I attend a writing group where we critique each others’ works. We all submit by email, a maximum of 10 pages and then meet together and discuss what we liked and what we didn’t.
Those of you who have had me beta read for you before, you know I’m particularly honest. Though I admit I try and soften the blow with a preamble before I send off my comments. I feel like we all want to be serious writers though and if you wanted sunshine blown your way you’d take it to your mom or auntie or something so they could tell you how special it is. But we writers, I feel like, owe each other the courtesy of honesty. Helpful honesty, but honesty nonetheless.
I feel like I’ve personally been helped by this honesty and encourage it when I submit my own pieces.
But the thing about being in a writers group is you will often encounter those who came claiming they wanted feedback, but actually wanted a pat on the head instead for how awesome they are.
Needless to say, those types and I are always at odds in the beginning. They want to fight me tooth and nail for their baby. Then one of two things happens. Actually, one of three, but 90% of the time it’s one of two. We’ll get to three in a sec.
1. They hate everyone for not absolutely loving and agreeing that liquid gold comes out of their keyboard and eventually quit the writing group, because who really goes to silly groups anyway? They don’t need others’ opinions because clearly God ordained them to be a writer.
2. They realize that everyone is getting “hammered” with feedback too, but the others tend to accept it more graciously than they did and they simmer down and become one of us. And their writing tends to improve drastically each time we meet.
Usually it’s the second option, but occasionally it’s the first. The thing is, if you really want to be a great writer, your ego is the first thing that needs to go. And the sooner you learn that, the better a writer you will become.
That’s not to say you do everything everyone tells you. But you take time to consider the words your fellow writers gave you after scouring through your piece. Sometimes you will agree, sometimes not, and sometimes you will agree there is an issue but solve it in your own way.
This doesn’t happen terribly often, and even when it does, it’s usually not this blown up. But in life, anything is possible. Sometimes you meet Ms. (or Mr.) New York Times Bestseller.
Ms. NYT BS makes it a point that when she (or he, this title knows no gender) is feeling attacked or insecure, to let you know about their credentials promptly to hopefully shut you up.
Do you ever have those moments where someone is telling you something and your brain knows there’s something off about it, but at the time you have to accept it because you have no contrary evidence? So when Ms. NYT BS told me she was as such, my first thought was, “So why are you at a writers group? More in particular why are you at this writers group suddenly? Brand new?”
It’s not that I think any accomplished writer shouldn’t be seeking beta readers. I think all writers of all skill levels should. But it just seemed out of place to me. It felt like she was trying to claim superiority over me. I just wasn’t entirely sure why. And let’s face it, there have been plenty of authors who’ve made the NYT BS list whose skill wasn’t exactly up to par.
Well, not being one who would waste an opportunity, I thought I would ask her about having an agent and what the publishing process was like. I figured as a seasoned vet she might have some good insights.
“How long after you got your agent did it take you to sell your first book?” I asked.
“Three days,” she said quickly, almost interrupting, and then added for good measure, “with just a proposal and rough outline.” I think seeing my brow furrowing, she continued, “Well, it was about my near-death experience.”
Now it was making more sense. I’m not discounting the NDE, but just because something happens to you doesn’t mean you’re the bees knees of writers. In fact, I have often wondered if success so quickly doesn’t ruin your ability to strengthen your writing.
Finding that particular bit of info unhelpful, I moved on to current project—the one she had brought to group. “So what about this time? Or is it the same agent?”
“It’s my fourth,” she said, again with a strange air of superiority. “But I really just need to have my agent sell this to an editor, then I can write it the way I want.”
Her agent had this idea of doing a prologue info dump, or so Ms. NYT BS claims. But when she mentioned who it was representing her, well, it is a very legit agency. (I would mention it, but you know, names changed to protect etc.)
Anyway, all of our suggestions are somewhat hindered by Important Agent’s caveat. Though I did believe this was a real caveat, as Ms. NYT BS seemed genuinely frustrated by it.
THE TRUTH AS WE KNOW IT
God bless the internet and its vast amounts of information. What did I do after the encounter? I looked Ms. NYT BS up.
Fact #1: She has had a book published, by a reputable book company no less.
Okay, maybe my spidey-sense was tingling for no reason.
Fact # 2: Nowhere with her name nor her book nor even on
her personal website could I find the words “New York Times Best Seller.” (UPDATE: I realized that’s not entirely accurate, as she has comments from others calling her a “New York Times” best selling author, just FYI.)
One would think that if one were a NYT BS one would be slapping that title everywhere, far and wide, for all to see.
Fact # 3: On Amazon.com, she has acquired 50 reviews. Her Amazon sales rankings are at best for the hardcover version ~272,000, the mass market paperback ~988,000. You cannot buy anything but used copies.
For those not familiar with Amazon rankings, if your number was say 272,000 that means people prefer 272,000 books before they would read yours. A ranking of say 5,000 would be pretty decent. A ranking of 988,000 is not good at all. And only the ability to buy used copies tells me this hasn’t been in print for some time.
Fact #4: Her book was published circa 1995.
Oh, perhaps this NYT BS book she’s referring to was one of the other projects she’s been working on in the last 20 years.
Fact #5: The project she brought to group is both her most recent project and would be book number two.
So what has she been doing for the last 20 years then? Writers conferences and taking care of the family. But does it not seem a bit pretentious to represent yourself as something you’re not? Let alone even if you were, haven’t been for 20 years?
I have no intentions of letting her know I have learned all of this new information about her. We’ve probably all bragged ourselves up a little more than we intended once in a while. Any confrontation of the truth would only come if she decides to swing her false creds around like a club. The thing about our day and age is you can’t really say you’re something if the internet can easily show you aren’t.
I’ll be interested to see if she takes it much further than she has. I may be tempted to ask her about why New York Times Best Seller isn’t on the cover of her book. That would probably be enough to let her know I’m in on her secret.
But the lesson learned here is don’t brag about creds you don’t actually have. And more importantly, don’t brag about creds to make yourself seem superior. There’s a time and a place for bragging about creds, and that’s typically in front of a new agent/editor or in the query letter. I don’t know, maybe I was meant to see this event unfold so that if I ever make it big I remember why I shouldn’t behave similarly.
What do you think? Would you have reacted differently to Ms. NYT BS? Would you confront her about the truth? Have you ever had a similar interaction? Do you have any other insights?