Advice for the concerned family and friends of an aspiring author

So, someone in your family, or maybe your best friend, is “writing a novel.” At first it was an interesting novelty and you made what you thought was the appropriate comment: “Maybe you’ll get on Oprah.” Then your friend, or sister, or whatever, asked you to read the first draft of the ms, and honestly, it wasn’t that great; it needed work. But you told her it was awesome, because what else could you say, right? And you asked the most pertinent question you could think of: “Have you chosen a publisher yet?” You figured the publisher would fix the book for her. To your surprise, as generous as you were being, the aspiring writer then laughed and explained:

“It doesn’t work that way. First I have to get some honest feedback and then revise. Eventually, I will query agents. That means I will do a lot of research to find the ones who are interested in my kind of story, and I will send them a letter asking if they would like to look at my book. It’s harder than it sounds, because the letter has to be pitch perfect. It has to grab the agent’s attention and make him or her interested enough to want to read some of my pages.”

Oh, you thought. Well, how hard can it really be? The next time you see your friend, a few months have gone by. She is excited because she got some requests for the ms. “Great, you say, so how much are they going to pay you?”

“No,” she rolls her eyes. “Agents don’t pay writers. And I have to get an agent before I can get a publisher and money is not really what it’s about. Most writers don’t even get paid very much. I haven’t even heard back on the requests for the full manuscript, yet.”

“Oh,” you say, confused. If money isn’t what it’s about then why is she doing it at all? But you don’t want to seem shallow, so you say instead: “What’s taking them so long?”

“It takes a long time,” your friend tells you. “Agents have to take care of their signed clients first. They read manuscripts on nights and weekends. It could take up to six months to get back to me. I am still querying though.”

WTF? you think. Now I know she really is crazy. Who would wait that long for a rejection? Especially if there was no money in it?

More time goes by, and your friend declines to come to your most recent Pampered Chef Party. She has to work on her book, she says. “What do you mean? I thought it was done?” you say, but are informed that she recieved some really helpful feedback with her last rejection. So she has decided to  rewrite the second half, realizing now that the ending fell a little short. “God,” you moan. “Why would you do that? They rejected it. Maybe you should write something new, or better yet, come to my party.”

Your friend politely declines and is not heard from again for a while. In fact others are starting to get worried. How many times can she edit this book? She’s started to make excuses for not coming to all sorts of gatherings. Let it go already, you are all thinking. But she won’t listen to reason. “It’s nice to have dreams,” you tell her when she finally answers the phone, “but be reasonable. Maybe you should just self-publish.”

Next time you hear from her, an agent has said that the book was really good, but needed some more revision. So, your friend, as crazy as she is, is revising the thing again. Of course, being a good friend, you tell her she is insane to change her book just because an agent asked her to. Your friend just smiles obscurely, finishes her tea, and goes home. Now you are really worried. Quickly, your friend has become a delusional recluse.  Something needs to be done.

And you are correct, dear family member or friend. Here is what you should do:

Be really proud of your writer for following through and working hard. She has slogged through the slush pile and taken her rejections in stride. She has worked hard to revise her book when flaws became apparent, she has worked to follow the rules and to get noticed. If she pulls it off, she will have fulfilled that dream you thought she should toss away because attaining it was too hard. And remember this is what it means to follow a dream. It means giving up other things and working a lot to get better and better until it’s great.

If you really want it, you will find a way. If you don’t, you will find an excuse. Writing is what she wants to do. It is not a hobby or a whim. It is a second job worth doing.

So smile and pat her on the back and tell her you are proud of her and ask her questions about her characters and her process, and listen, because writers write what they know and guess what, she knows you.

3 thoughts on “Advice for the concerned family and friends of an aspiring author

  1. @ShelleySly – the eys glazing over is the worst part. I think people just aren't sure what to say because it is out of their realm. But, if a family member were training to be an olympic athlete or an actor or something, I would think they would have questions to ask. I guess it is just the obscurity of what a writer does and that is why I wrote this post. I have just gotten to the point where I tell people straight out what the process is. @Cheyenne – thanks 🙂

  2. This is the *BEST* post I've ever read about what the writing process is really like, and how important it is to those of us who seriously pursue this dream. Every friend or family member of a writer needs to read this.

  3. Yes. This. I try to explain this to family and non-writer friends, but they don't always get it. What's been bugging me lately is that I'm writing my 8th book, been writing for years now, and a few of my loved ones keep asking, "so how's The Book?" Which one? I've told them about several, but I guess they keep assuming it's just one.

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