There Are 2 Types of Writers: Which Are You? (The Other Side of the Slush Pile)

4427_1091457884938_1181247875_30275728_5309816_n.jpgToday’s guest post is from the insightful Jim Adams ( I met Jim at the June WD Editors’ Intensive. He also contributed this piece about the benefit of hiring a professional editor.

The Fire in Fiction, by Donald Maass, informs us that there are two types of writers:

  • One type writes in order to write.
  • The other writes in order to be published, obtain fame, and receive impressively large royalty checks.

As with any dichotomy, this one has its problems, but recently I gained a better understanding of why Mr. Maass would come up with such a dichotomy in the first place.

Recently, I got a chance to sit on the Other Side of the Slush Pile.

Most writers’ workshops qualify, in some sense, as slush piles, but the online community Authonomy, run by HarperCollins, takes things one step further.  Authonomy lets authors post their books, or significant portions thereof, and then lets them vote for each other’s work. Books get rated based on how many votes they have, and books at the top of the ratings get looked at by one or more purchasing editors at HarperCollins.

While you can only vote for five books at a time, you can comment on as many books as you like. Having posted a goodish portion of my own book, I set about providing comments to several individuals who had befriended me or who had suggested a bout of mutual mastication, so long as I went first …

So, I began to read, and I began to critique.

My efforts were unappreciated. I had failed, you see, to follow the prevailing custom, which was to write a critique thusly:

This book was so good, I was tempted to cut off my fingers, because compared to you, I don’t deserve to write even a grocery list.  Excuse me while I go change my underthings: that’s how much your words moved me! I especially liked how you capitalized the first word in every sentence. Masterful!!

Let me reiterate that Authonomy is a slush pile. While I haven’t been part of the community for long, the few books I’ve read and commented on so far are (in my inexpert opinion) not ready for publication, and I don’t mean they’re in need of a thorough proofreading. The problems I’ve seen have been fairly major. But, using Mr. Maass’s dichotomy, most people on Authonomy appear to be Type 2 writers. They’re looking for validation, not criticism. They’re looking for publication and a paycheck, not insight into how they might improve their work.

Naturally, it’s difficult to accept criticism on a book that took you a year or more to write. And who wants to hear that a book they believe is finished still has significant room for improvement? Move a few commas around? Be happy to! Revise a few sentences for clarity? Well, if you insist. Rewrite the book so it begins on page one, ends at a meaningful destination, and accomplishes something at regular intervals along the way? How dare you!

Of course, tact plays an important part in writing any critique, but having learned my critiquing skills at, I write tactful critiques as second nature. After all, my book is out there too, and if it’s to be savaged, I prefer to have it savaged without unnecessary invective or rancor. But tactful or not, I get the impression that most of the writers on Authonomy aren’t interested in meaningful feedback.  

To be fair, another part of the equation here is: Who to believe?

Do you believe the fifty people who agree with you that, “Oh my God, this is going to be bigger than Harry Potter,” or do you believe the one lone voice of dissent? In all likelihood, the voice of dissent is just a psycho-killer wannabe who fills his time between stalkings by pulling the wings off budding novelists. Your best bet is to quote the immortal Buzz Lightyear (“You are a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity.”), and go on about your business.

Still, whatever the psychology, the end result is the same. Individuals stroke each other and promote books that are half-baked.

It’s possible that over-eager writers are outnumbered by those who suffer from the opposite problem: the curse of endless revision. We can’t know for sure, but it’s worth mentioning. Balance in all things. Sooner or later you have to pull the cake out of the oven, put the icing on it, and let people cut themselves a slice. If someone then tells you the cake could have stayed in the oven just a bit longer, well … who knows. Maybe they have a point, or maybe next time they don’t get invited to tea.

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0 thoughts on “There Are 2 Types of Writers: Which Are You? (The Other Side of the Slush Pile)

  1. Nadine Del Pezzo-Merkle

    Loved the "to the point" mentality. As a new writer (I feel I am more of a storyteller) I am longing to find a credible critique with someone I don’t know, (easier to expose yourself to a stranger than it is to someone you do know). I have an agent, if you can call it that, with whom I’ve never spoken and I’m sure HAS NOT read my work, has not offered any advice/critique/affirmations, nothing. How can they market a work if they are not completely familiar with it or the creator? Anyway, I am continuing to look for another agent, one who will give me feedback, good or bad, it’s all good anyway because it’s constructive. My story is good and yes, I am working again on another revision, but I would like to get some feedback as to what else I should be looking at and working on! Thank you for listening.

  2. Cameron Chapman

    I have to say I disagree with your assessment of Authonomy. I think it’s split more 50-50. There are plenty of people there who only want encouragement, but there are plenty of others (myself included), who want honest feedback. For the most part I disregard those who are all ‘this is the best thing since sliced bread’ and pay attention to those who say ‘this sucks’. I also take into account where the comment is coming from. If it comes from someone who’s written something I enjoyed, then I listen a bit harder to what they’re saying.

    The thing is, too, that Autho has made me an infinitely better writer than I was even a few months ago. There are plenty of members who want to hear about the big problems, who want to hear about the major issues with their work, and those are also the people who are usually willing to do the same for others. Those are the people I seek out in getting reviews.

    The first book I posted on Autho got ripped to shreds. Sure, people pointed out the strong points (of which there were few), but plenty of people pointed out the (massive) problems with it, too. The second book I posted, which was written after learning from the mistakes of the first, got much better reviews on the whole. But I had plenty of people pointing out the weak spots, the problems, the inconsistencies that almost always appear in a first draft (that’s right, I post my first drafts, unedited and very raw).

    I could care less about the Editor’s Desk on Autho. My goal is to get feedback from other writers. The ED is an empty prize anyway—half the time it seems as if they barely even read the books selected, let alone provide any useful feedback.

    I’d suggest spending a bit more time on the site and seeking out those writers who are serious about their craft and aren’t interested in the popularity contest that is the race to the ED.

  3. Bill Peschel

    Stories like these reinforces my belief that people have to learn to open themselves up to criticism and collaboration to get better.

    It’s darned difficult to accept that, but if you’re willing, my, the things you learn!

    Advice given is worthless; advice taken is priceless.

  4. Jared Lopatin

    I love this assessment of writers. I also subscribed to and I found a great deal of help through critiques there. I’m also fortunate to find that my friends and family, while encouraging, can be quite discerning and critical. It took me awhile to accept their criticism in a constructive way without being defensive, but I was able to recognize merit in their opinions. Still, there were moments where I had to ignore their opinions if I felt they didn’t adhere to my vision. The question, "Do you believe the fifty people who agree with you that, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be bigger than Harry Potter,’ or do you believe the one lone voice of dissent?" is a question I’m constantly asking. Thank you for posting this!

  5. Julie Duck

    The part about cake really hit home. I could bake cake all day long if allowed. Now, should I make my own frosting or just buy a can from the grocery store? Great post!

    – Julie

  6. Alan Orloff

    Wise words indeed. Sometimes I think the best critiquer would be some curmudgeonly stranger who kicks puppies for sport. At least then you’d know you weren’t getting some kind of sugarcoated pablum.

    I guess that’s what agents are for.

  7. Kathleen Gabriel

    Ooh, yeah. Darling, this was so good I could not believe it! Right on! If I could write like this, I’d be swimming in hog heaven with the big pigs. Wowzer!

    I have too many yes-men. Luckily my critique group partners aren’t in this category. I hope I tell them the truth, too.

  8. Darrelyn Saloom

    Hilarious and so true! And exactly why writers need an editor. Not a best friend to hold their hand and tell them how well they write. I am editing (rewriting?) a novel for a client who sent me the most unpolished manuscript in the history of manuscripts (no exaggeration). I was brutal. He wrote back (incredulous) and said I was the first person–the first person–to criticize his book; his friends loved it! But after my revisions of the first chapter (and to his credit) he saw my point. And he’s still my client.