The industry of writers teaching other writers to write

ImageIn less than a half a minute, my Google search engines provides me with the following:

How to write a query letter to a publisher – 139,000 results

How to pitch an editor – 8,500,000 results

How to write fiction – 48,900,000 results

Ever wonder why so many writers are so keen to teach others how to write?

Is it that writing somehow elevates the human spirit and elucidates the masses about esoteric concepts and endeavors?

Well, yes. That and money.

Here’s a few sobering statistics provided by the Writer’s Union of Canada:

– The average writer in Canada makes $12,000 (that’s all kinds of writing, not just fiction).

– The average book in Canada sells 400 copies.

– In Canada a best seller is 5,000 copies.

I’m not even going to attempt the math, but suffice to say that the royalties for a best selling author in Canada would make his income below the poverty level – significantly.

The e-publishing industry is even more dismal. New Concepts Publishing, an e-publisher, has the courage to head up the submissions page of their website with the following royalty information from their stable of authors:

Science Fiction/Futuristic range: $127.89–$8455.46

Paranormal range: $78.00–$5673.50

Contemporary range: $55.18–$7913.78

Historical range: $75.16–$3863.12

Romantic Suspense range: $124.24–$1977.20

Fantasy range: $44.00–$4774.80

Average payout over the three year contract period $450.00

How many hours did I put in writing my three e-published novels? My wife could probably tell you, but there’s no question my hourly wage would be well below the minimum, probably closer to that of an itinerant laborer in a destitute third world country.

I’ve always believed, somewhat cynically I must admit, that those who can – do; and those who can’t – teach, give seminars, workshops, online courses, etc.  In light of this information I’ve rethought this and now facilitate creative writing circles – yes, for money.

Poverty is a mighty motivator and who am I to act superior to other writers, the majority who are more skilled at the craft than myself? It does indeed take time away from my actual writing but I still adhere to the adage that ‘teaching is learning twice’.

Where am I going with this, other than the poorhouse?

Recently, I had the opportunity to pitch my latest manuscript to an editor at a conference. Having been a sales person all my adult life it seemed to me nothing more than a cold call, of which I’ve made countless thousands.

However, my writing group loop was filled with anxious missives about what to say, how to say it, and how to present it.  Was there more to this than being personable, knowing your product, and presenting it in a way to benefit the buyer? I decided to look at a few of the 8,500,000 results from my Google search.

Here’s some of the invaluable information I gleaned (actual quotes) about pitching your manuscript from a few of these sites:

– neatness counts when making first impressions… set the example by presenting a professional appearance. And leave the chewing gum, snacks, and cigarettes behind.

– remember, you must first believe in yourself and your work before you can persuade others to believe in it. Be proud of your writing.

– exude self-assurance, but not arrogance. It’s okay to convey enthusiasm, but temper your zeal with a patina of humility.

– pretend this is someone you’ve met at a party. Offer a personable handshake and some small talk to start things off in a relaxed manner. You’ll then find it easy to segue into the business at hand.

– take a couple of calming breaths before you go in, smile, and be yourself.

If you don’t think this is ridiculous and self-evident than consider the opposite. Would you go into an interview a looking disheveled, chewing gum, giving attitude and being rude?

What does this say about the writing industry – or more specifically about the industry of advising, teaching and coaching aspiring writers – the conferences, the workshops, the online courses?

I was further dismayed when I took in the conferences keynote address delivered by a best-selling, making-the-circuit author.  She focused on Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers – basically that practice, a lot of it, makes perfect.

No insights, no anecdotes, no secrets, not even any gossip.

I’m inclined to say that it’s all bogus. A self-serving undertaking capitalizing on the zeal and inexperience of those that dream of becoming writers.

Unfortunately, the best advice I’ve received about my writing comes from other writers; from discussions with them, and reading their how-to books.

It’s a conundrum.

So before seeing the editor (remember the editor?) I’m not taking any chances. I spit out my gum, slick back my cowlick, park my ego, take a few deep breaths, smile and introduce myself just like I would if I was meeting someone at a party.

Seven minutes later I’m out the door.  He doesn’t ask to see my manuscript.

~ ~ ~

Visit my publisher’s website for excerpts from, and buy links to, my three novels; Spirit Bear, Eagleridge Bluffs, and Not Wonder More – Mad Maggie and the Mystery of the Ancients.
More of my original photographs can be viewed, purchased, and shipped to you as GREETING CARDS; matted, laminated, mounted, framed, or canvas PRINTS; and POSTERS.
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Leaving genre

Shoreline - View more original photos of mine at If reading a story is like taking a trip, then the literary novel or short story is adventure travel: we don’t know when and how we’ll eat or sleep, we have only a glimmer of where we’re going, and we usually end up dirty, startled, disillusioned, or exhilarated. We’re hitchhiking, backpacking, taking the third-class train, and getting to know the countryside. In the end, we know both ourselves and the world better; we’ve grown and changed in the process.

The genre novel, on the other hand, is like a package tour. We don’t expect to have our view of the world unsettled. What we want is a cruise with all the expenses paid ahead of time, umbrella drinks by the pool, and a good floorshow in the evenings. Genres are all about the pleasures of the familiar.

–       The Longman Guide to Intermediate and Advanced Fiction Writing

–       by Sarah Stone and Ron Nyren

I had a plan to become a published author.

I would write romance novel(s) because they are the most read (biggest market) of any kind of fiction and the easiest to get published. This is not to say that authors of genre fiction aren’t good writers. I sometimes think it’s more difficult to be creative when you have restrictions.

Back to the plan.

Once I had a bit of a publishing track record traditional publishers of mainstream, literary fiction would be more likely to consider me. Right?

I wrote three contemporary romance novels. All have been e-published. All have bombed. No traditional publishers of literary fiction are knocking on my door.

What happened?

My novels, I’ve been told, were not popular with romance readers for a number of reasons. I didn’t introduce the love interests soon enough. My ‘Happily Ever After’ was lukewarm or not at all. I needed to ‘sex it up’. My subplots overshadowed the romance. My heroes lacked testosterone. My heroines didn’t show enough vulnerability. My words were too big, my plots too real, my characters too unlikable. My stories were out of control.

I suspect it might have something to do with the notion “you are what you read” – more specifically, you write what you read.

When I read I want the experience of the literary novel, such as described in the opening quote from the The Longman Guide to Intermediate and Advanced Fiction Writing by Sarah Stone and Ron Nyren. Writing for me is the same. I want adventure – similar to my style of hiking. When I head into the backcountry I like to leave the marked trail. At least once I want experience the panic of being lost  – I don’t know where I am, where I’m going, or how or when I’ll get back. Terror is undeniably exhilarating, and overcoming it is oh so satisfying.

I miss the adventure when I conform to the confines of genre fiction. That and the fact that I don’t do it well, makes moving on (not necessarily upward) easy, without risk or anxiety, and without even the faintest indication of success.

Norman Mailer said, “Until you see where your ideas lead to, you know nothing.” This is resonates for me. Especially “the you know nothing” part.

What’s important, finally, is that you create, and that those creations define for you what matters most, that which cannot be extinguished even in the face of silence, solitude, and rejection.

– Betsy Lerner

The Forest for the Trees

An Editor’s Advice to Writers

It appears that I’m in the company of a lot of great writers, at least in sentiment if not talent. I will continue to do what matters most for me in the “face of silence, solitude and rejection.” And rejection. And rejection.

According to George Seidel, author of The Crisis of Creativity;  “An artist will always have one thing no one else can have: a life within a life.” Ultimately, that may be my only accomplishment.

Is that a bad thing?

Visit my website for buy links to my three novels, Spirit Bear, Eagleridge Bluffs, and Not Wonder More – Mad Maggie and the Mystery of the Ancients.

More of my original photographs can be viewed at where they can be purchased, and shipped to you as GREETING CARDS; matted, laminated, mounted, framed, or canvas PRINTS; and POSTERS. Go to:  and type Rod Raglin in SEARCH.