About once a month someone in my extended friendship group asks me for advice on writing and/or getting published. While I’m happy to share my few nuggets of wisdom (which have almost invariably been ignored by the questioner!) often there’s no advice I can give because the questioner is asking about a completely different part of the field.
I’ve been asked twice now to give advice to aspiring travel writers. Madness! I barely leave my writer’s garret, I know nothing about travel, nothing about engaging travel writing, have no contacts of any kind in the business. My total sum of my knowledge in this area is that I own most of Bill Bryson’s books.
Last week a very lovely person asked if she could drop by for advice about how to write a graphic novel. I had to tell her that as far as I’m aware it’s a completely different industry from mine. Even the publishing companies are different (at least with the travel writing thing the big firms overlap). If I had any idea how to write a graphic novel I would have written one.
I’ve been asked about short stories more than any other kind of writing. Hah! I’ve only ever written four short stories, two of which were on commission for anthologies. In theory I know you need to pitch to magazines but Google would give you better advice than I can.
Likewise picturebooks, another popular topic. Weirdly enough I get asked a lot about how to break into illustration, another topic I don’t know anything about except that it’s a tough field. I’ve never written a picturebook and from watching Mary Hoffman at work I know that it’s a challenging discipline, a rigorous closely-written artform in which not one word can be wasted. I’ve written thousands and thousands of words, but limit me to 28 double-page spreads and a total word count of a single side of A4 and I’ll run screaming from the pressure!
Adult fiction I know something about but children’s authors don’t always find it straightforward to move into the adult market. I could maybe give some advice to the genre authors but it’s not going to be as useful as advice given by an actual author of adult fiction. Come back and ask me again in 20 years time, eh?
So my advice to you would-be-authors out there is to find the right type of author to ask advice of before you even ask your first question. Oh and remember that the answer to “can you help me get published?” is invariably a resounding “NO!” Writers are too busy trying to get published themselves. Agents are the people to help you get published and even they can’t help everyone.