People ask me questions. Which is nice. I try to answer them if I’ve got the time, but that’s a commodity that’s in rather short supply these days so I can’t always be as volubly responsive as I’d like. As a fair proportion of those questions tend to congregate around certain topics, I thought I’d try the bulk purchase approach, and offer up some answers to some of the more frequent queries here. We’re starting with some housekeeping-type questions today, but I promise to get to (possibly) more interesting writing-related stuff in a future episode. Onward!
The Social Networking Question. No, I’m not a member of the Twitterati, so you can’t follow me there. No, I don’t frequent LinkedIn or Myspace or a. n. other social network of your chocie, so you can’t connect with me there. Sorry. All that stuff is appealing, but it’s a prodiguous time sink which feels dangerously like doing real work without actually falling into that category. For now my social networking energies (not vast at the best of times, being the dour and reclusive soul that I quite obviously am) are fully occupied by this here blog and by Facebook. On the latter you are welcome to befriend me or befan the Godless World trilogy, the latter perhaps being the more highly recommended option since (a) the books are arguably more interesting and deserving of your affections than I am, and (b) you might benefit from one of the occasional giveaways hosted there (of which more might be in the imminent offing – I’m toying with some options for next month at the moment).
Will I Answer your Interview Questions? If you want to publish the interview in a blog, magazine, whatever, the answer is probably yes. Like most newish writers, anonymity is my deadliest foe, so I crave attention with much the same desperation as a starving man craves chocolate cake. If you can offer me eyeballs I will endeavour to offer you some answers. Can’t guarantee it, but if time permits I’ll certainly try. If you want to interview me for a school or college project (I never knew asking writers questions was such a popular project activity for students!) – the answer’s still probably yes, but that ‘probably’ is starting to take on strong ‘possibly’-like characteristics. It’d help if (a) there aren’t too many questions, and (b) they indicate that you actually know who I am and what I write and that you’ve put some thought into them. Even then, I might sometimes have to say no if my to-do list is getting ugly. Don’t hold it against me.
Will I Read Your Manuscript? That’s a very flattering question, given the implication that I might have something sensible to say about your book/story/whatever. I never object to being asked it. But the answer’s no. (Unless you’re an old and dear friend friend of mine in which case: maybe, if there’s a beer or two in it for me). There’s a whole unruly host of reasons why I must decline, of which that bugbear of ambition, time, is by far the most important. I mean, manuscript’s are big, you know? And my not exactly impregnable finances are dependent on me producing my own, not reading other folk’s.
Also, consider: You are no doubt a thoroughly pleasant, grounded, sensible sort who genuinely wants constructive criticism with a view to improving your manuscript. There is another sort – a very small minority, occasionally seen frequenting discussion boards here and there – who may think that’s what they want, but are actually in search of praise and validation above all else (such people, I’d suggest, are not the most likely candidates for future publication, but you already knew that, right?). They might not appreciate being told their manuscript is less than perfect (which it is – believe me, I know from personal experience that virtually no manuscript, including those that end up being published, qualifies for the description ‘perfect’). So although you’re not going to bite my head off, take a look at that person behind you in the queue for my notional free manuscript review service: don’t they look just a little wild-eyed, a little feverish, a little … too keen?
And honestly, what I think of your manuscript wouldn’t matter all that much. I like to think I can broadly tell the difference between technically competent and incompetent writing, but beyond that my opinion isn’t the one that counts to an aspiring writer. I’ll certainly have one, but like everyone, I read plenty of highly successful published books that leave me mystified as to what their appeal is, so what I think really doesn’t amount to a reliable guide to anything much. The opinions that matter are those of the agents, editors and publishers who control access to the sunlit uplands of commercial publication, and the only way to get their feedback is by submitting stuff to them (after you’ve revised said stuff to death, of course). You have to develop your own ability to assess your work, and getting rejected – or, joy of joys! – accepted by those people is, IMHO, while not the only way, certainly the most reliable way to sharpen that ability.
Here endeth the Q&A for today. More to follow in due course, including a brief meditation on one of the more interesting questions I’ve ever been asked: What Lies East of Anlane? On the off-chance anyone has specific questions they’d like to see me fumble around with, feel free to e-mail me, and if they’re of possibly wider interest, I’ll see if I can work them in to a future blog post.
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