suggestions to their situation. I also make it a point to offer other resources on that topic because I’m not infallible, and getting another opinion—even if from a book or blog post—was always a wise course of action.

2. What is their realm of expertise?

No one knows everything. That seems pretty self-explanatory, but sometimes it isn’t, especially when you get to experts in certain professions. I began my career as a journalist and copy editor. One of my favorite sayings, offered by one of my advisers in college, is that journalists are a mile wide but an inch deep. I think that’s why I love journalism and even editing books. I get to learn about a lot of different things, most of which I find fascinating.

Even with my writing, I jump from genre to genre (sometimes mixing them, which is really fun), writing about a variety of topics, often with a completely different style for each work. I have a broad-based knowledge of multiple aspects in publishing. So when share advice on this blog or in edits, I try to temper that with links to other sources who have a more in-depth knowledge of that topic. That’s why I have the Resourceful Links and Resourceful Books sections on this website. I’m trying to collect especially helpful information I can direct writers to once I’ve shared what I know about a topic.

So the point of this long analogy is to look at the background and experience and expertise of someone offering advice. If they are discussing an area outside their specific knowledge, bring your salt along because they might not have the most accurate or reliable information. As a note, I trust all of the links and sources on this website. I’ve carefully vetted them so I can confidently say that you can trust this information too. And another note: I haven’t checked through the archives of my blog recently


3. Avoid wholesale advice

Anyone who tells you that THINGS MUST BE THIS WAY or THIS IS HOW EVERYONE DOES IT is taking potentially good suggestion and applying it to everyone in the whole world forever and ever. I can’t think of a single piece of advice that applies to every writer. There are exceptions to every rule, even this one. ;)

I’ve noticed that newbies tend to pass along absolutes about writing or publishing, generally with worked in their situation or that of a friend. Like I mentioned above, they have limited experience in the field, and I’ve actually heard writers extrapolate their way of getting an agent as the only way to get an agent. Honestly, it’s bunk. They haven’t been in the industry long enough to know all of the different variables that come into play. So while it’s great that they got their book published, it’s not going to be exactly the same process for you.

Saying this might get me some haters, but I reallyreallyreally wish newly published and unpublished writers wouldn’t teach classes at conferences or run writing workshops. They don’t know enough yet to apply their advice to a broad range of people. Some of the things I’ve heard writers say in these classes and workshops make my ears bleed from inaccurate info. Just remember, they generally share what worked for them, but their advice shouldn’t be taken as absolute.


4. Trust your gut

Even if you’re new to the game, there are some pieces of advice that seem counter-intuitive. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s very possible that it isn’t. Instead of taking their word at face value, do a little digging and find another source that discusses the same topic. Just as with your health and your car—always get a second opinion. Or 3 or 4 or more, if possible. Then when you have all of that information, you can decide what is best for you in your particular situation.


To sum up:

No one knows everything and even if they did it might not apply in your situation anyway. BUT you can use their advice and experience, combined with that of several others, to come to your own conclusions about what will work best for you.