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Trust Yourself

I was wandering around the Internet this week reading and catching up on blog posts written by my colleagues and the one thing that really struck me, in all the advice we’re giving and the guidance we’re providing, is that the key to all of this is you really have to trust yourself. Simply because you’re here reading this blog I assume that you’re one step ahead of many writers out there. In other words, you’re taking the time to learn what industry professionals think and understand the business. Presumably you’re reading this blog as well as others and participating in things like writer’s forums or critique groups. In other words, whether you realize it or not, you have become a student of publishing and, to some degree, have taken a role in the publishing business.

You know what each of us thinks about certain practices and procedures and you’ve learned firsthand how subjective everything can be, from whether or not we like a book to how we like our query letters. Therefore, when push comes to shove there’s only one person you should be listening to, and that’s you. When it comes time to write your query, choose an agent, find a publisher, sign a contract, and write the next great American novel, you need to trust that you can take all you’ve learned and are continuing to learn and do what’s best for you and your career, and do it with your own personal flare and style.


Category: Blog



  1. Jessica, This is one of my favorite posts you've written. Sometimes I think we writers are nothing more than a bundle of nerves with heads; that's how nervous we become trying to figure out what's right and wrong in the querying/submission process.

    Like Charlie Parker the great American sax player once said, "You've got to learn your instrument. Then, practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on stage, forget all that stuff and just wail!"

    Here's to writers trusting their instincts and letting their talents wail!

  2. Thanks for an amazing quote DebraLSchubert. Watch yourself–you just might end up on my blog.

    Jessica, thanks for a great post. Sometimes I feel like an ass for thinking that I might get published one day. As you pointed out the book biz is subjective, tough, and clogged up with so much talent.

    But I can work hard, and keep reading, and as I do–well, I start to have those moments that Stephen King talked about in On Writing, when I read a book and think, "I can do better than that!"

  3. Great post. If there is one thing I've learned from my role as a student of publishing, it's that most questions are answerable with common sense.rt

  4. No truer words were even spoken, Jessica. Example–all the years I wasted (well, not really, as I did improve my skills) writing what I "thought" editors wanted. When I finally wrote what I wanted, my career took off. Trusting in yourself isn't always easy, but it's the one place where you generally won't go wrong.

  5. So often we forget!

    Successful art is both business and personal and if we don't stay true to ourselves, we'll quickly be nothing but business and ultimately unsuccessful.

    Thank you for these encouraging words today!

  6. Wonderful post. I love your 'cut to the core' approach on things. It's insightful and compassionate. I saw your Title, and immediately started to relax.

    I also really appreciate the comments. Aimmee, I couldn't agree more!

    On the other hand, Jessica, I hope you're right. Sometimes, I think someone should follow me around and shout "NO!!" just before I do anything.

    Suppose I could follow myself around shouting 'no.' But that might seem alittle odd….

  7. I ended up breaking up with my cowriter because he would not trust himself. He absolutely refused to believe that the industry was subjective and became convinced if he could find the elusive right steps, the book would sell.

    We had a book project done and were just starting to submit it to agents. Of course, we got rejections. He started sniffing around, looking for reasons. He became convinced that something must be wrong with the book (we're talking barely hitting single digit rejections, with one full request) and that the first chapter needed to be rewritten. Couldn't explain what needed to be rewritten or why.

    Then he started sniffing around published authors. Some it was workshops he attended, and their advice became "We must do this"–even if it was wrong for the book or for either of our writing styles.

    The worst was a published YA author who actually read the book. The book was set during a war and many of the characters were soldiers in combat. The YA writer reacted badly to it because she was vehemently anti-gun. Because of her reaction, my cowriter concluded that agents must be rejecting the book because we had guns in it! He started talking about removing the guns from the story–nevermind that it wouldn't make sense or be credible.

    I tried to tell him that just because she was published didn't mean she knew what was right for our book. But he got so locked into "This author said" and "That author said" that he not only pushed me out of the book, he pushed himself out of the book.

  8. You are so right. I had so many different people critique my work that if I had made all of the suggested changes my book would have been a totally different beast. Instead, I decided to listen to all the critiques with a grain of salt. What really worked was reading my material over and over until I got it right, and trusting myself. Now the entire ms is under submission with an agent, this is a first for me. This process has been one hurdle at a time and with each hurdle the book improves.

  9. Learning to trust yourself isn't easy, as I've come to realize.

    I have several critique partners, and when I get something back from them, they often give contradictory advice. One of them says to cut all the "bad" language and to tone down the hot scenes. Another says to cut the magical aspects because those aren't needed. Another, who I'm seriously listening to, says there's too much snark.

    The problem is, they all have a point, and I'm sure others will agree with them. But do I really want to write something with no heat, no magic, and only words my grandmother would use? Well, no — because that's not what I like to read.

    It's hard to ignore advice when you know it may alienate some readers — maybe even some friends. But if instinct means telling the story you want to tell, I guess part of that is developing an awareness of the difference between a critique partner's personal taste and their own instincts for problems in my writing. And then figuring out how to distinguish between the two.

  10. TreeThyme, I know exactly what you mean. I've gotten completely opposite advice in critique groups. Cut that, don't cut that. Too much of this, not enough of this.

    When that happens, it's tough! I guess you have to sit with it, and go with your gut. Sometimes, it's obvious, but sometimes…..maybe the skill to trust yourself and your voice is something that grows with experience.

  11. Jessica,
    One of your agency's authors, Jo Dereske, put me on to your blog a couple months ago and I've enjoyed reading your posts ever since. Thank you. Today's post helped confirm what I've long believed, but I appreciate the reminder.

    If you ever decide to represent YA, I'm sure many of us would flood your inbox. Maybe that's a good reason not to…hmm.

  12. I would never join a critique group. The last thing I want is other writers suggesting how I should construct or change my work. I am not interested in supportive criticism. I believe that when work is changed, based on the opinions of others, the writer no longer owns the work. It has become compromised.

    I do not write to please publishers. That seems so fake. What's the point? I write what I want to please myself. My audience finds my work. And when they do… they find ME.

  13. Marjorie — though I tend to shy from critique groups, too (for different reasons), I think they can quite useful w/o compromising your work — they might point out plot loopholes, character inconsistencies, etc. that have nothing to do w/ your tone/voice, etc… and, after everything's all said and done, you don't have to listen to them.

  14. Bane:
    I tend to like to keep my work private until it is posted. I feel to even hear other people's opinions compromises the work. I do not like to empower other writers who (in groups) are readers. Sometimes these other writers have obtuse agendas when they critique a work. I feel that after a work is published, readers can form opinions. And I certainly would never write to please publishers.

    In terms of how groups can be useful regarding character and plot… I think it is better to have one person who can function as a "sounding board" as opposed to strangers in a group. If a sounding board is desired.

    Writers in critique groups sometimes give conflicting opinions and I really feel all it does is confuse and compromise the integrity of the project. It is invasive and meaningless to me.

    Can you picture JD Salinger in a critique group? Or Woody Allen? They are confident in themselves… and so am I.

  15. I'm confident, but I know my writing has been greatly improved by my critique partners. I don't always choose to take their advice, but they sometimes see things from a different perspective. If it makes my story stronger, I'll take their advice. That is not to say I always follow every suggestion, but, from my standpoint, the input is helpful.

  16. New reader here. I've been catching up on all your old posts and just wanted to say how much I appreciate you taking time out of your day to share valuable advice with us.

    Happy 4th!

  17. Marjorie – I totally hear what you're saying in terms of confidence. I will say that in some ways, trusting yourself is exactly where it's at when it comes to writing.

    On the other hand, I adore my critique group. The thing about writing is it's communication. I miss things. Stuff that I think is crystal clear…well, isn't. It's good to get feedback on that. And then, if you trust yourself enough, you can take in what's helpful, and ignore what isn't.

  18. Wow, thanks for the encouraging blog. It's extremely needed when waiting on pins and needles for query responses from agents.

    It gives me hope in my anxious little world of waiting.

  19. I am curious as to why a literary agent would post a blog with run-on sentences. Is this a deliberate stylistic choice or do the rules of grammar not apply to blogs? I am not being snarky. I am actually curious.

    Thanks, Jan

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