As an aspiring writer, I hoover up advice wherever I can find it. Among the most valuable sources are agent/publisher websites. Thanks to their good counsel, I have enough information to avoid irritating them and/or humiliating myself when I send off my query letter, synopsis and sample chapters. After all, the rules of submission mean ‘You do it their way’.
I accept, too, that with aspiration comes disappointment. Before sending off my work, I will inoculate myself with large doses of realism about the talent I may, or may not have (goodness knows, there is enough advice out there urging me to do this). And if I’ve learned anything about contacting agents and publishers, it’s that whatever reply I get, no matter how I feel about it, my response will be:
• to be grateful
• to take on board, seriously and thoroughly, what has been said
• to get back to improving the writing and to making the next approach better
And if there is no reply, I'll cleave to the last point. However, a wearisome feature of some websites is the regular ‘screamer’ of the “I’m surrounded by idiots” variety, when referring to contact with writer wannabees. Authentic examples are publicly (although anonymously) posted about writers who have sent in inappropriate, illiterate, inconsiderate, ignorant, impolite or downright rude letters.
The patronising, “can you believe this?” rant is usually rounded off with some finger-wagging advice. This can be funny but – and I hesitate to say this about arbiters of originality and talent – it’s becoming boringly samey.
More often than not, the ‘Comments’ sections for these tirades are packed with 'Right ons,' or 'Can you believe its?' and other messages of mutual solidarity/sympathy from fellow professionals and, worse, from sycophantic writers, who line up with teacher to say ‘good post (you couldn’t possibly mean me)!’
Good agent/publisher websites provide invaluable help and encouragement. However, for most didactic efforts there will always be too many pupils ‘who just don’t listen'. When this happens, it’s a tad too easy to play it for laughs in yet another “How not to do it” story of hapless writers getting it wrong.
Of course, it’s not one-way traffic. Writers have myriad ways of letting themselves and fellow writers down, not least by behaving badly when their wonderful talent isn’t appreciated. Nevertheless, most of us read and take professional advice; it’s only completely in our own interest.
So, for the advice offered – without charge – sincere thanks. But how about a little less scorn?