In the “Big 10 Issue” of Writer’s Digest Magazine (September 2010), the article “10 Experts Take On The Writer’s Rulebook” as compiled by Ms Jessica Strawser and Mr Zachary Petit, discussed the idea that certain practices common to established authors and were once regarded as profound advice towards creating a successful writing life, have evolved through the years to acquire the semblance of “rules” and yet—may still be broken and contradicted (“Break It”) and likewise, accepted and supported (“Follow It”)—as shown by the learned analyses of 10 bestselling authors of the present digital age.
The Writer’s Rules, with the respective authors of the pros and cons, are the following:
Rules “Follow It” “Break It”
1. Write What You Know. 1. Donald Maass 1. Natalie Goldberg
2. Hook Your Readers on Page 1. 2. Jerry B. Jenkins 2. Steve Almond
3. Show, Don’t Tell. 3. Natalie Goldberg 3. Donald Maass
4. Write “Shitty” First Drafts. 4. John Smolens 4. Nancy Kress
5. Write Every Day. 5. John Dufresne 5. James Scott Bell
6. Kill Your Darlings. 6. N.M. Kelby (Undecided) 6. N. M. Kelby
7. Develop a Thick Skin. 7. Steve Almond 7. Sheila Bender
8. Silence Your Inner Critic. 8. James Scott Bell 8. John Smolens
9. Read What You Like. 9. Nancy Kress 9. John Dufresne
10. If You Want to Get Rich,
Do Something Else. 10. Sheila Bender 10. Jerry B. Jenkins
Though it was not mentioned if these rules are in order of importance, it all seemed reasonable enough for an aspiring or beginner writer to follow, understand, and subscribe in one’s personal quest to write and get published.
Yet, no matter how interesting the contradicting (and supporting) points of view, no matter how knowledgeable, sincere, and provocative the professional conclusions of the experts with the pros and cons of the rules, one thing remained constant, unbreakable, and real in the unpredictable and continuous shifts in the publishing game—and where the writer’s intangible rulebook does not apply, even with the writer’s strict adherence to it.
For publishers, editors, and literary agents—reputable groups of individuals who exercise their respective office to manage, utilize, and influence the flow and direction of productions that affect the stability and growth of the industry—follow their own set of rules, a system of principles governed primarily by commercial (i.e., business) considerations, which has more definite, immediate, and dominant effect in the chain of responsibilities engaged in book development prior to publication: From acquisition, marketing, sales, advertising, publicity, promotion, printing, publishing, to actual distribution, before the book reaches the reader, and which in due time, depending on public acceptance, trickle down some benefits too—whether popularity, book deal, reputation, or money—to the author.
As industry professional often emphasized in interviews and Q&As, authors must also realize and accept the commercial aspects and responsibilities inherent in publishing while cultivating a healthy business relationship built on trust, and not focus solely their efforts in the attainment of creative satisfaction. And since publishers, editors, and literary agents know more about the financial weight and possible circumstances surrounding a manuscript even for a promising bestseller, the author can only wait and anticipate, and later agree and follow whatever evaluations in direction, alteration, or deletion are requested(especially, when there is already a sizable book advance) in the course of preparation for the book’s eventual publication.
For to do otherwise (though there are exceptions)—to rebel and react or stand firm on what the author perceived to be the merits and strength of a creative output—is to court blindly a snag in production that would drastically alter schedules and deadlines in the book’s development, and worst, earned for the author an unpopular reputation that may endanger or derail the start of a promising, professional career—even if, with his/her undeniable contributions as an indispensable cog in the publishing industry.
Because how can the industry publish anything—or even exist!—if there are no authors, writers, storytellers, and other practitioners of the craft to contribute, support, and supply it with materials? More so, with the priceless works of famous authors and writers long gone in the history of literature with their continuous reprints? Come to think of it, each one needs the other—author to agent, agent to editor, editor to publisher, publisher to bookstore, etc., and vice versa—or nothing will be achieved.
Of course, it can always be argued that a big reputable house can have all of these and continue to survive. Then again, a house “style” will emerge that will either drown the creativity or pull the business down to ignominy.
Thus, it becomes fortuitous in a sense, at this point of preparation for the book, if not quite disheartening. For in these long and arduous processes of revisions, rewrites, and refinements saddled with the pressures of demanding deadlines, an author instinctively exerts more of his/her creative powers as he/she taps and exercises—and perhaps, appreciates, too—an awareness of the writer’s rules, probably embracing the truth of the advice as it is put to the test, in particular, Rules No. 7 and No. 10, the latter, rephrased in the throes of anxiety and frustration to read: “If you want to SURVIVE, do something EASY.”
Hence, rendering the well-intentioned and noteworthy gleanings compiled in the article as enticing glamour shots to admire and aspire for those considering a life-long professional career in writing; an encouraging array of showcases meant to resolve innocent and eager inquiries from beginners and those still contemplating whether to pursue or not a dream, and as inspiring eye-candies that colour and sweeten the various contradictions (though brewing with unspoken arguments!) to help overcome hesitation, anxiety, or disgust among those neck-deep in the craft and yet, still without success—thus, positioning conveniently everything and everyone involved in the creative processes of a book, story, poem, essay, or article in good harmonious light—since the guardians of the publishing industry already spoke, and etched their rules in stone.
Therefore, allow me in the spirit of amicable co-existence for everyone who invested more than time in the perfection of the craft; in salute to the non-patronizing camaraderie between the client-supplier relationship prevalent in the competitive atmosphere of publishing, and in celebration of the writer’s exclusive privilege to explore, experiment, and exercise “breaking the rules” with his/her creative meanderings sprinkled with the breath of expansive imaginations—
Ladies, Gentlemen, Friends, Sisters and Brothers of the Art of Writing, together with the other devout practitioners of the craft who do not view the exercise as a ritualistic job but a pursuit of life’s fulfillment—I present for your information, guidance and perusal, the probable, unbreakable, commerce-induced, systematic principles of “The PUBLISHING INDUSTRY RULEBOOK” since the advent of paper.
The rules, as always, are:
Marketing 1. We Know What’s Right.
Sales 2. Hook Your Buyers on Day 1.
Advertising 3. Display, Don’t Dawdle.
Promotion 4. First Come, First Serve—No Shit!
Distribution 5. Deliver Every Day.
Author Promo Tour 6. Leave Your Darlings.
Book Advance 7. Develop a Quick Poker Face.
Networking/PR 8. Shout Your Inner Creds, Duh!
Contract Signing 9. Read Your Rights If You Like.
Income Statement 10. If You Want to Get Rich, Do What We Did.
For Ms Natalie Goldberg, brilliant advocate for breaking Writer’s Rule No. 1…“This is why we have imaginations.”
I found the back issue of Writer’s Digest Magazine (September 2010) a week ago in a used-books store’s bargain bin, and for someone hungry and thirsty for creative nourishment, it still tasted fresh, satisfying, and refreshing, cover to cover. My apologies then for absorbing and using content past the expiry date, hence this ramblings.