Skip to content

When an Industry Insider dashes your hopes at the conference

October 27, 2013

So you’re back from the conference a week, and while all the blog posts and the Facebook stuff are full of Happy, Happy Sunshine, you aren’t feeling the love and motivation.

For you, one of the faculty uttered an offhand comment or a direct response to a question that crapped all over your work. Oh, not your work specifically, but a key component in what you’re doing.

Oh, that doesn’t work.

You can’t really do it that way.

No one really does that any more.

It was my first writers conference experience. I don’t remember who the speaker was, but he (I think it was a guy) was talking about synopses. So I asked what seemed like an intelligent, appropriate question: How do you write a synopsis when your story includes flashbacks?

The answer: No one writes flashbacks any more. You shouldn’t do that. Next question, please!

Holy crap, I thought. My whole freaking story doesn’t work without the flashbacks and now this Industry Insider told me he doesn’t even need to see it to know it’s crap because no one writes flashbacks any more.

At the time, Kaye Coppersmith was my only real booster, having read my work in critique group. She told me not to listen to him (or her). As much as I liked Kaye–who I really didn’t know very well at the time–this was an Industry Insider telling me this.

Let’s say that’s you. And an Industry Insider carelessly cut your work and didn’t even notice it was bleeding. And now you’re trying to pick up all the shattered pieces of your literary existence.

Take a breath and calm down. There’s always the asterisk (you should never ever do that–unless it works). There’s always the subjective nature of much of this business. And there’s always the possibility that they’re right and your work will be better for having listened.

Either way, before you run off and drop your work in the shredder (or the shredder app, if it’s on a computer), do a little research. Find out whether what they say is true.

But these are industry insiders. Shouldn’t I trust what they say?

Trust. But verify.

Okay, does that mean you got crappy people at the conference?

Not at all. It means this industry is full of human beings with all their inborn biases, and they haven’t seen your work. Remember, this is the industry that rejected Harry Potter more times than anyone wants to count. Competent professionals did that.

But what if they’re right? That would be soul crushing.

Okay. If they’re right, be crushed. Give yourself some quality time with a half gallon of chocolatey ice cream or a six-pack. Wallow in your defeat and feel pitiful. Then get up off your butt and fix it. But use your brain about it. Consult other people. Use your judgement to apply their words in a way that make your work better.

It’s only defeat if you let it be.

  1. Prolific Pete permalink
    October 27, 2013 10:12 am

    One of the agent speakers said your book absolutely positively should not be over 85,000 words. Well mine is 118,000 and I am not about to try and cut out 33,000 words.

    • Chris Hamilton permalink
      October 27, 2013 11:20 am

      I ask this gently, but are you sure there aren’t things you can cut that might make your book more appealing? Maybe not 33,000 words, but…

      • Prolific Pete permalink
        October 27, 2013 12:39 pm

        Not in any appreciable way, I’m afraid. I’ve done a lot to tighten it up, but it’s an epic, literary piece spanning a ten-period. To make any significant cuts would entail removing whole scenes—–years, in fact.

        As to your other point, I have researched and it seems the recommendations are actually 80,000 to 100,000 words for a first-time novelist, and I’ve heard literary fiction can go as high as 120,000. I’ve also heard agents and publishers say the book should be as long as it takes to tell the story.

        So I can butcher it and bring it down but it’s not going to be the same book. I’m going to try and sell it as it is. There may come a point where I feel I have to make a choice between making wholesale changes that really alter the story or going the self-publishing route, and I think at that point I think I’d self-publish.

  2. October 27, 2013 10:56 am

    Reblogged this on jbcultureshock and commented:

    I can’t even put into words how much I agree with this! Every rule has its exceptions, and sometimes the pros pass up something that’s really, really good.

  3. Chris Hamilton permalink
    October 27, 2013 11:25 am

    I want to clarify something, too. Before you assume the thing you didn’t want to hear is wrong, do some research. Google, in this regard, is your friend. So are other people–maybe a beta reader.

  4. October 27, 2013 11:43 am

    Reblogged this on The BiaLog and commented:
    I totally agree. Just because someone is considered a “professional” doesn’t mean they know what works best in every work. Two things to always watch out for are generalizations and absolutes. Both of those are opinions and nothing more.

  5. October 28, 2013 9:47 am

    Haha! Been there…etc. Despite my research, I once was told what I wrote might be a hard sell, but if I could whip up a work in a certain “hot” genre, they could sell it. By the next year, I was told that genre was, let’s say, so hot that it burned itself out!
    Re: Prolific Pete: A few years ago, with reluctance, I took the advice of my critique group and divided my ‘epic’ into novel & sequel. Required a heck of a lot of rework – and time – but I think it worked out for the better. Readying #2 for press now.

  6. October 28, 2013 10:27 am

    Okay, this gets me. As long as a story is strong and writing smooth (without a lot of technical difficulty), than it works. I had someone send me an article the other day by a well-known author who gave advice on writing a novel. That author said, “do not use prologues.” Umm, both the novels I’m working on have prologues. My one-page prologue is the opening hook for the reader! I felt deflated. Then, I realized, it’s my work and the story is sound (so says my writer’s group & beta readers)

    If done properly, flashbacks work for me, and I’m sure they do for any other reader who finds the story intriguing. Keep up the good work. Enjoy reading your blogs.

  7. October 28, 2013 5:26 pm

    The greatest, the immortal works of art of any time went against the conventional wisdom of their time. Art cannot be defined. You can’t apply rules of any kind to art. I don’t mean that you needn’t learn from those who are qualified to offer advice based upon their own experience, or that you should not try to hone you craft by judiciously considering such advice, but for Pete’s sake, don’t let other people’s opinions, and that’s all they are, smother your creativity. Go with you gut. Then calm down and cooly appraise your own work. Listening to other amatueurs will ruin you. Read the masters. The style may be obsolete in some cases, but learn from THEM. Study how they created these masterpieces, then follow your own voice, your own instinct. You’ve either got it or you don’t, but in either case, you have to keep working very hard at it to make it the best it can be.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: