Writing Can Be Murder

January 4, 2007

Brilliant or special? Dumb or lazy?

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenniferelbaum @ 11:16 am

Rant time.

How many times have you been on a message board and you come across some of the version of the following question:

 “My paranormal/historical/erotica/suspense/fantasy/mystery novel is 35,000 (or 3 million) words. Is that too short/long?”

 Now the person asking this question is computer savvy enough to make it to said message board and post this question.  Am I supposed to believe that while they’re capable of traversing the internet, they’re not capable of finding a publisher’s submission guidelines?

Or do they believe that their work is so brilliant, or that they’re so special, that silly things like guidelines don’t apply to them?

 Or are they too dumb to look up preferred word counts? Or are they just too damn lazy?

And could someone PLEASE explain to me why other people find it necessary to enable these people?  I’m all for helping other writers, but I’m not for babying them. There’s a difference between pointing someone in the direction of the reference materials they need and looking up the information for them, spoonfeeding it to them, and then supporting their illusions of grandeur, isn’t there?

 Does this kind of thing ever bother anyone else?



  1. Oh man, I know what you mean. Some people don’t want to do their own research–they want others to do it for them. *rolls eyes*

    Comment by Rhonda — January 4, 2007 @ 11:25 am

  2. I’m all for helping other writers, too, but what I can’t stand is when people who know nothing on a topic chime in, particularly in the area of legal issues. I’ve had to clean up so many messes that people have made by providing “legal advice” (um, the unauthorized practice of law, have you ever heard of that? it’s an ethical problem) on the internet when they’re not attorneys and don’t know what they’re talking about.

    Comment by Amanda Brice — January 4, 2007 @ 11:38 am

  3. I feel your pain. I work with people like that. My DH says that he wouldn’t be surprised to hear them to call me into the restroom to wipe their a**, because they don’t know how to work the toliet paper.
    I think it has to do with the amount of petting and pampering they’ve had for most of their lives. They want to carry that over into their working experiences.

    Comment by Lucinda — January 4, 2007 @ 11:42 am

  4. Rhonda — Exactly! Where does that entitled attitude come from?

    Comment by jenniferelbaum — January 4, 2007 @ 11:51 am

  5. Amanda — My sister is an attorney too and she complains about the exact same thing!

    Comment by jenniferelbaum — January 4, 2007 @ 11:51 am

  6. Lucinda — You know what’s sad? When people expect to be pampered like that in their work lives, they often are. Grrrr!

    Comment by jenniferelbaum — January 4, 2007 @ 11:52 am

  7. My favorite is the writer who doesn’t read. You know–the person who’s working on a romantic suspense but has never heard of Tess Gerritsen, Linda Howard, Suzanne Brockman, Allison Brennan, Elizabeth Lowell, Karen Rose… Because why check out to see what’s selling?


    Comment by Kate Perry — January 4, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

  8. It all add up to being lazy. Like Rhonda said, they want it to be done for them.

    Comment by Diane — January 4, 2007 @ 12:32 pm

  9. Or even worse when you do say something like – “oh, Kensington is looking for XYZ,” and they say, “Who’s Kensington.”

    I must have spent a good year researching “stuff” before I even thought about subbing, and still do a lot of it now.

    I don’t mind when people don’t know things – we all have to start somewhere – but I hate when the Claim to know stuff and then make stupid comments like the one above.

    Good rant!

    Comment by Emma Sinclair — January 4, 2007 @ 12:45 pm

  10. Kate — piffle! what’s selling is just SO unimportant

    btw — Congrats on Project Date — looking forward to reading it since I enjoyed Project Daddy so much!

    Comment by jenniferelbaum — January 4, 2007 @ 12:56 pm

  11. Diane — so glad I’m not the only one who thinks this way!

    Comment by jenniferelbaum — January 4, 2007 @ 12:57 pm

  12. Emma — Who’s Kensington?
    Only kidding…

    Comment by jenniferelbaum — January 4, 2007 @ 12:58 pm

  13. I worked with a woman like that once. She was writing her memoirs and kept pestering me for advice. I gave it to her. I told her about formatting a manuscript, Writer’s Market, where she could find helpful advice on cover letters and what publishers were working for.

    What did she do when she finished her epic memoir (the last chapter of which forgave, in condescending terms, the people she thought had done her wrong)? She had it printed and bound at Kinkos and sent a copy to Oprah because she was certain Oprah would see it was perfect for her book club, publicize it and make her millions.

    I don’t mind giving advice, but when people ask for it and then just ignore it because they don’t like it — that drives me crazy.

    Comment by Caro — January 4, 2007 @ 2:10 pm

  14. Caro — Apparently I’ve wasted a lot of time. I didn’t know that a trip to Kinko’s and a mailing to Oprah would catapult me to the top of the bestsellers list. I’ve wasted so much time and energy!

    Comment by jenniferelbaum — January 4, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  15. I have two words. Doctoral Thesis. LOL
    Used to really get to me when I’d hear of a colleague have their secretary or an intern do their research for them, then have them type it up. Grrr….

    Comment by cassandra curtis — January 4, 2007 @ 3:21 pm

  16. Yeah, I hear you. I’ve seen a lot of people ask those sorts of questions over the years.

    Sometimes it’s because they’re lazy. Other times, they really have no idea where to look and utterly suck at Google-fu. It also depends how “new” the writer is. If it’s, like, their first finished book, I don’t mind pointing them in the right direction.

    Now, the people who look for serial hand-holding and coddling… no. Just, no.

    Comment by Nonny — January 4, 2007 @ 3:27 pm

  17. These are people who live in bubbles. It’s like there’s a barrier between them and the real world and they need someone to reach into the bubble and spoon feed them. As someone who balks research and often considers herself clueless, I usually try to get all my own answers first. If I really, really can’t figure something out, I’ll ask for help and keep my fingers crossed that I don’t look completely helpless.

    Comment by Jennifer Colgan — January 4, 2007 @ 3:36 pm

  18. I’ve seen questions like this and I want to say something smart, Like my email is response is one word to you. “Yes” Do you think that’s too short for you to understand? But I never respond instead I delete and say nothing.

    Comment by Sara Thacker — January 4, 2007 @ 3:44 pm

  19. It’s definitely annoying. If they are new, and really don’t how to find stuff it’s one thing to point them in the right direction. But people you know have been around a while and know how to find they’re own info? I just ignore them.

    What really annoys me are the people who ask the same thing over and over again. Um, no the answer hasn’t changed since you asked the first or third or fifteenth time!

    Comment by Loribelle Hunt — January 4, 2007 @ 5:10 pm

  20. Cassandra — nursing a grudge or two?

    Comment by jenniferelbaum — January 4, 2007 @ 7:42 pm

  21. Nonny — I always think there’s a big difference between pointing people in the right direction and giving them the answer, but you’re right it’s the serial coddling that’s most annoying!

    Comment by jenniferelbaum — January 4, 2007 @ 7:46 pm

  22. Jennifer — I’m among those that doesn’t find research “fun” but I do think it’s necessary.

    I have no problem helping out folks who say, “I’ve tried A, B, and C but I can’t find ____________ anywhere.”

    Comment by jenniferelbaum — January 4, 2007 @ 7:47 pm

  23. Sara — LOL “Yes” Succinct and to the point!

    Comment by jenniferelbaum — January 4, 2007 @ 7:48 pm

  24. Loribelle — I know what you mean. It’s like if they believe that if they ask a hundred times eventually they’ll get the answer they want.

    Comment by jenniferelbaum — January 4, 2007 @ 7:49 pm

  25. Yes, this kind of inspires the old eye roll in me too. But then I’m one of those people who enjoys research because I usually come across something so interesting that I find more ideas from just a little kernal of something I didn’t know before. – As for the guidelines… I will always try to go to the website first. I want the information straight out of the horses’ mouth with no mistakes on formatting, word length, genre or other things that could cause me to be rejected. I like to print the guidelines out and keep them in a file, then update them periodically. – The only time I will ask a question is if I’ve searched the publisher site and still can’t find exactly what I’m looking for. – Some publishers hide information in the oddest places. I know this from doing the Market News column for the NJRW newsletter. – And Jen, I do have to agree with you, it can get very frustrating when someone asks you for guidelines when they could just go to the site and print them out, which is exactly what I’m doing in order to give them the information in the first place. I think it’s the difference between being strong and self-sufficient and being desperately needy.

    Comment by Kat Mancos — January 4, 2007 @ 8:08 pm

  26. I’m more annoyed by the people who do the spoonfeeding. Stop the madness of enabling!! Sorry, I’m a little hopped up on cold medication…

    Comment by ceridwen — January 4, 2007 @ 8:47 pm

  27. Kat — that’s an interesting perspective. I tend to think of these people as being selfish or lazy, but I guess they could be needy. Thank you!

    Comment by jenniferelbaum — January 4, 2007 @ 9:58 pm

  28. Ceridwen — And I thought it was only me who ended up more annoyed by the enablers than the person asking the question in the first place!

    Comment by jenniferelbaum — January 4, 2007 @ 9:59 pm

  29. *Puts on flame retardant suit*

    On the surface, I whole heartedly agree with you on your various points, but I’m replying from the perspective of one (of many) who has taken a look at some of the disparate submission requirements by various publishing houses and agencies out there: It can be very, very confusing for first-time submitters. Submission guidelines vary so much in terms of how each publisher/agency defines seemingly straightforward terms such as “outline”, “synopsis”, etc. The worst one in my observation is the Word Count.

    As well, the volume of information circulating on the interscrape is also a major contributor to the problem. It’s no wonder people get frustrated. I would personally prefer to rely on someone’s experienced opinion rather than problematic submission guidelines.

    For a very old industry, you would think that there would be some sort of universal standards by which they operate. And before I get flamed for saying that, let me clarify: Universal Industry Standards = unified terms & definitions provided and practiced by EVERY publishing related agency. This means agency A and B provide the same guidelines requirements regardless of genre or type. I’m quite confident that productivity on both sides of the fence would only increase. Such is my pipe-dream.

    Comment by farfromfearless — January 5, 2007 @ 12:06 am

  30. farfrom — The subject of the publishers sometimes confusing guidelines is a completely different issue in my mind. Because if someone is confused, it probably means that they’ve gone and read the guidelines.

    My problem is with people who say that they’ve written a book that’s only 30,000 words and wonder if that’s long enough?

    That’s just plain lazy in my book. It means they haven’t done their research. They’re not treating their writing career as a business.

    On the other hand I completely understand when people say, “I saw that XYZ company is looking for manuscripts to be between 80-90,000 words. Is that by the computer wordcount or some formula that XYZ desires using font, font size, spacing, margins, etc?”

    Comment by jenniferelbaum — January 5, 2007 @ 10:29 am

  31. Still the same issue – Agencies and Publishes tend to differ in book length as well; in some cases I’ve seen as much as a 10K-30K differential between target lengths – I do understand what you’re getting at though, and I too have seen a number of similar cases, but I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt considering what they’re up against. I think I’ve asked the same question three of four times myself >_

    Comment by farfromfearless — January 5, 2007 @ 11:29 am

  32. I wrote 3 responses and deleted them all in an attempt to be “reasonable” and PC, but dammit this is my blog, my rant and I’ll say what I think.


    It’s the publishers fault for setting different book lengths? I don’t think so. I don’t necessarily like or agree with what they do all the time, but hey it’s their sandbox, they get to make the rules. If people don’t like them they should take their sandbucket and self-publish.

    EVERYONE was “up against” the same issues/problems/difficulties at some point. Some people choose to view it as a challenge and they do the necessary work to educate/improve themselves. Other people adopt a “poor me, this is too hard, I need help” mentality.

    Hate to break it everyone, but there are no secret passwords, no magical answers. It takes work, hard work, and not the work of others.

    I really suck as an enabler….

    Comment by jenniferelbaum — January 5, 2007 @ 3:34 pm

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