Last month Nathan Bransford wrote a post centering on five lessons that he has learned about writing from watching reality television. It’s an amusing and insightful piece, and I thought his first lesson was the most pertinent:
“Overconfidence is your greatest adversary.”
As a published author, I have received many requests from fledgling writers asking for help in the publishing world. I often find this shocking considering how much I still need to learn and how relatively inexperienced I am. Nevertheless, I am always honored by these requests and attempt to accommodate them whenever possible.
Some, however, are easier to help than others.
A few people have wanted me storm the halls of Random House with their manuscript in hand, demanding that it be published.
Others are looking for the name of my agent (which is easily found with a Google search or by simply read this blog, demonstrating a complete lack of effort by these people), thinking that her name alone is the key to the publishing kingdom.
More reasonable people are simply looking for advice. They want tips on finding a literary agent. They ask about the path that I took in order to be published. They are trying to glean some insight about the publishing world.
Occasionally someone will ask me to read something that they have written in hopes of receiving an honest critique, and in these cases, I always agree to read at least part of the work (though not always on a timely basis). But I’ve discovered that these requests for a reading and critique usually come in two forms:
1. I’d love to hear what you think about my piece. I’ve worked long and hard, and I’m proud of what I have accomplished, but I’m sure that there is still a lot of work to do. Any comments that you might have would be appreciated.
2. I have written the next great American novel. Seriously. My friends don’t understand my fiction, and my mother refuses to read another word, but I’m telling you, it’s amazing. The best. And it’s just the kind of thing that you would appreciate. You’re going to love it. I promise.
I have great faith that with remarkable persistence, enormous amounts of hard work, and a little luck, the first set of writers that I described will eventually find some level of success in the publishing world. They may not become wealthy or even well paid for their work, but they will achieve their dream in some way.
As for the latter group, regardless of how talented the writer may be, I do not hold out much hope. If you’ve written something great, you don’t have to be the one to proclaim its superiority. Allow someone else to do it for you.
Humility is easy. Why do so many people seem to have such a hard time adopting it?