3 Pieces of Advice Authors (Should) Ignore

There is a lot of advice for authors out there and, as such, there is a lot of advice out there that is mediocre or just plain bad.  Here are some examples of wretched advice I’ve found on writing sites and why authors should just plain ignore it.

You don’t want to be this guy, do you?

1.  Never read reviews.

This lovely little piece of advice has been around a long time and is in practically every book and blog about writing ever.  9 times out of 10, it makes me burst out into hysterical laughter.  Why?

Because no one follows it.

Well, I shouldn’t say that.  I mean: 99 out of 100 authors who have access to the internet never follow it.  We humans are curious by nature, especially when it comes to the opinions of our fellow humans on something we’ve worked hard at.  The internet makes this curiosity pretty much unbearable because book reviews are so accessible, therefore at one time or another, an author is going to read someone’s review of their book.

How do I know this?  I’m a book reviewer, of course.  My reviews have been read by Matt Myklusch, Krystal Wade, Michelle Hansen and Mira Grant, just to name a few.  The first three I mention contacted me via my blog or email and Mira Grant mentioned me on her blog in a round-up of reviews of her books.  Keep in mind that these are just the authors I know for certain have read my reviews.  I’m pretty sure more have stumbled across my blog.

I do have to add one caveat to my derision of this advice: you shouldn’t read reviews if you’re sensitive.  No matter how amazing your book is, you will get a bad review and it will hurt.  Now, if you’ve already developed thick skin, this will be a minor hurt you can just brush off or even laugh about.  However, if you haven’t developed that thick skin that’s necessary in the publishing industry, you really shouldn’t ignore this advice.

This is what every single novel in existence would be like if writers wrote what they knew.

2.  Write what you know.

Have you ever witnessed or been in an epic battle of good versus evil that pitted mythical creatures against other mythical creatures for the control of an empire?  Have you ever survived a zombie apocalypse?  Were you on campaign with Genghis Khan or present at the meeting of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra?  Were you ever a ghost trying to tell the living who murdered you?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, I am now doubting your sanity.

‘Write what you know’ is right up there with ‘never read reviews’ in the category of ‘generally bad advice.’  Really, if everyone wrote what they knew, most of our reading material would be about as exciting as watching paint dry.  I don’t know what idiot came up with ‘write what you know’, but if everyone listened to them, there would be no fantasy, historical fiction, speculative fiction, science fiction and very few action and mystery novels.  Rather than writing about things you’ve experienced personally, good research and imagination can be wonderful substitutes.

Contrary to what some people seem to think, not everything in life (and fiction) has to revolve around romance.

3.  There needs to be some sort of romance.

I get it, everyone falls in love at some point and love is a big thing in practically everyone’s life.  But once, just once, can a book not have a romance as a main plot or subplot?  The ‘necessity’ of having romance in a book seems to be more popular in YA than anything else, but it’s a problem in adult literature as well.  What’s wrong with a character not falling in love throughout the course of one novel?  I don’t know about you, but for me, falling in love isn’t something that happens every day.

In most novels it’s natural to have some sort of romance going on (or at least some romantic tension), but it seems that a lot of YA writers are trying to force romance into their novels so they’ll sell better.  One example is the contrived romantic tension between Artemis Fowl and the much older Holly Short in Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox.  Sometimes, the contrived romance is actually a contrived, incredibly unbelievable love triangle that always seems to revolve around the heroine, her best (opposite sex) friend and the hot new guy she meets.

Honestly, writers: romance is okay, but it’s not a life-and-death matter if you don’t include it!

Believe it or not, I hear this and ‘never read reviews’ regularly.

These are just three of my largest pet peeves when it comes to advice for writers, but what are some of yours?  How do you tell between genuinely good advice and advice you can safely ignore?

5 comments

  1. Grace

    I agree completely on the romance. In a lot of cases it can ruin a perfectly good story (and yes, I’m talking about Hunger Games). The book would have been so much better without it.

    Also, I get a huge ego boost if I find out that an author has read a review that I wrote, and if the author re-tweets it, I’m on cloud nine.

  2. Jemima Pett

    Well, I like all these… I always read reviews, and I make myself read critical ones many times to get to grips with what the reader didn’t like… and if it’s something I can control, I work on it. Most times my book just wasn’t for them, which makes me feel better.
    I do write what I know. Just because no-one else speaks guinea pig is not my problem… look on me as the interpreter. OK, I don’t know much about asteroid mining. Yep, my scifi series is complete imagination except for the world building.
    And as for romance… well, I like to think that there is a man out there for me, somewhere, somewhen, and as I haven’t found him yet, I have to make him/them up…. and then he plays about as much a role in my books as in my life 😀
    Thanks for the good laugh, Carrie – and it was a BRILLIANT post.

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