Be Miss Snark...cause words fail me

Miss Snark,

I am an inspiring writer (that must be a ‘most common phrase’) and I have a question regarding market research. How could I go about researching the market as far as fiction trends? How long do trends last in the publishing world? And lastly, about non-fiction, How would I find out the most marketable non-fiction subjects and can you write non-fiction without a specialty or without credentials in that subject?

Also, a note on how wonderful you are for sharing your knowledge on the mystery we have commonly named, ‘Literary Agent’ a fleeting existence that causes more tears than a Pediatric Doctor, more frustration than taxes and hopefully more happiness than an ice cream truck in the getto. I appreciate the knowledge, and will continually follow your Blog.

All suggestions for the correct response will be received with gratitude.
Now, off to chase the Mr. Softee truck with the other kids.


Anonymous said...

This has to be a joke. Otherwise, it's too sad.

John Jones said...

For both fiction and non-fiction trends, track the bestseller lists. The NY Times is a good one but USA Today's (i.e. McNews's) expanded list would be more useful in terms of broader trends. If you're ambitious, you can track back several decades and couple your findings with what was in the news at the time. Right now, it's terrorism, religion, and conservative politics. 10 years ago, it was the new world post-Communism, political sex scandals, and the roaring economy. You get the idea.

As for pub'ing non-fiction sans credentials... good luck.

Deborah Hern said...

The...? With the....? Who did the what, now??

Or, as my verification word, so aptly puts it: unkpeg??

John Jones said...

One other thing. By the time you discover a trend and write a book, the trend will be long gone. You can, however, be creative and try starting a trend. But this only works if you're psychic.

12 said...

Vous le lit-wetting stupide inspirational vous tape, j'arrose de la glace de ghetto demi-digérée dans votre direction générale. Allez s'il vous plaît prennent la peine les gens à Publient l'Amérique. Vous m'avez donné une migraine.

Snark Célibataire

Cheryl Mills said...

You are an "aspiring" writer. "Inspiring" is way, way, WAY down the road.

Research fiction trends by, oh, I don't know, look at the NYT Bestseller list, maybe visit a bookstore?

Trends last five minutes. Better hurry.

You find out about marketable non-fiction by submitting proposals. If someone says, "Okay, let's do it," then do it. Better know what you're talking about. If you don't know what you're talking about, then ghostwrite it for someone who does.

Find a better pediatrician, and maybe hire an accountant. And buy a dictionary, or at least use the thesaurus feature on your word processing program. If 'stirring, rousing' couldn't substitute for your original word, then perhaps you've picked the wrong word.

litagent said...

No words necessary. Just the delete button. Better to pretend that this one got lost in the e-ther.

CLH said...

I take comfort in the fact this person is obviously no competition.

... I'm gonna go wash my brain off now.

Claudia said...

Getto indeed! This is just too perfect not to be a joke, Miss Snark. I think some geneus probably wrote it, Don't you?

Anonymous said...

HA! Love how she thinks she's already an "INSPIRING" writer.

I think you mean aspiring, honey.

Nut said...

Think of it this way, how long do fashion trends last? What about health trends? Finally, do any of those trends fit each and every individual?

Heck, I'll just use one of Miss Snarks frazes: 'Write what you love'.

overdog said...

Poor Miss Snark.

Before you chew off your manicure (and your lips), I would suggest to the fledgling snarkling:

READ MORE. Read more books, then the Snarkives, then more books. Then read some more books. If, after you've read the entire Snarkives and 100 books, you still need to ask the question, then you haven't been paying attention and you should go study to be a lifeguard or a cafeteria lady.

Anonymous said...

The questioner is an "inspiring writer". Somehow, I had imagined that people who are inspiring generally have a particular thing they inspire people about -- and so, are not that concerned with market trends.

However, perhaps the questioner is looking for a good vehicle to carry his/her message?

Or perhaps she/he meant "aspiring writer" ... and has simply inspired me to nonsense or something like it.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Oh, Miss Snark, this one's easy (although you may want to snark it up a bit):

To follow trends, subscribe and then make sure you read Publisher's Marketplace online. A careful reader will also track trends for you because your inspiring eye will pick up things that mere aspiring authors can't.

As for nonfiction, write your passion, be it People Who Dress Their Dogs in Ladies' Clothes, or The End of the Hatfield-McCoy Era. Anything that's not passionate simply won't sell. That goes for sex manuals, too.

Anonymous said...

Trends? By the time you see a trend, it is too late. One year to write, two years to get it on the shelves: the trend is over.

Write from your heart and make the best book you can. START a trend!

And NEVER give up.

Ben W in PDX said...

Fiction trends? Follow the mainstream talking head news and see what topics are "popular", then write something sensational to capitalize on it... what if vampires appeared in Iraq? What if Global warming was being caused by aliens wanting to take over the planet? You get the picture. Be sure to use the current buzzwords.

As to needing credentials to write non-fiction? Nonsense. Use same method as above but use actual people/places.

Stacy said...

I typed 'fiction trends' in the Google search box and got 17 million hits. That might be a good place to start.

Pepper Smith said...

Dear aspiring writer,

The most expedient way to research market trends in fiction is to go to the bookstore and see what's on the shelves. Read what's out there. Pick up a copy of Writer's Market and see what publishers handle the genre you want to write in, and check their websites to see what their guidelines are. Often they will list what they're looking for.

Trends last as long as they last. It's like the weather. It changes without warning.

As for non-fiction, see what's out there and pick something different. If there are already books on that subject, you would have to really convince an editor that yours had some unique angle that hadn't been touched before, or the answer is probably going to be, "We've got one already." Fortunately, non-fiction can be shopped around based on a proposal, so if no one wants it, you don't have to go to the trouble of writing the entire thing first, the way you do with fiction.

Without a specialty or without credentials? Er...it's going to be tough to convince anyone you know what you're talking about without at least some proof that you know what you're talking about.

Yoyogod said...

How about this as a response:

You certainly are an inspiring writer. Merely reading your question has inspired me to quit my agenting job and to follow my dream. Starting next week, I'll become Miss Snark, the trapeze artist.

Feisty said...

Do you want to write to the trends? And if so, why would you want to do that?

Why don't you write what interests you and forget about the market.

Markets are fickle. So are trends.

December Quinn said...

Is English the writer's first language?

I can only share my technique for studying "market trends." I interview people on the street, (but I stay away from the "getto", of course) asking what sorts of subjects interest them. I put all this information on a large flow chart on the wall of my office, compiling the data into a series of attractive and informative graphs. I also do the survey by email.

After carefully studying the results, I decide if I'm going to try my hand at fiction (easy to write, because it's just making stuff up) or non-fiction (also easy. I just copy stuff from newspapers) and get started!

What I don't do is, yanno[pp/tm] actually read some books. That would be a waste of my precious time.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Give me a minute. Give me a minute. Busy wiping snot-infused Diet Orange Crush off my monitor, but I can answer the one about how long fiction trends last right now:

Fiction trends are kind of like the stock market. Whatever trend they are on ends the moment you notice there is one and jump on the bandwagon.

Anonymous said...

Dear "Inspiring Writer",

I'm so happy for you. I can only aspire to be inspiring whereas you seem to have achieved it already.

Researching trends in fiction is also known as "reading". When searching for trends, it is best to "read" the books that appear on bestseller lists, or that you see people around you purchasing at "bookstores". You never know when a trend may come or go, so it's important to "read" everything you can. If you were to write a book about a boy wizard tracking the Holy Grail with clues found in "Highlights for Children" magazine, you might have the tail of a couple of trends (and we all know how important it is to follow as many trends as possible).

As far as non-fiction goes, recent events have proven that you need not have any particular expertise or even facts at your command to write a non-fiction bestseller. Just make it up and tell agents when you are querying that it's all true, every word.

Wishing you luck in your career,

Some Schlub standing in for Miss Snark.

Anonymous said...

I was talking to a bloke in the pub last week and happened to mention that I do a bit of writing. Amazingly, he knew the answers to every one of your questions and spent quite some time elaborating. So, you could do worse than get yourself to the Butcher Boy on Shoreditch High Street some Sunday evening. I bet he'll be there...

Thanks for the question; it was quite inspiring.

Anonymous said...

I'd forget the marketing, and instead focus on the basics of writing.

For example, don't use two general words when one specific word would work: Pediatrician = pediatric doctor.

Wendy said...

Fiction trends: unfortunately, trends may not last as long as it takes to submit/be accepted/go through the long process of getting book to shelf. And that's not even considering how long it might take to write the thing!
Read a lot in the area in which you intend to write, which is a lot more pleasant if you intend to write in an area you love to read. Don't try to write scottish historicals because kilts on the cover sell. Write them because tartan gives you goosebumps in all the right places.

Non-fiction: credentials make it a lot easier to be taken seriously.

It's good that you are game to ask questions. Do follow the links that MS gives to sites like Evil Editor, as there is a lot to learn there.

Here are some random suggestions gleaned from more than a decade of writing:
1. You don't get published by writing the right thing at the right time. You get published by writing really well, and that takes a lot of work.
2. Not many writers make a living out of it. This is a job you are almost certain to not get rich in.
3. Even in the 'prolific' genres like romance (which I love so don't anybody think that is an insult), it takes years of writing to get accepted. I've seen the statistics but don't remember them exactly. I think the average was six years.
4. If this hasn't put you off the writing game, find a writer's Association. Join it. Start writing something you love while you suck up writerly knowledge from the group.
5. If you are already cringing at the fact that you typed 'inspiring writer' instead of 'aspiring writer', there is hope for you. If you hadn't noticed, then you have much work to do. Writing is more about wrestling the words into submission when the muse is long gone, than it is about what flies from the fingertips in the first place.
Oh, and I do have credentials in this subject. I'm published. I'm not just making this stuff up to annoy you.

Anonymous said...

My favorite part of this post is that people are actually responding with real advice for the guy. Um, do they not understand Miss Snark's sarcasm?

Anyway, I can hear Mister Softee tinkling from here, and since I can't afford air conditioning in my ghetto $1200 a month studio apartment I'm going to go grab some.

Writerious said...

Why would you WANT to follow a fiction trend? Why approach a publisher with yet another stale clone of whatever novel is currently hot? If you really want to tie your shoelaces together and then enter the marathon, so you fall flat on your face at the start line, and go about bravely saying, "Ah, but I tried," okay, fine. But if you'd rather actually complete the run, don't hobble yourself. And if you'd rather actually publish than be a "could have been," write the book that STARTS the next trend.

Nonfiction without credentials -- how many nonfiction books have you actually bought by authors who lacked credentials? Granted, you don't need to be a fighter pilot to write children's books with general information about fighter planes (as I know from experience, having never done the former, but having done the latter), if you want to write a best-seller self-help book, or a popular science book, or an academic tome, or a book on keeping your Duesenberg in running condition, you'd better have some kind of expertise, or at least work with an expert as your co-author.

Sherry Decker said...

By the time something is recognized as a 'trend' it's too late to join in. It's a little like a pyramid scam; only the earliest investors ever make a splash. That means you need to start a trend.

delilah said...

Do you think the person writing the letter might be into self-flagellation? If not, WHAT was he thinking writing something like that to Miss Snark? He had to know he'd be thrown into a pit teeming with frenzied snarklings.

Claudia said...

Hey everybody, Delilah just said "Frenzied Snarklings!" I think she should get an award for that. I like that!

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

I dunno. Mayhap they are an inspiring writer. They've inspired a buncha comments on this blog, haven't they?

There is a ready market for inspirational novels, particularly Christian Romance. That's pretty chaste romance, and it usually hasn't got a single goat in the story. It's that parable about the sheep and the goats. Goats came out on the short end in that. (Matthew chapter 25 for the curious.)

Other than that, the most noticeable market trend is toward good writing. Although, having read what a few editors write, I'm certainly surprised! Who knew?

No! I'm not naming names! I want them to publish me, remember? Sheesh!

Anonymous said...

Dear Aspiring Writer,

Forget trends. Honestly. Who cares what the trends are? Just write. Read and write and read some more and study the language, and then just write. If your writing fits into a trend, cool. If not, cool. If you sell a ton of books and make a boatload of money, sponsor an aspiring writer who needs the help.

But never, ever wonder about the trends. Let the agents and publishers and booksellers worry about that. Writers write; they don't have to kowtow to the trends. That's a different profession altogether. You just write.


(P.S. -- Don't worry about the Snarklings. We all make mistakes. Just, next time, if you're gonna email Miss Snark, you may want to get a friend to help you proofread before you hit "send," because the snarkiness appears here on a pretty regular basis.)

Anneliese said...

Perspiring from your aspirations for an inspired reply?

Best play it straight with this one, and that'd simply be: "Honey, if you don't know what to write, don't write."

And, include a link to an ABA-certified paralegal course.

Ken Boy said...

Dear Inspiring Writer: The horses are good writing. The cart is all that crap in your question. Don't be equine deficient. Get you some horsies. Good luck.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

A more serious answer than my first post:

Write what you want to write. Write it well. Do your best. Forget market research. Just write and write well. Keep writing. Write when it hurts to write. Listen to criticism, and don't let your husband or wife read it! They're not the best beta-readers. The last writer's mate that was a good beta reader was Robert Lewis Stevenson's wife. She's dead.

Jellybean said...

"‘Literary Agent’ a fleeting existence that causes more tears than a Pediatric Doctor,..."

This might have seemed cute when you wrote it, but think again. To someone who has spent sleepless nights wondering if their child will make it through surgery, or even whether that fever is going to go down, it is a smack in the face. A child's poor health is anything but funny.

Uzsyhz said...

That's easy. Trends last 85 weeks. Fads last either 36 weeks or 116 weeks, depending on the fad.

The current trend is in its 14th week, so you still have time to jump on it, if you hurry. I won't give away what the current trend is, because I'm writing a trendy novel myself.

Anonymous said...

The ice cream man brings happiness to many more places besides the ghetto...I mean, we're talking ICE CREAM here!

Anyway, if writing is your dream, follow it but be patient and work hard. If you want it badly enough, you will be willing to work very, very hard for however long it takes. Also, read everything you can and do your research. There are some great sites for writers on the websites but beware of scammers. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Holy Crap. If I were an agent, I would be the Darth Vader of agents because I would just put the light saber on them. Right up in them.
At the sight of "inspiring writer" it would have been in flames.

First, I think you can go online and find out about fiction trends, no? I have to say that when I read that I said, "why write in a genre or about a subject because it's a 'trend'?" You write fiction in the voice that is appropriate for your story and about thing which you feel passionate about. Am I wrong?

I'm going to take a stab and say that in order to publish a book about, let's say about dieting or health, you would need to be a person studied in the subject, a doctor or professional in the field. I want to read a cookbook by someone who lives in the kitchen. I want to read a home-improvement book by someone who is an expert in renovating. So on and so forth.
I live in the ghetto so I gotta go outside and get back the $20 the ice cream guy borrowed from me last week. He thinks he's slick.

caramaena said...

heh, I like yoyogod's response.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

They don't get ice cream in the ghetto? How very, very sad.

Sue said...

Ha! I think this questioner is asking, "How can I be assured of writing a best seller?" Now, before we all sneer and comment on how that pierces the heart of creativity and before we all scream, write well!, there are some successful writers who have "found the formula."

I am thinking of the guy who wrote COMA. He was an educated man who researched what sorts of stories consistently hit the bestseller lists, (mysteries and thrillers) and then proceeded to write a mystery/thriller. I know of another writer who set out to write a successful romance, so she gathered together her favorites and studied them for structure and so on.

It can be done, but it isn't knowing the "trend", it is seeing what is selling consistently AND it is understanding what makes the stories that sell work as stories, and then being able to produce more of the same (only different.)

Suzanne C. said...

Wall Street Journal had an article called "Novel Ploy" on Monday, 7-10 about niche marketing in fiction. It appears that just as there is a magazine for every subgroup or interest, writing a novel to appeal to a particular group (with marketing research to back it up) might get your foot in the door. It appeared to work for the authors of JOURNAL who went to the publisher with marketing info about scrapbooking.

Sounds like a plan to me. How do I market research?

Kafaleni said...

I am an inspiring writer (A) (that must be a ‘most common phrase’) and I have a question regarding market research. How could I go about researching the market as far as fiction trends? (B) How long do trends last in the publishing world? (C) And lastly, about non-fiction, How would I find out the most marketable non-fiction subjects (D) and can you write non-fiction without a specialty or without credentials in that subject? (E)

Also, a note on how wonderful you are (F) for sharing your knowledge on the mystery we have commonly named, ‘Literary Agent’ a fleeting existence (G) that causes more tears than a Pediatric Doctor, more frustration than taxes and hopefully more happiness than an ice cream truck in the getto. (H) I appreciate the knowledge, and will continually follow your Blog. (I)

Dear Nitwitus Maximus
(A) Inspiring, aspiring, or inspirational?
(B) Try looking at the market for the last few years. That should give you some idea.
(C) There is no answer to this question. The Bible is still a best-seller. So is Harry Potter and (insert title here). Other styles of writing come in and out of fashion.
(D)Start at Borders, Amazon, B & N - see what's selling there. Look at the book reviews, bestseller lists, etc. That's a start.
(E) Killer Yapp could write NF outside of his area of expertise (pink tams and liver snacks) and possibly even get published. However he should not, and neither should you.
(F) Duh.
(G) Some of us have been around longer than the dinosaurs. Not Miss Snark, of course, who is eternally youthful.
(H) too many metaphors, no spellcheck. (although that's only -1/2 a point [it's ghetto])
(I) Please do.

Anonymous said...

more happiness than an ice cream truck in the getto?

Way to go...insulting and misspelled.

Forget trends. By the time you get your manuscript written, the trend you wrote to will have changed.

Inez said...

Ice cream truck in the getto.
And yet. This person will probably be
published before me.

Frainstorm said...

I had a long post, but I realized my mind was in the ghutter so I'm suddenly aspired to delete it.

Another Dejected Writer said...

The trend in fiction is writing that reflects intelligence and articulation. It's been going strong for the last few centuries and, despite rumors to the contrary, doesn’t appear in any danger of dying anytime soon. Hell, even Dan Brown writes like he was at least half-awake during an English class or two, which is more than I can say for that email you sent me.

So here’s my advice. First, run your damn spell check. Better yet, get a dictionary out and look up words you don’t know before you embarrass yourself in front of the blogsphere again. Second, stop writing bullshit pseudo-homonyms. Either you don’t know what aspiring means, or you were trying to be cute. Either way, you do that in a query letter, and KY has a new pooper-scooper. Capisci?

The place for you to do research is your local high school. Enroll in a freshman English class. Pay attention to the parts about capitalization and apostrophe use. Don’t even try to write a book until you can at least get a C+ on a short story or article or two. And if you don’t pick up on some trends or become an expert in something interesting enough to write about during the four years it will take to graduate, then there’s always a career writing sitcoms for ABC to look forward to.

Don’t let the gin pail hit you in the head on the way out!

Anonymous said...

A joke?

A way to get quick recognition? ("Hey, the thing I sent to Miss Snark? She actually posted it.")

Inspriring Writer wants an easy answer to "Tell me how I can make money" All right. Read Al Zuckerman's WRITING THE BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL. Then write your book. It's that simple. Uh huh.

ladycygnet said...

Oh, those homophones got you good, didn't they, inspiring writer?

First of all, read more books. Second, develop your vocabulary so that you can spot those troubling homophones that make you an easy target. Third, stay away from insta-cliches, such as your description of a literary agent. I know you were trying to be cute, but cliches make texts painful to read, and I'm sure you want your readers to percieve your work as fresh and innovative. Finally, get together with other writers and let them help you make your work better through proofreading, brainstorming, and constructive criticism.

Now, get back to work, or Sisko will leave a present on your keyboard.

Anonymous said...

(1)I am an inspiring writer (that must be a ‘most common phrase’)
(2) and I have a question regarding market research. How could I go about researching the market as far as fiction trends?

(1) Actually the phrase isn't all that common. If you haven't finished your book you're an aspiring writer rather than an inspiring one.

(2) Don't bother. The trend will be gone by the time you finish writing the book. You'll be much more productive if YOU like what you are writing about. Writing something only because you want to sell it won't work. Your writing won't have the edge it needs to win from the competition if you're focused on marketability.

Quick said...

Too funny, yet again.

I did have someone once tell me, upon hearing that I was a bit of a writer, that he too was an inspiring writer. Thinking he was joking, I snortled. He looked offended. He was oblivious to his mistake. We never did get around to talking about writing.

Perhaps this very same person wrote this letter, but I doubt it.

Ray Goldensundrop said...

Turn away. Don't look. Mash DELETE.

Back when survival depended on reviewing virtual mountains of student papers, the concept of God being omnivorous rather than omniscient came up.

Porterhouse with spud is divine? Aye sea delite!

Anonymous said...

To anonymous who advised reading Al Zuckerman's book: If you're interested in reading that book, all you have to do is query him and you will receive an order form for an over-priced version of it, compliments of your SASE and your querying efforts.

Anonymous said...

It is a shame that insults rarely are productive in society or I might be an improved person as a result of this blog. I do appreciate that my question has remained anonymous, and I am sorry to have wasted anyone’s valuable time on answering it. The true intellectuals out there that allowed their time to be wasted on my simpleton question, well I would like to say thank you very much. I am a young ASPIRING (so, so sorry) author, and for the others who believe that I may have never read a book in my life… Think again, I have done nothing but read for a total of twenty four years. It is my absolute greatest pleasure. As far as competition, we will see. I meet few people in my daily life that I do not supersede, and besides writing is an art (an academic art) but still an art. It’s true talent is not measured through punctuation, grammar or even literary skill it is imagination and innovation that has created humanities greatest novels. To brush me off as a writer, due to a quick paragraph sent during a lunch hour is just as ignorant as my question apparently was perceived...

grasshopper said...

If it's a joke, it's too dead-on to prompt a chuckle; more likely a wince. Anyone who answered with honest information can consider her- or himself helpful not only to the poor but eager writer here--who will suffer a good deal more derision(and possibly immanent self-loathing) at serious attempts to put words together--but also to the industry as a whole. The fewer clumsy, naive, or not inconceivably tongue-in-cheek pleas, the less aggravation overall. The market is cruel, crooked, and crazed enough without comments that condescend and ridicule. grasshopper

Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Snark:
I do not know you. I've enjoyed your blog for quite some time, however. Mostly for the advice you give to aspiring writers, me included. Sometimes for the wit. Never for the venom. Thankfully, many of these commenters overlooked the mistakes this person made in their query, and gave him or her some very good advice. Others chose to respond less graciously. For the person who submitted this question: I hope you take to heart the good advice, and I hope you are strong enough to withstand the bile pouring out from the rest, and that what you take from that negativity is a renewed comfort in your own desire simply to write. Show them; that will shut them up.
They cast a lot of stones; build.

Miss Snark, you should be ashamed.

James Patterson said...

You can write anything without credentials, and hit any trend spot on, dear child. I have been doing so for years, but I'm not telling you my secrets (mwahahahah!)

Uisce said...

Oh I'm inspired allright!

Miss Snark said...

of what?
posting a question?
letting people respond?

what the fuck do you think this is? therapy? kindergarten where "everyone is entitled to respect"? fuck that noise.

You toss off a stupid question laden with errors, you get an honest response. If you don't like it, or think it's cruel, you better toughen up.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, submitter you have truly inspired many. -JTC

Anonymous said...

"Humanties greatest novels" (sic)have been written by people who know how to use language. Who can wield a pen the way Itzhak Perlman does his violin. Technical expertise does count in prose, and it isn't just a matter of commas or even confused homophones. Imagination and innovation are all well and good, but if you can't write well enough to get them across to your reader, what's the point?

Don't worry about trends. It doesn't matter what your first book is about because it probably should never see the light of day--and that's true of 99.9% of authors' first books, mine included. Just go write.

-a published author

Nut said...

WANTEDs: An inspiring writer searches for inspiration.

WARNING: Ms Snark blog is not for the overly sensitive wimps.

Wait a minute. Did her snarkiness say, she's opening her own kindergarder? Oooo, can I join? Pleeeeeeeeease... Okay, what about that ice cream, could I get a drop? Come on, I participated! Fine, be that way! I still think, you rock, Ms Snark.

(word verification 'ypxis'- beat that!)

Mazement said...

can you write non-fiction without a specialty or without credentials in that subject?

"Non-fiction without a speciality" is usually called "an encyclopedia" and it's a bit much for one person. Better to narrow your focus a little.

If there are credentials associated with your subject, then it's a good idea to get them. (If you're writing about say, science or history, then you'll want a degree in the relevant branch.)

The way around this is to pick a subject that isn't taught in college. You've actually got the germ of a good idea in your query letter: Why not spend the summer driving an ice cream truck in the ghetto, and then write a book about what you've learned?

There's definitely a market for this if it's done well...Barbara Ehrenreich proved that with "Nickled and Dimed"...but it's still relatively untapped.

Here's an ice cream fact to get you started: My wife has lived in NYC for many years, and she reports wanting to strangle the ice cream truck driver after he's played his music loop 20 or 30 times in a row. Maybe you could just play the loop once at each stop, to let people know you're there? It's probably against company policy, but your boss doesn't need to find out about it. Thanks in advance!

Michelle said...

If you've every worked for or with a marketing department you'd realize they talk like that all time.

Scary, however they are paid more than I am to make up words and act cool.


The Rejected Writer said...

Miss Snark said, "You toss off a stupid question laden with errors, you get an honest response. If you don't like it, or think it's cruel, you better toughen up."

Amen, MS. 'Nuf said.

December Quinn said...

I meet few people in my daily life that I do not supersede, and besides writing is an art (an academic art) but still an art. It’s true talent is not measured through punctuation, grammar or even literary skill it is imagination and innovation that has created humanities greatest novels.

Wrong. Writing has no talent of its own. If you mean the true talent of the writer isn't measured through grammar and punctuation, you're also wrong. Imagination and innovation have helped make some of humanity's greatest novels.

The knowledge and use of language and grammar is what made humanity's greatest novels. One cannot exist without the other. A wonderful story told by a writer who cannot effectively communicate that story is unreadable. If you use big words where small ones would do, if you substitute wrong words for correct ones, if your plurals and tenses are all confused, no one-particularly agents and editors, upon whose understanding you reply-will be able to read or understand your work.

You can have the greatest story ever, imaginative and fascinating, but if you can't get published because your writing is amateurish, no one will read it.

Writing is a craft. Study it. Just like you can't pick up a paintbrush and paint a Mona Lisa because you like looking at art, you cannot write a book without understanding the basic rules of the English language.

What great novels did you read that ignored them? Hemingway? Lee? Steinbeck? Faulkner?

Take a look at Miss Snark & the Snarklings' list of Awefull books. How many of those were written by people who felt the basics of language were irrelevent to writing?

Perhaps you do supersede all of us. Good for you. That doesn't mean you get a free pass to butcher the written word.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

I don't think the person who framed this question is stupid. They're inexperienced. There is a big difference.

Also, my impression of their "errors" is that they have some learning disabilities. I do NOT mean they're stupid. Many very smart people have trouble with spelling and grammar and processing thought. Some spell and speak in ways that are perfectly understandable, once you know the key. Many fight the problem all their lives, and they’re very inventive in finding ways around it. One of the best story-tellers I ever knew had the worst grammar. He had natural talent. I mentioned him in an earlier post.

I'm really not trying to be insulting to the inquirer. However, you approach this blog at your own risk. You take the consequences. To blame Snarkie (TM, Patent Pending, Intellectual Property, No use granted) for posting the question, or to blame her for the response of others is silly.

People are as people are. We're a tough race.

whitemouse said...

As far as competition, we will see. I meet few people in my daily life that I do not supersede, (A) and besides writing is an art (an academic art) but still an art. (B) (snip) To brush me off as a writer, due to a quick paragraph (C) sent during a lunch hour is just as ignorant as my question apparently was perceived...

Dear writer,

I was disinclined to comment on your original letter, because I thought that the blog readers would probably cover everything, both in terms of good advice and snarkastic (or perhaps snarcaustic) responses.

(A) If you want to be published, you don't need to supersede the people you meet in everyday life. You need to be better than nearly everyone who is published. (By the way, are you aware of how arrogant you came across in that sentence? Ooh, you're better than just about everyone you know. *pats you on the head*)

(B) When you used the word "academic", it raised my eyebrow. See below.

(C) You see, you've now given us a second paragraph with which we may examine your writing, and my general impression of it remains the same as my general impression of the original letter. Your writing does sound academic - even pedantic. You're a bit too wordy, and the prose drags because of it.

If you're trying to get published, this needs to be fixed. Your writing skills, as displayed here, would not compete well with those of the authors already on the market.

And there has been some very good advice imbedded in all these comments. I've actually been surprised by how unaggressive the snarklings have been with you. I know it's hard, but try to get past your bruised ego enough to absorb that advice. There were people here who were trying to help you, and for the record, I am too.

Mazement said...

It is a shame that insults rarely are productive in society or I might be an improved person as a result of this blog.

It varies from person to person. Some people can take an insult and extract the honest criticism, and then decide whether that criticism is valid or not.

If you want to be any kind of artist you need to try to develop a thicker skin. Having people insult you is a big part of the job description.

I meet few people in my daily life that I do not supersede,

Supersede = Replace
Surpass = Do Better Than

and besides writing is an art (an academic art) but still an art. It’s true talent is not measured through punctuation, grammar or even literary skill

It's = It is
Its = Belonging to it

Punctuation and grammar weren't just created to make people miserable. They're used to make communication easier by removing ambiguity from sentences.

If you're not doing the work at the front end, then your readers have to do the work of deciphering your sentences at the back end. (Check out Lynne Truss' "Eats[,] Shoots and Leaves" to learn more about the importance of punctuation.) It's even more work if you use the wrong words and people have to guess what you meant.

You do want to get paid for writing, right?

it is imagination and innovation that has created humanities greatest novels.

Which great novels do you have in mind?

Imagination and innovation are nice, but if they were all you needed then all the great novels would have been written by 6-year-olds. Getting ideas is easy; it's expressing them that's hard.

B. Dagger Lee said...

To all of youse Anonymouses:

Pick a handle, it doesn’t have to be your real name, but anonymous is rude, always.

This is New York City! Time is short! Anonymous asked the equivalent of “Where’s Time Square?” while standing IN IT, wearing a “Jews for Jesus T-shirt” and Mom’s pants. Read the archives, man!

All of the questions have been answered on the blog, previously. Do you really want Miss Snark to answer the same question over and over again? That’s called lowest common denominator, also you’ll blow her valuable fuses.

I vote for Ken Boy’s answer above.

Trends? Go to Google Trends, a new beta feature. Otherwise, Madame Fabrezey, a Puerto Rican Gypsy Lady on the corner, reads cards for $5 or $50 deluxe. It’s worth a trip to New York City, the Center of the World, especially Publishing, to consult one of our fine card and palm readers. You get a discount if you whisper or hum “There is a rose in Spanish Harlem,” and it’s free if you wear white bell-bottoms and sing “A poor little baby child is born / In the ghetto” while claiming to be from Child Protective Services.

Unless you are Dave Chapelle, please don’t even use the word “getto” within a 50-mile radius of NYC.

Yrs, B. Dagger Lee

Malia said...

I vote we all tackle Mr. Patterson for his secrets...

MS - keeping it real as always.

word verification: osvcus

I feel inspired.

Mamalujo1 -- I osvcus in your general direction.

Janny said...

"I meet few people in my daily life that I do not supersede, and besides writing is an art (an academic art) but still an art. It’s true talent is not measured through punctuation, grammar or even literary skill it is imagination and innovation that has created humanities greatest novels."

Let's see. The author is not only inspiring, but elevated to the point that he/she "supercedes" other people. Unfortunately, apparently this superior intellect doesn't extend to use of the English language, or said intellect would know the difference between "it's" and "its." (Not to mention "humanity's" versus "humanities.") That probably says more about the state of the art in this particular case than almost anything else, egregious as the "anything else" was and is.

While I don't believe in venom strictly for venom's sake, neither should Miss Snark nor the snarkier respondents be rebuked for their sarcasm. If the writer reads this blog at all, he/she knows it has what can gently be called "an edge," and he/she needed to brace him/herself for the inevitable slicing that can occur when that edge cuts too close.

As to whether the writer deserved those cuts? Undeniably. Citing that the post was "a quick paragraph dashed off during lunch hour" doesn't excuse its lack of coherence nor the many--to say the least--oddities about it, so many in fact that many of us thought it was a joke.

It might still be. Asking about whether you can write nonfiction without credentials in the field you're writing about? Come on. Pull my other leg. (I could stand to be taller.)

Moral of the story: if you can't stand the snarkiness, stay out of KY's kitchen. But don't venture into a blog like this with a target on your back and then get mad when people shoot at it.


Another Dejected Writer said...

If somebody who displays that level of ineptitude honestly aspires to be a writer, what’s doing them more damage? The squishy-feelings “You can do it!” bullshit that backhandedly validates everything they’re doing wrong and lulls them into thinking that they somehow don’t have to work smarter, harder, and better than everyone else out there just like them? Or someone who lets them know, point blank, how far they are from where they think they are and gives them a scathing kick in the ass to let them know they either better step up their game or give up now, ‘cause this shit ain’t flyin’.

There are a lot of factors that determine success or failure in this world. Many are simply out of our hands. Dumb luck, bad timing, war, manic depression. There’s no excuse for being lazy when it comes to getting an advantage by doing everything that is in our hands to achieve success. And if people don’t realize that, then they won’t succeed unless they look like Britney Spears and screw like Paris Hilton.

Leslea said...

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Kim said...

Wow - I think anonymous needs to lighten up a little. How is someone with such obviously thin skin ever going to survive the (sometimes) brutal criticisms that come from editors, reviewers, etc? Anyone who reads this blog on a relatively regular basis KNOWS it can be tough. If you can't handle that, don't post a question! And if you do decide to post, make sure you've used the correct words and spellings, and no one will mock your question. There are some pretty good answers and helpful tips offered here so anonymous might want to focus on that instead of getting offended. What is he/she going to do when the inevitible rejection letter comes? Attack the editor or agent?

No one likes to be criticized, but a smart aspiring writer looks at WHAT was pointed out and tries to make it improvements. That's called honing your craft and it's a neverending process. I'm a multipublished author and I learn something with each new book. So suck it up, quit whining, and concentrate on honing your craft!

word verification: sxfkybb

Corn Dog said...

“I meet few people in my daily life that I do not supersede, and besides writing is an art (an academic art) but still an art.”

You have never attended an adult writing group. Don’t compare your writing skills to the working class folk writing skills. The working stiffs are not there to write. They are getting through the 8 to 5 the best they can. Go to a writing group. Write. Read. Hear other authors read their own works.

Your statement reminds me of when I was a child. I thought I was going to be a great opera singer at the ripe old age of 8. I was constantly screeching, “Figaro” at all the farm dogs. One day, my father brought his tape recorder home from work. I asked him if I could borrow it to record a song or two. It was the first time I had really heard my own voice. The recording made me cry my voice was so bad. Reality.

Writing is a craft, not an art, young one.

Sal said...

Suzanne C. said... Wall Street Journal had an article called "Novel Ploy" on Monday, 7-10 about niche marketing in fiction.

Article can be found here.

delilah said...

Again, to anyone lucky enough to find their question posted on Miss Snark's blog: with wildly flapping wings and gnarled claws, we frenzied snarklings will peck some sense into you for your own good.

Some Advice: If you can't stand the flailing; stay out of the hen house.

SAND STORM said...

I wish just once Miss Snark would post something that would generate the odd comment:)

Christine said...

Dear Anonymous Writer:

It may look as though we are picking on you over trivial points of grammar. The ideas you are attempting to express need improvement too, but we focus on grammar, spelling and word usage because these things are easier to find and fix. If you master these you will likely find that the deeper levels will improve as well.

Even the commenters who mocked you have given you something valuable. They have shown you how an editor is likely to react if you submit your work at your current level of skill. This is a lesson. Learn from it.

If you have been avidly reading for 24 years, that's a good start. Keep reading. Read slowly, and more carefully. After you finish a book, go back and read it again, but as a writer. Consider it sentence by sentence, and as a whole.

Finally, write every day. If you find that after all this, you still have trouble with the technical details, then give your manuscripts to a trusted friend before you send them to the rest of the world. Good luck.

Feisty said...

You know, I think we all started out as starry-eyed wonders. Then we started writing and found out we had a long ways to go. Then we went that long ways and found out we were only starting. Along the way, we learned to listen and parse the feedback of others.

Just go write. All the advice in the world isn't going to help you right now. Go write a novel. And then another. And then another. By the time you hit the third or fourth, you'll be on the right track. Then you'll hit a wall because no one wants to buy your stuff, so you'll go a ways longer.

On the misuse of words, punctuation, etc.: copy editors take care of that stuff, but really, you should know what you're saying. You don't have to be a grammarian to write a book, but you should have a command of the language, how it flows, how it sings, how it works.

And good luck!

Anonymous said...

Dear Questioner, also known as Anonymous:

To render them, musicians who hear beautiful melodies must learn the Circle of Fifths and the rules of sharps and flats.

To paint them, painters who imagine captivating images must learn to mix pigments, and to render textures and light with brushstrokes.

To sculpt them, sculptors who imagine poignant structures must learn the physics of rock, of metal, of their medium.

To move them, dancers who imagine brilliant expressions must exercise their hamstrings, memorize the steps of their style.

Reading is the consumption of writing, as viewing and listening are the consumption of music, painting, sculpture and dance. It is necessary, but not identical with production.

Words are the steps of writing. Place one foot at a time, and connect each step so as not to fall down.

Sentences are the brushstrokes of fiction. Listen to their light, their shadows, their textures. Re-write each sentence until your brushstrokes look like the things they represent.

Punctuation is the chisel of our medium. Chip, shatter: slice--or break. But do so to create the desired shape.

Grammar is the Circle of Fifths, the rules of harmony. Tune your grammar precisely to A=440 fork of your characters, your style, your plot, your genre, or your non-fiction content.

Painters, musicians, sculptors, dancers all apprentice by imitation first, for private consumption only. Write a scene from your favorite story, as you would have done it. Compare to the original. Stroke-for-stroke, note-for-note. Word-for-word.


Maya said...

When I first read the post, I thought it was written by a very young, very green writer. I was both amused and offended and disinclined to respond.

Now that Anonymous has come forward to identify himself as a very young, very green writer, I do have a comment.

Anonymous: You're trying too hard. It's not necessary to use words you don't understand or can't spell in order to be taken seriously. And, when people DO take you seriously, don't ever bite that outstretched hand. Sometimes the hard slap of reality is just what you need.

Initially you came across as very young and very earnest. Now you're coming across as very young and very arrogant. You'll outgrow the first; the second has the potential to be a serious problem.

Okay, so your feelings were hurt. Get used to it. Otherwise, you won't survive your first rejection letter.

Learn from this experience. Lessons you might learn from this:

If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, proofread your work.

Never insult others just to make yourself look clever (I was more annoyed by the "ice cream truck in the getto (sic)" remark than the rest of the posting. Had you simply said "children anticipating an ice cream truck," it would have had a completely different flavor).

Never, ever scribble off a reply in the heat of anger or pride. Bad, bad career move. You don't want to risk sending a nasty response to an editor or agent when you don't like what they've said to you.

Finally, it's good that you love to read. There's hope for you (although that comment about superceding people in your daily life is somewhat discouraging).

Keep reading and good luck to you. My guess is that, in another year or so, you'll look back and read your original post and wince. It's okay. Every one of use has done the same thing at one time or another. We lived and learned. You will, too.

Best wishes in your writing career.

Anonymous said...

Very nice, kd. -JTC

lizzie26 said...

There is no answer. He/she is already an inspiring writer, therefore, no need for help.

There. All done.

litagent said...

To Anonymous (kd) -- that was really quite lovely.

Nut said...

Still, the question remains: did Ms Snark catch Mr Softee? If so, what flavor ice cream did she get.

Mary Connealy said...

You COULD just go stare at the Sistine Chapel ceiling until you come up with a conspiracty theory.

Elektra said...

"It is a shame that insults rarely are productive in society or I might be an improved person as a result of this blog."
If you're not, it's you're own fault; the correct answers have been given to your questions--it is not our fault if they follow the saying "Ask a stupid question..."
"I do appreciate that my question has remained anonymous, and I am sorry to have wasted anyone’s valuable time on answering it. The true intellectuals out there that allowed their time to be wasted on my simpleton question, well I would like to say thank you very much."
Sarcasm to the people you asked to help you is duly noted.
"I am a young ASPIRING (so, so sorry) author and for the others who believe that I may have never read a book in my life… Think again, I have done nothing but read for a total of twenty four years."
A total of twenty-four years? Did you learn in the womb? Have you never stopped to eat? What about write?
"It is my absolute greatest pleasure. As far as competition, we will see. I meet few people in my daily life that I do not supersede"
You know, you're awfully smug for someone who has a terrible vocabulary. "Supercede" means "take the place of". You've met few people in your daily life of WHOM (not that) you take the place?
"and besides writing is an art (an academic art) but still an art."
So is grammar.
"It’s true talent is not measured through punctuation, grammar or even literary skill"
Obviously this is what you told yourself when flunking third grade English. Use the correct form of 'its' and perhaps you'll be taken more seriously. Also, what is "literary skill"?
"it is imagination and innovation that has created humanities greatest novels."
It was probably also knowing whether to use the plural or the possesive.
"To brush me off as a writer, due to a quick paragraph sent during a lunch hour is just as ignorant as my question apparently was perceived... "
Gee, the people you ASKED TO HELP YOU OUT OF THE KINDNESS OF THEIR SNARKY HEARTS are to blame because you didn't think their time was worth a proofread?

Elektra said...

And since when is twenty-four "very young" for a writer? I'm 19 and still know that grammar is an important part of writing--a twenty-four-year-old should have realized it long ago.

Anonymous said...

litagent, Does that mean I have an eye for good "stuff" and should become an agent? -JTC

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Listen to Kd. Them be inspirin' words and be true.

If that there cranky comment (there is editing here. I was much more blunt in the first draft) about coddling this person was a response to what I wrote earlier, you've misunderstood me.

This seems to be my week for being "misunderstood." I'm going back to goat-comments, and staying away from the serious stuff. I think my English doesn’t convey what I mean. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but it certainly seems as if little of what I write is understood in the way I wish it to be.

The question wasn’t stupid. It was based on inexperience and lack of information. I think it reflects a wrong approach to writing. But, there is nothing wrong with encouraging someone who wishes to write, even IF they have much to learn. There is much wrong with fault-finding. There is a process to effective criticism. Open with what commendation you can. Identify the specific problem. Explain the problem’s root cause. Identify the solution. Explain how to apply the solution. Close with some realistic encouragement.

The “dumb” questions always come first. The questions that result in dead ends or which are based on wrong assumptions and incomplete information are not bad questions. When the fault behind the questions is revealed, they lead to more informed questions - and better answers.

What about his bad grammar and spelling? What about it? I’m not stupid. If I type “on the fly” my spelling is awful. I know this. I’ve fought this problem for years. I know why I have this problem. I work around it. I give people the benefit of the doubt. Does he need to “fix” his grammar and spelling. Yes, especially if he wishes to be a published author.

People have feelings. Emotions are not the sole province of wise and talented. Explain to me what is wrong with accommodating the feelings of another, especially if one is trying to help? One of the most persuasive teachers who ever lived spoke of “the art of teaching.” (didake. Sorry, blogspot doesn’t recognize my Greek Font) The art of teaching is not the art of scolding. It is the art of informing clearly (and often kindly and patiently), of persuading, reproving wrong thinking. As with writing, it is an art that can be learned.

We pixies have odd thought processes, I guess. It may be only a cultural difference that leads to a different way of saying the same thing, and I may not recognize the essential agreements. I’m uncertain. But, isn’t persuasiveness the test of how effectively we convey our opinions? In my own overly wordy, cranky, upset, angry way, I’m telling you this: If you want this person to learn, present your arguments in a way conducive to learning. If you only want to wound them and make them depart, be mean and demeaning. Don’t teach.

NO blame rests on Miss Snark for posting this. Most of us, even the cranky, have tried to be helpful. But some of you need something for your PMS. Honestly you do.

Maya said...

AND, after you proofread, get someone else to proof your work again.

That way, you won't say something like: "Every one of USE has done the same thing at one time or another."

One last lesson: Don't ever lose your sense of humor. Sometimes it's all you have to cling to in a sea of misery.

Best wishes.

Pixel Faerie said...

Wow, you all are almost snarky-er than Miss Snark!

My tip, trends are impossible to track down, but it can tell you what not to write. If you see a lot of chick lit is popular at the moment, write something else because by the time you turn it in, editors will probably be sick of reading about it.

Just write what you want to write, and then write another book. Keep sending things out. Be a trend setter, not a follower. Eventually most popular trends come around again so if you end up trying to sell something on a downswing, keep it around until the market comes back up.

Val Tear said...

Fiction trends--three days at the most. Non-fiction--a lifetime.

delilah said...

I believe the real question here is: How can Mr. Softee possibly satisfy the divine and feisty Miss Snark?

theinadvertentauthor said...

Trend is such a ...well...trendy kind of word. Makes the publishing world sound a tad fickle. Hmmmm....

Maya said...

Instead of chasing trends, think about investing in a new book that came out this week. Called "The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More," it expands on the theme of that "Wall Street Journal" article by Robert J. Hughes that has already been recommended in this comment stream.

"The Long Tail" is by Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of "Wired" magazine.

My verification code: pazdnf

Peace and enough?

Anonymous said...

Hi Sha'el!

If you use Firefox, pull down the [View] menu and change your [Character Encoding] to [Unicode UTF-8]

In Internet Explorer this is [View] menu, [Encoding], [Unicode UTF-8].

Then, το ελληνικό κείμενό σας θα εμφανιστεί, and your þ-s, and ð-s, too!

JTC, litagent, and especially ANONYMOUS:

It would be insincere of me not to add that Miss Snark rejected that post twice, exactly because it sounded pissed off the first time, and because it was pontificating and would have hi-jacked the thread the second time. She even besmirched my reproductive potential, while maybe even considering an unprecedented Snarkecution (virtual banishment). Which just goes to show, Anon, a better preparation for the writing biz cannot be had than here, and the process of getting the words right is one trend that never goes out of style.


Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

dear Kd,

I use Deepnet Explorer. It does have that setting. But it translates my Freek font English characters. I don't have the trutype greek font. It would probably recognize that one. I should go download it I suppose, but I don't use it often anymore.

Thanks for the suggestion though!

Malia said...

How can Mr. Softee possibly satisfy the divine and feisty Miss Snark?

By taking on the image of George Clooney. But then he'd have to become Mr. Hardee. (blink blink)

word verification: msumca ... gazoontite.

archer said...

See here, Miss Snark,you can't go about pushing imbeciles into the Orinoco just to watch the fun. Look at this mess. Who is supposed to clean around here?

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

ummm, here's a perfect example of my inability to spell. I meant "Greek" font. Not Freek font. Honest I did. See?

It's the same with Scott and Scot. It always comes out Scott, even though I know better. I always first type "independance" even though I know that's wrong. I confuse there, their, and they're all the time, even though I know which is correct. I put apostrophes where they don't belong, even when I can see they are out of place. I almost always type "think" instead of "thing." There's a neurological disorder at work. I know there is.

But those things aren't the issue for me in this context. What ever happened to being polite and condescending even when the other person is not?

Good thing (and, yes, that came out "think" first) I've stayed home today. I wouldn't get anything done at work for reading blogs, particularly this one!

kis said...

Inspiring Author,

My mom can gobble up a novel a day, sometimes more, but her spelling, grammar, word usage and even pronunciation are all atrocious. Reading can help you be a good writer. It will not make you a good writer.

I've been writing from my closet for the last twenty years or so. Whenever I have a period of low confidence, I go back and read some of the shit (and I do mean shit) that I wrote when I was twenty. Seeing how far I've come since then is always reassuring, but I wouldn't have got one bit better without those hundreds and hundreds of gradually improving pages of writing.

You don't have to pitch your first novel in the trash. But you do have to write a lot of stuff (much of it lame) beforehand if you want to keep it. And the novel you started at age twenty will likely bear no resemblance to itself by the time you're done with it at thirty-five.

Being a visual person, grammar, spelling, and proper word usage are easy for me. Ironically, for those more verbally inclined, this may not be the case.

Hie thee to a creative writing class--even an essay-writing class. And don't forget you have to pay your dues. Sometimes not by attending conferences and going to school, but by sitting chain-smoking between the cars in your garage (the only place you're allowed to smoke) scribbling away with a blunt pencil on loose-leaf. For five years.

And remember there's a reason why the term "fabulous young debut author" usually refers to someone at least in their mid to late twenties. It's cause they've had the time to hone their craft.

Take the time to hone yours. In five or ten years, you might be ready.

Urnamma said...

Meh, I do so wonder sometimes why people respond to one who is obviously a bit too bidden with his membership in the ὁι άπλυτοι πολλοί (for those who are fond of Greek).

Grammar, punctuation, and spelling are the essence of a language. As they change over time, said language evolves (or in the case of our beloved English, devolves) into something different. A professor of mine (and a nobel laureate, I might add) once told me 'to use a language well is to have one of two keys that allow you to capture the essence of logic' (the other being mathematics, but most people can settle for -not- learning vector calculus).

24 can be young, but experience and age are not always great bedfellows. I've seen fifteen year olds (particularly in Israel) with more knowledge about how the world works than fifty year olds in the U.S.

We ought not get trapped in the vise of 'older means wiser and better'.

More Free Advice said...

Re: Grammar, Clarity in Writing, etc.

EATS, SHOOTS AND LEAVES by Lynn Truss is riddled with errors. Strunk & White is better.

Just Me said...

One thing I'm not sure if anyone has asked:

Why do you want to write?

Your original question reads as though it's because you want to jump on the latest Hot Trend and make a million bucks. This may not be the case, but that's the impression the question gave. You don't seem sure whether you want to write fiction or non-fiction, or even what subject you want to write about - just that you want to jump on a big trend.

If this is your goal, don't do it. I mean that in all seriousness. A very lucky few of us do make enough to give up the day job, and an even luckier even fewer of us make enough to be well-off, and a TINY minority get rich off writing. But your odds of getting rich would be roughly the same if you played the lottery a lot - and they would be WAY better if you went into law or business or accountancy. Writing is every bit as much work, and usually for much less reward.

If it's because you love writing, then forget the trends - at least for now. Concentrate on finding out what you love to write, and on learning to write better and better. Your place within the market will become clear as you go.

And Maya was very right: at the moment, you do come across as arrogant, and this will do you harm in the long run. Arrogance prevents learning. If you think you're already the greatest writer around, you'll never get any better - and you, like every single one of us, do need to get better.

Richard Lewis said...

When I was a teenager getting a chest x-ray in an Indonesian hospital, the cheerful technician said to me in English as I was posed before the machine, "Take a deep inspiration!"

I liked that guy.

Me personally, there's little enough compassion and respect in this world that even in this particular Darwinian business of dog eat dog writing and publishing (er, sorry, KY) I'd encourage and not tear down my fellow writer. Especially a novice. We were all there ourselves, remember?

I like what Jane Smiley has to say in her book 13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT A NOVEL. The *only* thing required to write a novel is the will to write one.

So, to the poster of the question, there is lots of helpful advice already given in the comments. I would add from my experience that you know you're a writer when you realize you are most happy when unhappily writing.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

HAHAHAHA!!! Θερμή βανίλια body wash will cure the άπλυτοι πολλοί of their condition!! And they'll smell nice too.

Elektra said...

Age does not always mean wisdom, but if you have a lack of the latter you shouldn't blame it on a lack of the former.

Termagant 2 said...

Sha'el, since I write Christian fiction (inspirational, hopefully inspiring but not necessarily) -- I hereby vow to you there will be a goat in my next book. And to sell it, like I've done the other three that didn't have a goat in them.


Urnamma said...

Θερμή βανίλια body wash? Can I market that ;)

deborah hern said...

Anonymous Question-Asker,
Lemme give you a real-world example to illustrate what a lot of people are trying to tell you here.
I review books. I'm not mean about it (and thankful am I that Miss Snark allows me to hang around here!) but I am honest about shortcomings... in a nice and constructive way.

A few years ago, I got a fantasy book to review. This was from a VERY small press, small run, and was the author's first published novel. The story? Original and very good. The world-building, innovative. The grammar/punctuation/editing? Completely atrocious.
Before I posted the review, I emailed the author. I said I loved the story and the characters. But the problems with grammar and punctuation were so terribly distracting that I was yanked out of the story on every single page. Author sez: That's impossible! My mom read through it for me! Can you point out some of the mistakes? I sez: Sure can, let me make the start of a list for you.
My list started on page 1 and ended on page 16. There were 35 egregious errors on those 16 pages. (I stopped on page 16 because I wasn't being paid to edit, and felt I'd made my point. No need to pour lemon juice in the paper cut.) Author was appalled. I felt bad, but figured it was better that the author know about it before someone ripped the author a new one in print.

My point? Even though I thought (and wrote in my review) that the story was great, the characters original, and the world-building complex... I had to make it clear that this book was so full of errors that I could not recommend it because it would annoy the average reader.

I felt bad about it because the author had the germ of a great book there. It was the grammar and punctuation that killed the book. So please take these comments, read them carefully, and take what you can from them. Imagination is essential. But poor language skills can kill even a great book.

docbrite said...

writing is an art (an academic art) but still an art. It’s true talent is not measured through punctuation, grammar or even literary skill it is imagination and innovation that has created humanities greatest novels.

I think I can hear the Baby Jesus crying.

Punctuation, grammar, and literary skill are extremely important to writing well, a hell of a lot more so than any nebulous proclamations about Art. They aren't the sum total of it (and yes, Art is important too), but you must know the rules inside and out before you start breaking them. You've already demonstrated here that you do not know those rules; just the bit of your post I've quoted here contains five major errors (plus, to my mind, a missing serial comma, but that's a matter of stylistic preference) and is generally an awkward, ill-formed piece of writing. Get yourself a copy of Strunk & White and see if you can figure out what those five errors are. Then memorize the rest of the book. And, in the meantime, keep reading and writing, and try to be a little humbler. If writers don't start out humble, the world generally beats humility into them.

And don't feel too bad. I thought I knew everything when I was 24 too.

Anonymous said...

Thank you everyone for the information that was shared, I have printed it all. I am going to try write a paragraph that is not full of grammatical errors. I am a very humble person. I was being immaturely defensive when I wrote the ‘supersede’ statement. I am not an idiot and I am in full realization of my many flaws. These flaws include grammatical errors.

I would like to personally thank sha’el princess of pixies. Her comment about the responses was informational and inspirational. I do intend to learn from every person that has commented on my question.

In response to Just me said, I want to write because I dream it, think it and obsess about it constantly. I write almost every day. I have written (badly, I am sure) two almost finished novels, short stories and poetry. If I was on a deserted island and could only take two things, I would take a Sanford micro black pen and a college spaced, perforated notebook.

The reason I asked the question in the first place was simply out of curiosity. I was interested in looking into the market for information reasons, not so I could run home and try to write a book as quickly as possible. For some reason or another, the thought came to my mind. As a result of that though, I typed a question into a blog. (I will try to make sure to lengthen the time between thinking and posting from now on).

I was not prepared for the result of the question, nor was I prepared for the amount of intelligent people that hold discussions in this blog. I am impressed, humbled and a little bewildered. I will improve and will also make sure not to ask any more dumb questions.

Miss Snark, I will work on the thickness of my skin.

With many thanks,


Anonymous said...

Late in your 20's: (-: Humble yourself and lose the attitude. I don't say this to be a bitch (even though I'm good at it)I say this because if you don't ease up you're gonna fail before you start. No kidding. Yeah, some of these posts seem mean and cruel, but stick your little head outside. The world don't care, darling. I have to agree you'd better toughen up. Winter's coming and it's cold outside.

Georgia Girl

Just Me said...

I want to write because I dream it, think it and obsess about it constantly. I write almost every day.

This is an excellent start. Writing takes hard work and practice, and it sounds like you have absolutely no problem with either of those.

Keep in mind that grammar, punctuation and so on are your tools. Don't diss them; use them. The better you know them, the better you can make them work for you. If you're so attuned to, say, punctuation that you know without thinking how a sentence will flow differently depending on whether you use a semicolon, a comma or a period, then it'll become much easier for you to use the right one to express exactly what you want to express.

Like I said before, you'll find your niche as you go. And it might be useful to find a good critique group. You can only learn so much on your own; after that point, it's often useful to have feedback from others, to help you see what your strengths and weaknesses are.

snarkling #403 said...

You know, I've found that reading things aloud really helps. Not even your own stuff at first--read short stories, novels, even newspaper stories out loud, paying close attention to the punctuation that's there. Do this over and over, until you find yourself spotting the errors (newspapers are an especially good source of marginally competent writing).

Then, when you've written a page or two, read it aloud the same way. You'd be amazed how many errors you can find with a careful, audible reading that you may not by just silently scanning the words.

And a night course in writing might help as well. Not necessarily creative writing--you seem like a creative person as it is. But having a teacher to help you, and doing assignments with grammar, punctuation and spelling front and center in your mind couldn't hurt.

Thicken your skin, but don't bend over too far, either. Some of the comments here can border on nasty. Like I ask my boss when he's being an asshole, "Are you being helpful or just mean?" But don't forget, if you want to be a writer, anonymous, internet nastiness is about as lightweight as it gets. You may not be grateful to everyone here when you get your first scathing review from the Toronto Star (or whatever), but you'll appreciate the lessons you learned from them. Be tough, get better, and don't friggin' bend over for anyone.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dear Kelly,

You're welcome. ...

I reread what I wrote. Considering that I omitted a word from a sentence, wrote two sentences so vaguely worded even I don't know what they mean, and that absolutely no one in their right mind would understand my post, you did well to find in it anything that informed or inspired!

Welcome to the world of frustrated writers and goats!

B. Dagger Lee said...

Dear Kelly No-Longer-Anonymous:

You asked a question; you got salted and peppered and eaten alive, then you thought about it all and came back and wrote from a place all fierce with reality--you, my dear, fucking rock!

I hope to see you in Times Square some day.

Yrs, B. Dagger Lee