Over the years, I have read many pitches and excerpts from aspiring authors. Some were quite good, amazing actually … while others left me feeling like I had taken a drink of milk long past its expiration. After reading those, I couldn’t help but question my own validity as a writer.
Reading really bad work from fellow writers fills me with self-doubt. They are so proud of what they’ve written, and I’m thinking “Well, bless your heart”, which is southern-speak for “Oh my, that was dreadful” or “You poor thing”. Writers who asks other writers to critique their work believes in their skills, myself included. We all believe it to be good and relevant and that people will want to buy our work and rave about our latest novel to their friends. We all imagine that any agent who passes on this work will live to rue the day they declined the opportunity to ride this gravy train to the top! Remember … Stephen King and Nicholas Sparks were querying agents and racking up rejection letters at one point. You know the agents who threw their work into the slushpile have to regret it.
For every good author out there writing long into the night and seeking representation, there are many, many more who are truly awful, and have no idea that when someone reads their work, they throw up a little in their mouth. I have actually felt sorry for the writers of some of the things I have read by fellow wanna-be’s.
Reading the work of a really bad writer leaves every aspiring author wondering … am I that bad and I just don’t know it? Do people feel sorry for me when they see my excitement, then read what can only be described as drivel … or pathetic … or embarrassing?
I’m reminded of the American Idol auditions, where hopefuls get up on stage and sing in a way that makes your teeth hurt and dogs howl. They seem completely oblivious to the fact that the judges are all making faces like someone just farted … or outright laughing.
I follow several literary agent blogs. I literally laugh out loud at some of the sample query letters some of them post, knowing (hoping!) none of mine become blog fodder/entertainment.
I guess that’s what drives authors to seek representation. We need the validation of an industry professional. We need someone with “credentials” to tell us “Wow, you’re really good!” Without it, we can’t help but wonder if we’re delusional, that our writing is awful … atrocious … but no one has the heart to tell us.
When I ask people to read my novels, I ask them to tell me the truth. I tell them I want them to be brutally honest … and I mean it. I don’t want someone telling me what I want to hear just because the truth might hurt my feelings. I realize my friends and family are biased, but I do have one friend who has the courage to be honest with me. Case in point … I once made a comment that “I look pregnant in this dressed, don’t I?”, to which he replied “Yeah, kinda!” I didn’t get mad … he was right … I DID look kinda pregnant in that dress! So when this friend tells me not to give up, I know he sees genuine talent in my writing.
I have also asked acquaintances with specific areas of expertise to help me edit … there is nothing like a teacher, red pen in hand, to point out grammatical errors, typo’s, and inconsistencies!! Some I have asked to critique the dialogue and plot ... is it realistic? Are those feelings consistent with both the character and situation?
I know I’m on the right track when someone tells me they got really mad (at me or the character) when “I allow” a character to hurt one of the protagonists. That’s exactly what a good writer is supposed to do … they are supposed to immerse you into the world created in this book to the point you are protective of the characters … that you get angry when they are hurt or betrayed … that you cry when they’re sad and thrilled when they are victorious.
When someone can create a world that draws you in so tightly that you feel the emotions of the protagonists … that’s the mark of a good writer. You want … need … readers to be emotionally invested in your book … so when someone tells me they choked up in the emotional parts of my books … particularly men who don’t read romance novels and never cry … I feel like I’ve just won an Academy Award!