A Sharp Stick and a Writing Tip

Youngest had it out at the park the other day–according to the mom on my porch and her ice-packed daughter.  Trust me, it’s a front door visit no mom ever wants to get.

Dude, says Upset Mom, your kid punched mine in the face and poked her with a stick.

Now, Youngest can be a scrapper and he–admittedly–has a bit of a temper.  Yet, I’ve never known him to punch another kid in the face (even his brother).  Or poke someone with a stick, for that matter.

His style is more…well, let’s just say he’d throw the stick at you, then tackle you and shove your face in the dirt.  Again, not a proud mom moment, but there ya go.  I know my kids–their perfections and imperfections.

And while I don’t doubt for a second he took part in this playground scuffle, I do question how it all went down.  Especially when he wailed, “But she started it,” as I marched him down the hall and to the door to apologize.

While Upset Mom continued to “just wanted to let you know what [name redacted to protect the not-so-innocent] had done,” the two tusslers made see-ya-at-school-tomorrow faces at each other.

Writing Tip 2011: Do not poke your friends with sticks or punch them in the head.  Because tomorrow, you just might want to play with them again.

Seriously.  I’ve seen authors shred reviewers even as they beg to be reviewed.  I’ve seen the idea of agents bashed by the very people trying to garner notice and representation.  I’ve seen bitter writers decry traditional publishing companies even as they ask, “If my self-pubbed book sells well enough, will I get a publishing deal?”

Here’s the cliché: don’t bite the hand that feeds you.  Or at least not the one you want to be fed by.

You don’t have to slide with them or swing with them.  You don’t even have to talk to them.  Certainly, don’t punch them in the face or poke them with a stick.  All you have to do is walk away until you may want to play with them again.


  • Do writers really need agents?
  • What does an agent do that you can’t do for yourself?
  • Can you sub directly to editors?  What are the pros and cons to each of these options?
  • To self-pub or continue querying?  That is the question.

Writers, research your options.  Weigh the pros and cons.  Make the decision that is right for you.  Share  your knowledge in a respectful manner with others who may or may not make the same choice you did.  But never, ever attack others.  Especially if you just might want to be fed by them in the future.

So, what about you?  Are you a professional writer or a playground scrapper?  How do you respect an industry that seems to quash the dreams of aspiring writers with great regularity?  Do you find yourself growing bitter and disillusioned?  Is the competitiveness of the industry and the rapidly changing landscape a challenge you still want to tackle?  If so, how do you go about it?

Curious minds want to know.

15 responses to “A Sharp Stick and a Writing Tip

  1. I wouldn’t say I punch them in the face or poke them with a stick, but I do point out occasionally (without naming them) that when editors of seven different mainstream publishers cannot find time in a ten month stretch to read a submission they’ve requested, the model is not working.

    And considering that the future of self-publishing might depend in part on separating the wheat from the chaff, I am inclined to be frank, but fair, in my reviewing. I’ll probably have to get an alias for those. Thin skin does’t know the difference between “frank but fair” and “brutal.”

    • Oh, so true, Pete.

      I don’t think we have to shrink away from being politely honest. We simply need to reserve a blanket judgement and be respectful in our contacts. Relating your experiences and your frustration isn’t wrong when you do it in such a way as to represent facts and not attack any one in particular. Also, your perspective and an honest look at your journey can only help others carve their own path.

      I don’t think for a second that you are rude and pushy. Simply unafraid to say some things that others shy away from. Like I told Youngest in front of Upset Mom and her ice-packed daughter: It doesn’t matter who started. You still need to be respectful. Apologize now for how you hurt her and next time tell her you don’t like it when she kicks you.

      “Frank, but fair,” works in my book. And if think skin turns your honesty into brutality, it is no longer your problem.

      I appreciate you weighing in on this, as I sometimes have the tendency let myself become a doormat. And that’s not helpful either!

  2. Finding one’s own path and sticking to it in spite of the naysayers or others who find no trouble being brutal…that’s the challenge, isn’t it?

    When I first started querying—before online sites and networking became popular—I diligently studied the Writer’s Market books and sent off my letters. With sample pages and chapters as requested. When I finally had a contract with a small press, I felt totally blissful. And did my part. But they didn’t do theirs (I heard that they ran out of money!)..so off I went to explore self-publishing, on the recommendation of some who’d done it. I chose the publisher that is now Create Space (formerly Book Surge), and was pleased by what they did for me.

    Sometimes I cringe when I get responses like “we don’t review self-published books” (bloggers); or when a so-called friend seems contemptuous of this way of bringing out my books. But then I remind myself that everyone has a different perspective, and developing a thicker skin is my challenge at this stage.

    Due to my age, I didn’t believe I could take the long road.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this perspective. You eleoquently point out the truth behind understanding what you want as a writer and reaching for those goals the best way for you. You don’t poke and prod others who have different opinions.

      Sadly, however, this kindness isn’t always reciprocated and it doesn’t make taking their poking and prodding any easier.

      Hugs as you continue your writing endeavors. Don’t let anyone tell you you were wrong.

  3. Cat, what a great post and I agree – don’t punch or poke – ever. I think that’s one of my unspoken rules (for myself, anyway). I never talk about publishers, agents, reviewers, other bloggers, etc. unless I have something nice or interesting to write about. It’s just not who I am. You never know who you’ll be working with in the future, so it’s best to keep your options open.

    • TK, we could all take lessons from you. You are the consummate lady and inspiring to everyone you talk with or about. Seriously, when I grow up, I want to be just like you!

  4. Did Upset Mom really start her sentence with, “Dude?” That would be kinda cool, even though everything after that would suck.

    To the point – yes, I agree with you. I don’t like everything I read (by a long shot) which is why I only do positive reviews on my blog. Unpubbed writers trashing the pubbed only looks like sour grapes and accomplishes nothing.

    • Nah, she was more interested in telling me, over and over again, that she “just wanted you to be aware” of the monster I was raising. As if my groveling at her feet wasn’t enough in the first minute. LOL, I guess it’s easier to blame everyone else than to take a shred of responsibility for our own.

      And you are so right: trashing other writers is sour grapes to the third degree. It’s why I love your blog and interviews so much. Such positive info said in such a wonderfully entertaining way. We could spend our whole lives chatting up the good novels that there is absolutely no need to diss on those we don’t love.

      Thanks for this wonderful insight!

  5. I’ve been reading a great book on the topic – the Essential Guide to Publishing Your Book. It broaches the whole, to query/self publish or not to query/s.p. This is an agonizing question and one I’m still pondering. I haven’t got any answers. Sigh.

    As far as dissing others – I’ve served as a reviewer on a historical blog review board and I have to admit, it’s really hard (sometimes impossible) to find something positive to say about the mass of self-published material out there. That said, I try darned hard. I’m adept at the art of diplomatic book reviewing, but I’m also honest. I cannot jeopardize my own career either by raving about a book that doesn’t deserve it or by snarking on someone. (And the latter is true whether or not they “deserve” it.) Most importantly perhaps, if I feel I’m an inappropriate reader for the type of book or, if after I’ve started I realize that I cannot give a single kind word, I need to reserve the right to back out of a review. It’s not something I like to do and I try to find someone who’s a better fit instead, but sometimes it’s a hopeless cause.

    • Victoria,

      Thanks for the great perspective. We often pay attention to our feelings as readers (when we diss on books) and the reviewer’s feelings (when we are dissed on), but often fail to understand the reviewer’s point of view. To be sure, it doesn’t help anyone to have reviewers coat their reviews with dishonest warm and fuzzy words. I’ve read more than a handful of books I would never recommend to another reader, ever. However, I don’t diss on the writer or the book. Instead, I choose to gush about the books I love.

      But I’m a mere reader when I do this and don’t have the luxury of being on a formal board where my opinion matters. It must be an interesting experience and I’m glad you shared it with us!

  6. I think I’m at the point where I’m still feeling too new and too naive to know what I think. At this point, I’m excited about making progress on my WIP and that I’ve found a writer’s group. The idea/possibility of publishing feels about as far away as the land of Star Wars. Maybe someday, I’ll be able to travel there. Thanks for sharing great ideas with this newbie 🙂

    • Well, Tasha, welcome to my blog and the writing world. There is so much to learn and it changes so quickly it can be hard to keep up. However, one thing will never change: the need for well-written stories with great voice. By finding a writer’s group, you are already ahead of where I was as a newly naive writer.

      Bust luck in your endeavers and thanks so much for stopping by. Hope to see you around!

  7. guess what? Coming from a Blogger-blog that just ate my comment… Blogger hates everybody, but mostly us WordPressers, I think! 😦 Long live WP! 😀
    Ahem… comment to this post:
    Do writers really need agents? Nope (see Dean Wesley Smith’s post on the topic)
    What does an agent do that you can’t do for yourself? Exactly!
    Can you sub directly to editors? Mostly yes – DWS teaches you how, if you want to go to one of his workshops (not the one I booked, though! ;-)) What are the pros and cons to each of these options? It depends on what YOU want.
    To self-pub or continue querying? Same answer as above. It depends on what YOU want. If you think a trad pub can give you validation you badly need, go the query-way. If you’re a megalomaniac who doesn’t need other validation that readers’, go indie. But mostly, don’t try to convince the world that your way is the only way! 😉

  8. You are right, you can’t lash out. At some point, you have to stand up and say I’m an adult, this is my responsibility and if I want my work to be the best it can possibly be, I need to take a look at the bad review with a fresh eye.
    If someone isn’t interested in a real review, then they should submit it to their mother. I don’t have a book yet, not even a WIP, but I hope to someday. The work I do now has yet to be reviewed by anyone other than fellow bloggers which is a wonderful world to be part of but it is a mutual-admiration kind of thing. I have a feeling it won’t always be that way!
    Thank you for reminding us to be responsible for ourselves.

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