Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Horrors of the Writer Advice Machine

Posted by LD Keach on Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Writers are like grass. They are the soft, nutritious layer of plant material layered over the floor of the entertainment industry forest. Writers support and nourish thousands of media species from books to movies to pop music while, at the same time, they're stepped on and taken for granted. Then, like grass, writers are occasionally mowed down in a grinding cacophony of bladed terror; their remains are then tossed to the curb, bundled up in black plastic, and left to rot and fester under an unforgiving sun.

Okay, maybe I'm being a bit dramatic.

My point is that writers do a lot and often go unappreciated—until someone wants our money. There is an entire industry out there dedicated to sucking the green cash-blood out of writers' veins, and it's called the Writing Advice Machine. (Or, at least, I call it that.) There are thousands of outlets out there, happy to offer writers kindly advice as to how to go out and make Stephen King millions—for the low-low price of $59.99! There are workshops and conferences and scores of how-to books just thrilled for the chance to make us better authors (plus shipping and handling.) What a deal, right? Stevie McPumpernickle is speaking at the Spiffydome for one day only and, even though he only wrote one mid-list thriller back in the 80's, he still knows The Secret to Publishing Success! And it can be yours for just 10 low monthly payments!

Obviously, when a reputable name in publishing speaks at a venue or writes a book, it can be a good decision to take a look at that product. But, the savvy writer will steer clear of workshops and seminars hosted by no-name or small time authors for ridiculous piles of money. And yes, while I myself happen to be small time, you'll note that I'm not asking for that juicy jugular vein of yours from which I may suck your precious monetary funds. I write this blog because I love you. I looove you, my precious...

Ahem, anyway, the Writing Advice Machine is an industry in and of itself. It is built on the audience of hopeful writers. If all those workshops and books actually made every customer the author millionaires they said they could, then there would be no amateur writers left. (Nor would there be any Expert Hobbyists like myself.) And the sad thing is, there just isn't enough room in publishing for all the professionals they claim to be able to make. Of course, the machine does contain some of good information for some fresh-out-of-the-box writers; if it's your First Submission Ever, do glance at a library copy of Writer's Market. You'll find some good stuff. If you're about to enter grad school, please accept my condolences and pick up a copy of Poets & Writers. Worship at the loving feet of Duotrope. But, apart from those notable exceptions, paying for Writing Advice is largely useless—and your wallet might get mowed down.

So, if you find you've signed up for a subscription or a conference that gives you the same information I'm giving you, then get your money back. And don't eat the complimentary buffet; hotel food is awful. Come, sit down next to me, and I'll be happy to tell you what an abysmal path it is you've chosen for yourself, free of charge.

And I'll always be happy to tell you about the mid-list thriller I wrote back in the 80's. All you have to do is ask.


  1. Hey, how is Vegas in terms of the writing scene? I'm in the Bay Area, but may be relocating to Vegas...

  2. Great post, Lorna.

    I think that much of the Advice Machine you describe makes their money on the backs of people who love the idea of being an author but are scared (or just not interested) in doing the actual work to get there.

    I'm not slamming them; I can relate. I wish I could play the piano. I love seeing the bar-room piano players and envy people who can sit down and play some amazing bit of music at the drop of a hat. I want to have that skill, but I have absolutely no desire to invest the hours and hours of practice that it takes to earn that skill.

    Two pieces of advice from successful-type writers, provided absolutely for free:

    Neil Gaiman: You write. You finish what you write. You look for publishers who publish 'that kind of thing', whatever it is. You send them what you've done.

    Oliver Stone: Writing = Ass + Chair

    As a beginning-type writer, I am amazed by the amount of advice about 'building a platform', social media, or any of the other things that are perfectly valid to worry about, provided that you've actually, you know, Written Something.

    I'll stick to people and things that kick my butt to get into gear, and sites that clue me in to where to submit my finished work (Dark Markets being a great example, natch!).

  3. Great post. I have many of the same feelings about this topic which inspired me to write a quick essay on the recycled feel good content of writer's magazines. I'm glad to k ow I'm not alone.

  4. Ooo, welcome to Vegas when you get here, Malcolm! There are piles of writers in this town. I'm shocked that I keep bumping into writers here left and right. When my child-creature finally allows me to attend one of the local writer meetings, I'll shoot you a note as to how it went. ^_^

  5. Thanks for your comments, Dan and Allen! I love the Ass+Chair formula, you're totally right. Glad to have you guys around!