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About Writing Right: The Blog


A newbie author-to-be went online to ask his community a question: Will his specific Sci-Fi/Fantasy storyline be popular or not? Unfortunately, some ne'er-do-wells got to him before I could, but hopefully I straightened him--and them--out. Here's my response.

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Kudos to those respondents who answered your question positively—and accurately. It's true, the story you describe ain't new, and it's far from detailed enough for anyone of any intellect to give you a straight-up response. As those people have pointed out, the popularity of your story isn't in the storyline, which has been done to death, but rather in the telling. In other words, there are no new ideas under the sun. Do a good job, and you have a good chance of turning out a good book. Whether or not it will be "popular" (aka, financially successful) is anybody's guess.


Now, rat droppings to the initial respondent who greeted your question so negatively and imposed her own biases (which are obviously many) into her response. And the same to those who agreed with her, lavishing praise upon her lame and irresponsible answer. Here's where the Queen of Wrong missed the boat yet again.

First: The opening remark of Why are you even bothering to think about this? is ridiculous. Is she kidding? If a writer doesn't bother "to think about" the premise, storyline, and plot of his novel before setting out to write it, he's an idiot. Why would anyone with all his screws firmly attached and tightened say otherwise? Of course, you should think about it. Right now. Up front and ahead of any writing you may be pulling at the reigns to begin.


Second: Saying that you may never finish this story because probably only 10% of the people who start writing something ever finish it is nonsense. Is that what she thinks? Really? Of course, it's true that you may never finish the story. But it's just as likely that you will. Her contention that only 10 percent of people follow through on their dreams is mental derangement syndrome. I'd wager instead that the figure is closer to 50 percent or more. Big difference. Huge difference. Some people obviously weren't math majors in college. Nor do they want more competition in their little realm of poorly written Sci-Fi/Fantasy followers.


Third: Her contention that you may not do the "prerequisite" number of rewrites is baffling at best and a perfect example of the Gospel according to Queenie at worst. Not one or three or forty or fifty but ten. Precisely. Does the word clairvoyant mean anything to anybody? It apparently does to her. To that I give you my tip of the day: Clairvoyant she ain't.


Fourth: To the comment that, even if you do the requisite number of rewrites required to satisfactorily complete your work, you may still not have a "handle" on the craft of writing, I reply, "No kidding, Sherlock." If you read the first paragraph of any of her published Sci-Fi/Fantasy books on Amazon, you'll begin to wonder how many more rewrites the publisher should have required her to do. Talk about not having a handle on writing! But, although you may not have a "handle" on the craft even after you finish your book, you also may have. That's one of the absolute joys of writing. No one is a good writer until he becomes a good writer. And no one, including Queenie, can predict if or when that may be. The main takeaway here is that you'll never even come close to becoming a good writer until you start getting some mileage under your belt. Oh, yeah, and some words, too.


Fifth: Even if you do everything right, she says you may decide to self-publish your work and fail to do the requisite self-marketing required to get the word out and boost sales. As a result, your work will "disappear into the 10,000 others published that week." I mean, let's not try confusing anyone with the facts, okay? For example, the actual number of books published in the United States alone each week is closer to 80,000. With that understood, you may get a clearer picture as to why "bothering to think about" your story in the first place is so important—critically important. With the average U.S. book now selling fewer than two hundred copies in its lifetime, you need every competitive edge you can possibly get, starting with the viability of your story and ending with its perfectly crafted finale.


Sixth: Her advice to "Finish the story first. Then finish the edits and rewrites" is patently absurd. How can you even start writing a story if you haven't even thought about it? Much less finished it?


Seventh: Queenie's admonition to hire a top-notch editor to review your work once you've done all you can for it is right on target. But her followup advice of, if you can't afford to hire an editor, "find a teacher or professor who is willing to look at it" is ludicrous. Do you know how many teachers or professors are capable of being first-class editors? She obviously doesn't. I do. I have spent a lifetime teaching people how to write and how to edit, and from my experience, teachers and professors are among the poorest examples of writers, let alone editors, I've met—with very few exceptions. I suggest as a more logical alternative that, if you can't afford to meet a professional editor's going rates, you plead your case ("I'll just die if I don't get my novel ready for publication!") and ask if there's something you can do to lessen the financial sting. Swap out services, for example, in exchange for partial payment. Editors need plumbers, electricians, and tutors for their kids, too, right along with babysitters, gardeners, and dog walkers. If you can offer the editor enough cash to meet his expenses while he's working on your book, and if he's not swamped with full-paying jobs, he's more than likely to take your offer seriously.


Now, with all that horrible advice shot down over the ocean of books in search of publishers, here's what you need to do to find out if your story is viable.


Are you ready? Sitting down? Well fed? Have you slipped into a comfortable set of clothes? Taken your morning constitutional? Sharpened your pencil tip? Good. Because here's the key: No one can tell you if your storyline is viable. No one. The only way you'll ever learn that for certain is to sit down and write it. Not by putting words on paper, as some respondents who shall remain nameless do. But by actually thinking of characters, storylines, and settings, writing them down, and then going back and reviewing your work to see if you can make it better, different, and more attractive to a reader:


Should you change a faraway setting to one nearer Earth? And, if so, why or why not? What advantages would that bring to the story? What potential added interest would it provide the reader?


Should you expand your characters' ability to read the aliens' faces to include differentiating between potentially good aliens and evil ones? If so, why or why not? And, what advantages and disadvantages would that bring to your characters and your story?


Do you see where I'm going with this? You can either spend more time polling people who don't have a clue as to what writing advice is helpful and what's not, or you can assume any storyline can be popular with the right presentation. And then work your butt (and creative bones) off to make it happen! You're the writer. That makes you the creator. So, start thinking like one, and stop soliciting advice that's far more likely to be shoot-from-the-lip nonsense that can only dampen your enthusiasm and harm your writing career than useful information that can help advance it. Any more questions or advice I can offer, feel free to ask via my Website's contact page. I'll be more than happy to help however I can. Gratis, of course.


In the meantime ...


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his column, "The Author-Ethicist," which runs weekly at Substack. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he's only human!)

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