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Beware online advice for authors

I once attended a writers’ group session where we were to bring a query letter and the first chapter of our novels. One writer met each constructive critique of her query letter by quoting from a different website that purports to offer advice on how to write a good query.

Now I know there are numerous websites on the internet that give writers all manner of advice, tips, and how-to’s on everything from how to plot, create characters, and describe settings to catching the attention of an agent and/or publishing and promoting your own book. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of sites written by published and unpublished authors, agents, would-be writers, English professors and lovers of good writing.

There are two main problems with trying to glean advice from all these sites. For one thing, not all the advisers are actually qualified to advise. Some are just looking to make a buck playing on the desires of would-be authors and have no real expertise in the area. Some are just fronts for services they’re trying to sell, such as self-publishing. Some have never published a book or written for a major magazine or newspaper.

The second problem with the plethora of sites is that the writers often contradict one another. The writer in the group I mentioned was so determined to follow the contradictory advice on the sites she visited that she was confused and frustrated and found writing to be more of a chore than a joy. Other than the obvious, like making sure your manuscript has no spelling or grammar errors, most of the advice turns out to be the personal opinion of the blogger. But what works for him/her might not work for you.

The key (and here I am offering my advice!) is to do what is right for you. Write the way you are comfortable writing without trying to imitate someone else. I have found that the best way to know good writing is to read a lot. I am a mystery writer, so I read a lot of mysteries. The more you read, and the more you practice writing, the better you will get at it. If you have any talent at all, it will develop as you hone your craft. If you don’t, no amount of imitation, advice, or formulas will make you a published author.


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  1. Good advice! Everyone comes at writing, promoting and marketing from a different direction. I have a blog, but what I post consists of my personal opinions and some comes from personal experience. You’re absolutely right when you say you have to do what works for you.

    • dmobyrne dmobyrne

      Thanks, Marja! I think new writers are so insecure that they think everyone else does it better than they do. That only hinders creativity.

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