Listening to Those Writing Teachers Again

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Nov 05 2008

I received this question recently and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It connects beautifully with the recent posts I did on taking writing courses and what to take out of them. Well, I couldn’t have come up with a better example than this. . . .

I am in the final revisions of my manuscript. I took an all-day workshop based on Vogler’s book, and I had all the plot points. I was told that my book would not sell. It is women’s fiction with strong romantic elements, but the clincher is that my manuscript has a large section where the ghost of the heroine’s grandmother launches her into the past to travel down a path not taken. The instructor said that women’s fiction would not touch paranormal and vice versa. I am willing to rewrite half the book to expunge the paranormal aspects, finish what I have created, or shelve it and start my second book. Before I make this decision, can you tell me if I was given the correct information?

Ha! I’m dying to know what experience your instructor has in today’s market and how many women’s fiction editors he/she speaks to on a regular basis. And, I’d also be curious to know if your instructor has ever read The Lovely Bones. What is amazing about this question is that just about a month ago I was talking with an editor who was seeking women’s fiction with paranormal elements and proceeded to send me a stack of books that illustrated her point.

So, if the instructor was happy with your book overall and has no current experience in the publishing market (in other words, she’s not an editor or an agent), I would take their advice on what sells with a grain of salt. The truth here, folks, is the only way to really know what the market wants is to give it a shot. Part of getting published is to take a leap of faith and hope that someone else loves your book as much as you do.


15 responses to “Listening to Those Writing Teachers Again”

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    YES WE CAN!!!

  2. Avatar linda hall says:

    Just goes to show you yet again, write what you love!

  3. Avatar Juliana says:

    Great advice Jessica. It astounds me that “professionals” have the nerve to tell someone, that their work will never sell…How can they know that? (unless it reads like a five year old wrote it!) Seriously though…do they have a crystal ball? What gives them the right to dash someones hopes and dreams?

  4. I’m glad to hear this, because right now about 40 agents have my query, and I know this book is a hard sell. I am working on the next one, mostly because after all the querying I just miss writing, but I don’t want to give up on this one yet. It’s been rejected by as many who’ve not responded so far. I really believe it’s a case of landing it with an agent who loves it so much he/she will do anything to get it out there.

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:

    This wasn’t my question, but I love your answer. Thank you.

  6. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Well expressed, Jessica. Writers can be an angsty lot. Gotta rid ourselves of that if we can. Write what you love and send that child into the world. There will always be naysayers. It is the writer who is fearless who succeeds. Believe in yourself and in your work. And don’t stop writing. Start another and then another after that. Do it because you must.

  7. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I’d read a paranormal in a heartbeat if it was well written. Publish it on your own before you sacrifice it. Way to go Jessica. I sure would like to have you as my agent. Too bad you don’t take on young adult.

  8. Avatar Amy Nathan says:

    I think a good lesson for authors is to beware of writing teachers. Many are wonderful – many are not. I’ve had both. And at some point you listen to yourself, do your own market research and don’t forget to do ample research on those teachers.

    I say go for it, anon!

  9. Avatar Bill Peschel says:

    Excellent advice. If the book is well-written, why not throw it into the marketplace and see what happens?

    Probably the best advice Miss Snark gave was to suggest that you query 100 agents about your book. If you get 100 form rejections, then you can be pretty sure there’s some serious problems with it. (Obviously, if you gain an agent first time out, you’re either very, very good, or a celebrity.)

  10. Avatar Crimogenic says:

    Fantastic advice, Jessica. To the author: always seek a second opinion, and a third and so forth.

  11. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Excellent advice. If I’d listened to a few “professionals” in the business who originally read my series, I wouldn’t be published beyond small press/ebook. Instead, I sent it to Jessica. It wasn’t like anything anyone in NY was buying, and, in fact, broke a lot of rules, but they bought it.

  12. I hate to sound like a broken record on this subject, but I think people really need to be careful about their critique partners and the classes they take.

    Having said that, I finished Barbara Rogan’s Next Level workshop in September and I think it has truly taken my wip to another level. Barbara had a very successful agency in Israel and is an editor as well as a wonderful author and teacher.

    What I loved about her workshop was not only the in depth look at various aspects of novels, but also her insight into how an agent or editor would look at different parts of your wip. That was invaluable. I also loved that she made suggestions about what makes the work stronger, but always said it’s our book and we have to follow our gut about the advice we get.

    The down side of this, if there is one, is I changed some of the aspects of the story. The mystery element is stronger. The prejudiced aspects against a young woman because of her race and gender are stronger. The ending has changed so I am rewriting the final chapters. That’s a down side because I recently went to the Surrey conference and had two top agents and an editor request partials. That’s not a down side, but controlling my impatience while I finish the changes and go through revisions is driving me crazy.

    I really don’t think this would have happened without Barbara’s class. She made us dissect our works and get to know them from every angle.

    There’s an old saying, “Those who can do and those who can’t teach.” This isn’t a slam on teachers, but rather a caution to choose your teachers carefully. Find ones who are successful and “can do” as well as teach.

    As for the original question, it sound like a fascinating story to me and I would write what I love. My alternate work has the ghost of a dead husband who appears frequently throughout the book. Stick with your guns if you think this character is important to the story. I would never listen to anyone who says, “never.” I don’t trust people who feel so sure of themselves they can pass such an absolute judgment.

    Good luck with your story.

  13. Avatar Kimber An says:

    I feel for this question-asker. Navigating such matters is a headache.

    After thinking about it for some time, I’ve concluded it’s not so much the rejection I worry about when I decide which novel to polish up next for submission. It’s the extrordinary amount of work which goes into the ‘polishing up’ process!

    Creating stories is all fun and games. Weeding out all the passive verbs and excess ‘thats’ and ‘justs’ is a nightmare! To say nothing of research. Getting through it believing an agent or editor won’t read past the first paragraph because it’s not marketable is extremely difficult.

  14. Avatar ehadams23 says:

    I’m in a class right now with a teacher who I dislike who told me I had “gone off the wrong road” with my story. The thing I have learned from the experience is to trust your instincts and do what you love. Don’t change your entire book because one person told you to. If it feels right to you the way that it is, keep it that way.

  15. Avatar Dal says:

    I think you should always listen to constructive advice, but never change anything based solely upon “authority”.

    For instance, when an instructor tells you you’ve “gone off the wrong road”, you need to understand precisely what road the instructor thought you were on, and where he/she thought you went off. That may tell you something about what expectations you set up early in the manuscript that you failed to deliver on. It also may be true that you have jumped the shark somewhere, and need to either fix it or show a circling fin earlier in the work.

    On the other hand, it may be an instructor that just doesn’t “get” what you are doing. If the instructor doesn’t like the genre in which you are writing, it is probably safe to ignore. For instance, if she starts by saying, “I don’t really enjoy reading this kind of stuff, but here’s what I think…” you can politely stop listening. She’s not your audience.