You folks have seen them out there. You could hardly miss them.
But why are they going to fail?
- THE WHINY: those who throw hissy fits when writing advice is hard on their tender egos.
These are the people who write back to agents who send them rejection letters. You know how many acceptances those people get from those agents once they’ve let them know they’re not taking rejection lying down? I can tell you in words of one numeral.
Now that the blogosphere has made good on Andy Warhol’s promise, “in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” it is simply amazing how many folks are out there cleaning up the Intertubes for democracy, storming around letting other people know how dreadfully unhappy they are with the way they’re doing things. This is their use of their perceived 15 minutes.
Last week I found a guy posting an extraordinarily thoughtful and lengthy letter from a mega-big literary agent saying to him, “Can we please stop?” in response to his post-rejection tantrum letter, in which he apparently not only objected mightily to the agent’s rejection of his work but also made claims for its quality he clearly could not sustain. When I picked myself up off the floor from the shock of seeing how much time and courtesy this agent had spent trying to bring a little light to the life of this amazing dimwit, I was even more appalled to read the letter he wrote back, which of course he also posted.
Seriously. That agent is neeeeeeeeeeever going to represent that guy. And now that he’s posted his eye-popping idiocy online, no other credible agent is going to, either.
- THE LAZY: those who have no intention of making writing their life’s work.
Sometimes I talk about what it takes to become a professional writer: learning how to write impeccably, for one; learning the ropes of the business, for another; learning all the ways to earn a living as a writer besides through fiction, for sure.
And the minute I type the words “professional writer,” I hear in my head the chorus of objections from those who are writing fiction as a hobby. “We don’t want to be professional writers!” they cry. “We just want to win the lottery!”
Professional writing is dull. Winning the lottery is exciting! Planning your work, meeting deadlines, taking advice without whimpering, being edited, going to business meetings, negotiating contracts, doing it when you don’t feel like it, making good on your promises, treating it like a responsibility rather than a right—that’s boring. Dreaming up a few characters out of half-remembered movies and throwing them on the page and waking up the next morning to find you’re J.K. Rowling—now that’s living!
- THE SELF-INVOLVED: those who insist on writing only about themselves.
You’ve met them in workshops and critique circles, the ones who submit, time after time, endless, mind-numbing, pointless droning on and on and on about whatever their pet peeve happens to be, styling their protagonist (almost universally in first person) as the ultimate blameless victim of fate who just—coincidentally—happens to do and say things that bring down all hell and high water on their own faultless little heads. Oh, the injustice. In sleep-inducing detail. “I woke up. My bed was just like it was yesterday, when I also woke up. I got up and got dressed. I brushed my teeth and spit in the sink. I rinsed my mouth and looked in the mirror, thinking about myself. I went in the kitchen to see if everyone in there was thinking about me, too. They weren’t! They were talking about their own stuff! Of all the nerve.”
Here’s a tip: if even the people in your critique group keep saying your protagonist is unsympathetic, there is no way in hell anyone’s ever going to pay you for that privilege.
- THE DISGRUNTLED: those who are already mad they don’t make enough.
Hey, you know what’s a bad idea when you think you don’t earn what you’re worth? Going into a field people work just for the love of it even when they have to move back in with their parents.
Then quitting your day job.
In the UK you people have the Dole. It’s not so easy here in the US. You know who lives under bridges? That’s right. Lots of really pissed-off people who quit their jobs in a huff the minute they got an agent—any agent—completely clueless about the publishing industry in general and their own teeny, tiny little role in it in particular.
Remember the ultimate torture chamber in The Hitckhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Where you see the entire universe in all its enormity and your own dust spec of a self diminished down to its actual subatomic particularity? This is you. This is you without a day job.
Even George Clooney appeared in a zillion unmemorable TV shows and movies for sixteen years before he got “discovered” on ER. I remember. He was really good. All of you with less talent and inherent compatibility with your medium than George Clooney can multiply that number by the number of years you were doing something else before you decided to throw your hat in the ring for this craft.
And you thought you were disgruntled before.
- THE UNREALISTIC: those who have No Idea what the publishing business is really like.
Are you a Twilight enthusiast? A Bella-Wannabe? Mooning endlessly over Bella’s identification with Wuthering Heights and thinking the only thing as great as being the author of Edward would be being the author of Heathcliff?
Just so you know: the author of Heathcliff was dissed by her publisher, left unpublished until he could ride the coattails of her sister Charlotte, then published in a terrible edition with sloppy typesetting and cheap paper, and ignored by the reading public, who found Heathcliff—beyond reprehensible—downright disgusting. Emily Bronte was a bonafide literary genius whose greatest work, a saga in verse, was altered after her death against her passionately-clear wishes by busybody Charlotte and re-published in its mutilated form, although half the poems had vanished by then and have never been recovered. Emily Bronte died young, unloved, unhappy, unfulfilled. Undiscovered.
And the author of Edward can’t write for beans. She stumbled on a misogynist aspect of our culture she could exploit in impressionable kids, along with a really good marketer. That really good marketer is now busy with Twilight, and you are in their backwash.
- THE UNIMAGINATIVE: those who look at published garbage and say, “I can write that.”
Why, yes. Yes, you probably can. So can a monkey. Are you as smart as a monkey? Congratulations.
And you will suffer the fate of those authors: you will spend endless hours sending hundreds of queries to agents who want nothing to do with you until you stumble across one desperate enough to take a risk, all the while telling yourself, “You’ve got to persevere,” without wasting so much as an iota of your perseverance on learning the craft.
You might even be a hardcore-enough marketer to push for publication until someone gives in and publishes you. Then you will get your head all puffed up with grandiose ideas of your own importance because you got a book on a shelf (as though the authors of all that other garbage didn’t have exactly the same thing), and you will be thrilled to have your name all over crap a dog wouldn’t read, and no one over the long run will take you seriously because you treated a craft many, many people love with all their souls as a quickie money-making gimmick.
People will point to your book at garage sales and say, “What garbage! I can write better than that.”
Yeah. On behalf of everyone who takes this craft seriously: thanks.
UPDATE from Twitter: @rd_morgan “6 Personality Types Who’ll Fail as Writers” Or: 6 Personality Types Who’ll Inevitably Be in Yr #MFA Prog.
Coming up next: 6 Personality Types Who Will Succeed
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LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .
SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .
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ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights. Read more. . .
TERISA GREEN, represented by Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .
JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .
In addition, I work with dozens of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this literary art and craft.