Over this last year, the comments by FtQ readers on the openings submitted by writers have proven to be a hugely valuable part of this blog, and I cannot overstate my appreciation for all you’ve contributed.
However. . .
Lately there have been comments that were expressed in rude, or condescending, or insulting ways. Even worse, one commentor has disparaged the efforts of another who was offering advice.
That’s not acceptable, nor does it help the people I’m here to help—the writers who are working to improve their craft by putting their work out there to be seen and critiqued by anyone.
To paraphrase an old saw:
If you can’t say anything constructive, don’t say anything at all.
We all differ in our level of writing accomplishment, and some are clearly much better than others. This “superiority” does not, however, grant a license to snark or be mean-spirited. In my view, the effort and guts it takes for anyone to submit their work to this forum should be respected, and treated with courtesy.
For writers who submit work
“Turn the page,” as it’s used on FtQ, really means “publishable.” If the opening to your work isn’t enough to get me to turn the page, the work is probably not yet publishable. Yes, my judgment is subjective, as is yours, but it’s professional.
Even turning the page doesn't yet mean publishable
I once read this quote from an acquisitions editor at a publishing house:
”Most of what we get should never have left the writer’s hand.”
Sometimes that’s true of the submissions to FtQ
What standard does your writing need to meet to be publishable?
Allow me to quote myself; this is from the opening chapter of my
forthcoming book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells:
Today’s publishing climate is tougher than ever. To get an agent, your work has to stand out from hundreds and hundreds of submissions. For your agent to get you a book contract, your novel has to cut through hundreds more.
Your book has to be polished, diamond-sharp, and a rarity–you not only have to have professional-caliber writing and a great story, your novel needs to kick-start with compelling tension.
Frankly, if you look at the opening pages of your novel, it seems like it should be clear as to whether or not they are ready to leap that hurdle. After all, there are hundreds of published novels that you can compare your work to.
It seems to me that anyone who hopes to be a professional writer must develop the ability to see their writing clearly enough to judge its merits.
Yet that doesn’t happen, does it? There have been a few submissions to FtQ that reached the publishable level, and a host that fall just a little short. Others have been far from the mark and have miles to go.
Okay, so some of us don’t yet have that clear and critical facility. Yet it can be learned, and a good place to start is here. I could simply refuse to post and critique efforts that are clearly a long way from publishable, but that would be of no help to all of the writers who come to FtQ to learn about what makes a novel’s opening page have the compelling qualities that it must have to reach the level of “agentable,” much less publishable.
It didn’t seem to me to be necessary to lay down any “rules” for commentors to follow on this blog. Indeed, for almost five years now, there hasn’t been a need. But maybe these troubling times wear on people, and troubles outside this tiny part of their world are wearing on them, hurting them, and it spills over.
The “rule” here is to be a grown-up. To be a parent—to approach commenting on a writer’s work as you would if you were trying to help your child understand a vital lesson in life. You wouldn’t, I hope, use sarcasm and talk down to your child. You would, I hope, try to offer constructive guidance to help him or her understand and grow, and you would do it in a way that makes sometimes tough advice easier to take.
That is not to say to hold back constructive criticism. I don’t pull punches (well, I don’t throw them, either), but I confine my remarks to the actual writing and storytelling.
I have not yet felt the need to try to block anyone from contributing to Flogging the Quill, and I don’t want to. But I will, in the future, seriously consider deleting mean-spirited commentary and, if it keeps up, figure out a way to block that person. And those people will not be eligible to submit work to FtQ.
How about making this promise?
In my first novel, an organization of citizens grows around this promise. It’s a requirement for membership in “The Alliance.”
I promise to help, the best I can.
I made that promise back when I wrote that novel, and do my best to live by it. I urge you to do the same.
Meanwhile, many thanks to all the able commentors and analysts who do make constructive comments on FtQ, and I hope you’ll continue to do so.
For what it’s worth.
Tips & Subscriptions Your generosity helps defray the cost of hosting FtQ.
Public floggings available. If I can post it here,
- send 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter as an attachment (cutting and pasting and reformatting from an email is a time-consuming pain) and I'll critique the first couple of pages.
- Please format your submission as specified at the front of this post.
- Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
- And, optionally, permission to use it as an example in a book if that's okay.
- If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
- If you rewrite while you wait you turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.
© 2009 Ray Rhamey