Encouraging new writers: on the edge and without a net


Two things before I go into this post:

Thing the first: Today is the last day of the Kindle Countdown Deal for Pride’s Children.

Thing the second: There is the story of the violinist who approached the master, asked that the master listen to him play and tell him if he had talent. The master nodded his head wisely for a time, and then told the violinist, “I’m sorry, but you have no talent. Do something else with your life.”

Years later, the violinist again approached the master. He said, “I am so grateful for what you told me. I focused on other things. I am happily married, have two beautiful children, and have had success as an accountant. My life has been good. But I have always wanted to ask you how you knew back then that I had no talent.”

The master looked at him. “I didn’t listen. I tell everyone who asks that question the same thing. But the ones who have talent never pay any attention to my answer.”

Blast from the past

I found this among my many notes to myself, abortive attempts at blog posts, ideas captured when they happened.

I’m glad now I never listened.


FROM NOVEMBER 18, 2013 – [a thank you to my readers-along]

Before you finish your first salable novel and publish it, almost everyone you know will think you’re a few chocolate bunnies short of an Easter basket. Why? Because of statistics (which I’m too lazy to look up, and wouldn’t trust anyway) that say that many novels are started, few actually finished.

And most people never start that book they say they want to write.

‘Salable’ has changed dramatically in the last five years. It now means ‘finished enough for me to throw up on Amazon etc., and good enough to sell a few copies.’ Even given how easy the ‘publish’ step is now, relatively few people actually get to that point, because the requirement to finish a longish and complicated story is the dream-killer.

Once you are published, traditionally or self-, you are on a different track. Your work is out there, in public, and people can actually buy a copy with money. People can leave reviews, and argue about your plot points over at Goodreads, and comment on Amazon about your characters and themes.

Before that is the point I’d like to address: the novel is started; maybe outlined, plotted, and first-drafted to the point that you’re pretty sure you know where you’re going [or, for pantsers, that you’ve already gotten there because that’s how pantsers know they’re within sight of the finish line]. Now comes the hard part: finishing the writing, editing the manuscript, and getting it ready for market.

The question to be answered first has to be: why bother to nourish new writers? Aren’t there already too many writers and too many books out there? Well, yes, and most people would find enough reading materials out there to read continuously for the rest of their lives even if every writer out there stopped producing anything new immediately.

So, then, why encourage writers? It has to be because you are still looking for something new, because readers can read far more than most writers can produce, and are still out there clamoring for more. If you like mysteries, and read Sue Grafton’s novels of Kinsey Milhone, you can read far more than she could ever produce. If you like Travis McGee novels (I love them), John D. MacDonald isn’t around to produce any more – the best you’re going to do there is find a new writer who reminds you of the flavor of Travis – and who is still writing new stuff. Otherwise, your only option is to back and reread Bright Orange for the Shroud. Again.

So we encourage new writers.

Someplace along this line from conception to novel birth out of the Amazon river is the Temple of Lost Hopes. You know where you’re going, but finishing seems like the impossible dream. No one is giving you stars on Amazon because there is nothing there to praise or deride, and your feedback supply comes from whatever you’ve cobbled up in the form of readers – alpha, beta, familial, and friendly. You stop at the Temple to find a guru. You are desperate. The burden of finishing on your own has gotten gigantic. Nobody cares. Nobody knows what you’re going through.

For writers who are writing and editing live, as I am, this is the point at which a little encouragement from those following along (if any) has an effect far disproportionate to its size. The beta reader stands in for a hoped-for host of future readers; I have gotten to the point where I write ‘to torture Rachel,’ because if Rachel reacts correctly to a scene, I have written it correctly. I KNOW ahead of time I’ve written it as well as possible, because Beta Reader isn’t being given crap (in this way my beta reader is more like a focus group for a movie than a critiquer or a proofreader or a writing partner), but the confirmation comes from getting somewhere near the desired effect.

There are readers – or at least people who click as far as the novel’s text on your website/blog (this is all the information you get from WordPress – it’s called ‘views’). If those readers seem to come back – and an occasional ‘Like’ is registered by the statistics division of WordPress, and an even more occasional actual Comment is left behind as proof they were not ghosts – the effect on the writer is transformational.

I can live for days (writing days, finishing this thing we are pursuing together) on one of those tidbits.

So, if you are nurturing a writer along, what can you do? Not much if you are not exposed to the process – and this is the state of most writers: they write privately until it’s good enough to publish, and then market like crazy when it’s available for sale.

You’re already doing the hardest part: reading the THING as it goes up, live, in pieces, every week. This is enormously valuable.


Couldn’t have done it without you guys.

From my tribe to yours:

Merry Christmas to all, and happy holidays to those with other traditions. Peace on Earth, goodwill to humankind, is real and possible.


9 thoughts on “Encouraging new writers: on the edge and without a net

  1. donnainthesouth

    I’ve really enjoyed being part of this process; was hard to believe at first you were/are a “new” author; you encouraged to get the work I was working on completed (except, errgh, found one thing missed I sure thought I hadn’t but…) and put out there, now to go back and redo the one I outsourced that got dropped – what is they say if want a job done right?


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Do it yourself, of course. I keep hearing people complain about their editors and proofreaders, but those things are hard to do. I just figured it would be easier for me to make the changes when people find things that need changing. No book is perfect.

      For most people, what I’ve done isn’t even a good idea. But it’s POSSIBLE. That’s the important part. If I can, most other people can if they want to – they’re younger, healthier, faster.

      To tell you the truth, I’m a bit surprised I finally did it – it took so long.


  2. Alice Audrey

    Actually, readers who can’t find another Travis McGee have other options. Games, movies, going for a walk… the options are endless. I’ve seen a number of readers simply quit reading in favor of other things.

    That said, it’s still important to foster new authors. I’m not just saying that because I am such a person. I think novels are part of an ongoing social dialogue that includes other media. We need fresh voices all the time because we use them to help us create our world. The idea for ipads didn’t just come out of the air. Nor did our attitudes toward nuclear weapons change totally randomly. Stories such as found in novels shape our futures.

    And yeah, comments are huge when it comes to encouragement.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      An awful lot of us agree with you – and I think we need new novels because life is always moving forward, always changing – and novels help process it (or preplan it – as SF novels do, or worry about it – as the dytopian ones do).

      Writers see trends – novels warn of them.



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