Ex-pertise: Is that advice really valid?

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Linton Robinson
 
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Ex-pertise: Is that advice really valid?

Postby Linton Robinson » Sat Dec 08, 2012 11:48 am

My article on closely examining online advice about publishing your work got a hot response on it's home site, but was also picked up, with a lot of commetary and agreement, on several fairly important publishing sites. I'd like to share it here...and expand it the concept a little.
Here's the piece:
http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2012/11/12/ex-pertise/

The brunt of this is about publishing your own work, but what it is saying about online advice often being worth ignoring, even when it comes from people with some credentials, applies even more so to general writing advice. And very especially to forums like this one where, unlike pro forums such as Linked In, people don't have to use their real names and often have not links to anything about their own experience.

If you're seeking advice, or conflicted by hearing several different opinions on the same thing, take the time to see what's behind it...then measure it by your own needs and understanding.

If somebody is telling you how to get an agent--isn't it worth asking if THEY have an agent? It they're talking about one form of publishing being better than another, isn't it pertinent to know if they have anything published in any form at all? They tell you how to sell to magazines or editors--do they do sell their work? Are you sure?

Ideas and advice may not be products, they are important to you (or you wouldn't be reading them) and require that you buy into them or not. Caveat emptor.

I'm going to post the sites that "reprinted" this piece for a couple of reasons. For one--isn't that kind of my point? Citations or "social proof" that what is being said isn't a load? Other people in the wider community commenting on them?
Also, these are important and influential sites. If you are publishing your own work, or thinking about it, you might want to be aware of them. Passive Voice and Joel's site are particularly important bookmarks, as are the sites of Dean and Dave and Kevin mentioned in the article itself.
Also, it makes me look cooler.


http://publishingperspectives.com/2012/ ... e-see-you/

http://www.nov8rix.com/the-rise-of-the- ... g-experts/

http://www.thepassivevoice.com/11/2012/ex-pertise/

http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2012/11/ ... 1-17-2012/

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updog
 
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Re: Ex-pertise: Is that advice really valid?

Postby updog » Sat Dec 08, 2012 1:25 pm

I agree that we need to be careful about following advice we're given on these forums, or even in real life. You need to know who you're talking to, and even when the advice comes from an "expert", you still need to understand it might not be the best advice for your particular situation. And many times the experts disagree anyway. Sometimes I think all this advice (even the good stuff) leaves people worse off than when they started.
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shadowwalker
 
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Re: Ex-pertise: Is that advice really valid?

Postby shadowwalker » Sat Dec 08, 2012 4:01 pm

Unless I know that something stated is patently false, I consider any advice, in any venue, from any source, on any subject, to be just that - advice, and not the Voice of God. Take it or leave it. I agree, though, that I've often wondered about the credentials of those giving advice, particularly when it comes to publishing. If I know, for example, that someone has worked in trade publishing and someone else has not, I'm definitely going to go with the former's advice before the latter's. That doesn't necessarily hold true for someone who has been published versus someone who has not - in that case, the former may be going only from their personal experience (good or bad), whereas the latter may have done a lot of research, talked to various people working in publishing, etc etc.

Basically, I always say try to understand the mindset of the person giving the advice, their personal preferences, experiences, and prejudices, and base your evaluation of their advice on that plus your own knowledge, experience, and 'gut feeling'.
"It seems rather like wanting to be ... a writer, rather than wanting to write. It should be a by-product, not a thing in itself. Otherwise, it's just an ego trip." - Roger Zelazny

James A. Ritchie
 
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Re: Ex-pertise: Is that advice really valid?

Postby James A. Ritchie » Sun Dec 09, 2012 9:47 am

All true. The trouble with getting advice online is that most advice comes from those who haven't been there and done that, or who have a vested interest in giving only one side of the story. Vested interest is HUGE. HUGE.

Self-publishing is a case in point. Too many who advise self-publishing have never worked with or sold to commercial publishers, and simply have no clue what they're talking about. Some of the biggest myths I see? 1. Editors at commercial publishers don't edit today. 2. John Grisham self-published his first book. 3. You have to know someone or be famous for something else before you can sell a book to a big self-publisher. 4. The best way to attract a commercial publish is by first self-publishing your book.

All these are false.

Numbers are also out of all proportion with reality. Too many see one successful self-published writer, but don't take the time to find out that for every one of these, fifty thousand fail. There's no way of telling how often self-published sales numbers are exaggerated, but enough cases of massive exaggeration have come to light that it certainly happens very, very often. So often that I don't believe what anyone tells me about numbers until and unless I see their tax records. There's nothing personal about this, but I've simply seen far too many cases where the writer is either lying, or sells five thousand copies for a penny each, but never mentions this little detail. I've lost count of the times where a writer has used this tactic in an effort to attract a top agent or publisher.

But the biggest problem with online and offline advice is that most people aren't actually looking for expertise, they're looking for validation. They keep looking until they find someone who agrees with them, label that person an expert, and that's that.

If you want real advice from real experts, it isn't complicated. If you make it complicated, you have a vested interest in only hearing what you want to hear. No matter what expertise you demand, it's out there, and it's simple to find. I like Dean Wesley Smith. He's a smart guy, and knows what he's talking abut. But like all of us, you and me included, he's only telling one side of the story, and like all of us, has only his own biased experience to draw on. But if you want to believe what he says, you will, even though real research means also looking at the advice of hundreds of other top writers, agents, and editors who have books, blogs, and websites devoted to the same topic, all of whom have credentials that can't be questioned.

Too many also compare apples and oranges. It's still the case that most self-published writers who really are successful have a background in commercial publishing, built a name and a following there, and used this to become successful in self-publishing. It's also an apples/oranges case to listen to novel writing advice from someone who has never sold a novel, but who thinks nonfiction expertise crosses over. I see this far too often.

Really, if you take advice from a thirteen year old on how to write a novel, that's your fault. You can't blame Google. But if you don't take advice from Stephen King, Nora Roberts, or all those other writers on the bestseller list, you're simply not very bright, and whatever the argument, they do know more than you do.

Times change, technology changes, but talent does not, skill does not, and these people have both.

But, really, people come in two flavors: Those who believe what they want to believe, and who look for advice that will validate their belief, and those who look at every side of the question, who understand that Google gives hundreds of addresses for real experts when you want to verify something. Don't blame Google when someone listens to a thirteen year old when he can buy a thousand books written by real experts, and go to a thousand websites and blogs hosted by real experts.

An expert is not someone who agrees with you, and not someone who disagrees with you. Nor is an expert someone with a vested interest in any way, shape, or form. An expert should be a hundred people who have been there and done that, a group that as a whole gives you all the information you need you make an informed decision. And with no vested interest in any of them. That's one of the great things about listening to bestselling writers. It's not in their best interest to tell you how to write a novel that may knock them off the pedestal they're on, but they do it, anyway.

But someone who has done what you have not always knows more than you do about how to do it right.

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TerryRodgers
 
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Re: Ex-pertise: Is that advice really valid?

Postby TerryRodgers » Sun Dec 09, 2012 12:44 pm

This forum would be a very deserted place if people didn't give advice. After all isn't that what a forum is for--to discuss a topic and give opinions on that topic?

Advice is an opinion or recommendation. With any opinion, it is based on the person's learning experience. Just as you are giving advice about taking advice, it is up to the individual to take the advice or look for another opinion. In my opinion ( :D ), you should never listen to just one opinion. I love Stephen King's novels. I've read just about everything he's ever written. I'm listening to "Lisey's Story" right now on audio and last month I finished "Under the Dome". But there is one thing Mr. King does that may give someone new a hard time in selling their novel. Mr. King uses cliches out the yingyang. I love the way he uses them, but every agent and bestselling author that I have ever listened or spoken to will tell you to not use cliches. If I tell someone to never use cliches even though I've never sold a novel, is that person not to listen? Sure, because I'm only one person.

One thing I disagree with in your column is finding an agent. You do not have to have an agent to give advice about how to find an agent. It takes two things to find an agent: one, write a compelling story; two, write a compelling query to back the compelling story. That's it. So even if I do not have an agent, I can surely give advice on how to find one because it's only two simple steps.

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Re: Ex-pertise: Is that advice really valid?

Postby allz28 » Sun Dec 09, 2012 6:38 pm

I participate in a lot of auto-repair forums in addition to this one. The nice thing about those is that you can almost immediately determine if the advice you get is good because it will either fix your problem or it won't. There's no grey area. Anyway, I've noticed on those forums that I get far more correct advice than incorrect. And I'd venture to say that is the same case in these forums, even though almost everything about writing is grey.

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Linton Robinson
 
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Re: Ex-pertise: Is that advice really valid?

Postby Linton Robinson » Mon Dec 10, 2012 3:43 am

Obviously I'm not saying nobody should give or take advice.
What I'm saying is that advice from people who don't know what they're talking about is worse than useless: it can be harmful.

Regarding the "how to get an agent" thing, I guess you could say (as some here seem to think) that you don't actually have to know how to do something in order to tell people how to do it, but that seems rather a risky and pointless activity.

To return to the agent thing, there is a LOT more to getting an agent than just having something that could sell and writing a query. Believe me. And I have had a couple of agents and know several more.

But I really think it's important to look at people telling you how to write and sell and see if they have actually ever written anything that anybody bought. And in fact, whether even experts in a field are actually up on what you are trying to accomplish. (e.g. guy who works for Random House knowing about marketing self-published work, etc.)

A weird thing about writing is that there are SO MANY people out there saying "Do this", "Do that" with great conviction when they have no accomplishment in the field at all.
People generally don't take auto repair advice from people who've never gotten a car running or sports advice from people who've never won a game or made a team, but writing seems to bring out all this wisdom from people with no compelling reason to be believed.

A funny thing about this article is that it has an extremely high rate of acceptance among pros or writers who have books out there and are having some success with them--as witness the reprint rate for this thing by professionals with influential sites--but runs into acceptance problems in areas where the population has not major success to draw on.

That in itself underscores what I'm saying here. You need to sift out the vast billows of information and disinformation from those who haven't made their advice work and figure out methods for evaluating the input you get. This is essential in any form of endeavor, actually. But writing is like the stock market--all these people telling you what stocks to buy while they are punching time clocks.

Part of the process is figuring out what you want to accomplish. Without that, it's hard to judge anything: if you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.

I see people on newbie forums gulping down the whole, "Every writer has to be an entrepreneur" line, when I'm guessing less than 20 percent of the people on this board actually, if they got their goals sorted out, are particularly interested in making a living writing.

You see all these people talking about spending years honing your book, hours searching for the right word, spending money on editors and designers. And everybody piously nods their head because it sounds good, then go off and repeat it. Then you turn to somebody like Dean Wesley Smith--his link mentioned in my article--who has succeeded very nicely at all areas of publishing and pretty much everything he's done--and he's advising you to just get as many books out there as you can with as little avoidable expense. Everybody I know who makes a living writing books tends to agree with Smith, not the head-nodders who will get a book into print one of these years, once it's perfect.

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shadowwalker
 
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Re: Ex-pertise: Is that advice really valid?

Postby shadowwalker » Mon Dec 10, 2012 7:11 am

Linton Robinson wrote:Regarding the "how to get an agent" thing, I guess you could say (as some here seem to think) that you don't actually have to know how to do something in order to tell people how to do it, but that seems rather a risky and pointless activity.


I don't recall anyone saying (or doing) that.

Linton Robinson wrote:But I really think it's important to look at people telling you how to write and sell and see if they have actually ever written anything that anybody bought. And in fact, whether even experts in a field are actually up on what you are trying to accomplish. (e.g. guy who works for Random House knowing about marketing self-published work, etc.)


I think there's some confusion here between taking advice on writing and taking advice on publishing. Take any ten books by published authors on writing and I guarantee they will directly contradict each other on many aspects of writing. They will tell you what worked for them.

As to publishing, again - if you want advice on trade publishing, you would look to people who have worked in trade publishing. If you want advice on self-publishing, you would look to people who have self-published. Now, there is a caveat to that. People who have worked in trade publishing will know what things work for publishing in general; there are self-published authors who will give advice based on false assumptions about trade publishing. That's why you get advice from self-publishers that includes "trade publishers won't do this" when, in fact, trade publishers do, or they don't because they know it doesn't work.

Linton Robinson wrote:Part of the process is figuring out what you want to accomplish. Without that, it's hard to judge anything: if you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.


Totally agree.

Linton Robinson wrote:I see people on newbie forums gulping down the whole, "Every writer has to be an entrepreneur" line, when I'm guessing less than 20 percent of the people on this board actually, if they got their goals sorted out, are particularly interested in making a living writing.


The only place I see that 'entrepreneur line' is when talking about self-publishing - but it's more along the lines that to self-publish, one has to be both writer and publisher. As to the goals/interest in making a living from writing, I don't find it surprising, since very very few writers (of fiction, anyway) actually do make their living writing. So that aspect is just being realistic.

Linton Robinson wrote:Everybody I know who makes a living writing books tends to agree with Smith, not the head-nodders who will get a book into print one of these years, once it's perfect.


I'm curious as to how many writers you know who actually make a living off writing. Are these journalists, educational writers, novelists? Because the consensus (including from published authors, publishing personnel, agents, etc) seems to be that very few fiction authors can live off their writing income. If you have figures to contradict that, I'd like to see them (not being snarky, I really do want to know).

Basically, I haven't really seen anyone who says one shouldn't be careful about what advice one takes, that one has to look at the source, their experience, and their motivation. I get the feeling you think no one who hasn't actually done something cannot possibly have knowledge about it, however, and I don't think I can agree with that as an overall philosophy. I know how elections work without having run for office.
"It seems rather like wanting to be ... a writer, rather than wanting to write. It should be a by-product, not a thing in itself. Otherwise, it's just an ego trip." - Roger Zelazny

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Re: Ex-pertise: Is that advice really valid?

Postby mammamaia » Mon Dec 10, 2012 10:27 am

all good points, sw... i agree...
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Linton Robinson
 
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Re: Ex-pertise: Is that advice really valid?

Postby Linton Robinson » Mon Dec 10, 2012 12:18 pm

The hilarious thing is both of you seem to think I'm talking about "other people".

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