Honestly, we can be an annoying lot, we aspiring authors. Even published authors are irritating sometimes, if not in actual personality then with the erratic mood swings. One moment our WIP is the greatest thing ever to grace a page, the next, it’s unburnable trash. Good luck getting a sensible conversation out of us if there’s an idea brewing in the back of our mind and whatever you do, don’t touch that teetering pile of notebooks (everything is arranged that way on purpose!) All this I can deal with though. It’s a normal and expected part of the mysterious ritual known as the writing process. The one thing about aspiring authors that grates on me though is preciousness.
Alright, I can understand not wanting to broadcast every plot twist all over your social media and I’ve kept a few aspects of characters shadowy myself now and then. You’ve got to leave some surprises for your eventual fans after all. It’s not a bit of mystery I’m talking about though. I mean the ones who won’t tell you a single thing, not the title, not a brief one-line summary, not even the main character’s name. I’ve seen people who won’t use beta-readers because they don’t trust them and I’ve heard of agents being told to sign a contract not to pass on the manuscript before they’ll submit it. You’ve probably encountered someone like this, or maybe you are yourself. I see it all the time and it annoys me, not because I actually care that much about their story but because of the disservice these people are doing themselves.
I understand it. It’s scary putting your work out into the world. Not just because we all fear criticism but also because we all have that spark of ego. No matter our mood swings, we all believe that this book is something truly special. That’s why we’re able to keep working so hard for so long. This self-belief is a great mindset that enables us to do great things, but it also has a downside because when you know your story is amazing, you start to worry about it. What if someone stole your ideas? What if someone stole your whole book? The thought, maybe not even consciously understood, is upsetting and so you feel as though you need to guard your book from the scary world.
Let me tell you a secret. Nobody cares about you or your story. I’m not being rude, it’s simply the truth. There are thousands, even millions of others like you out there, clamouring to be heard, to be noticed. People can only give so much attention and it’s your job to capture it. Building up an air of mystery is only effective if you give people enough of a reason to care and pure silence is only going to move them along.
Nobody cares about your story more than you. Think about how much effort you’ve put in, the hours brainstorming and writing and crafting your masterpiece. Think about how hard it is to get published, or self-publish. There are many more hours of hard, tedious work querying and formatting and all those hundreds of other little jobs waiting even after you write The End. Even with the passion you have for your story, it’s hard going. Now, why would someone else bother stealing your words and doing all that themselves? It’s just not worth it – the financial rewards are sparse and the emotional rewards nonexistent. Furthermore, agents are searching for any excuse to turn you away and proving you don’t even want to show them your manuscript is delivering a perfect excuse right into their hands.
The only way to get people excited about your novel is to share it, or at least enough to get them hooked. Give them a snippet of dialogue, let them know who the character is at the start of the book, impress them with a memorable title. Show off how great it’s going to be.
The only way to improve your novel is to share it, with trusted beta-readers you know can provide constructive and objective critique. They’re not interested in stealing your work. They’re interested to see what you’ve done, to understand it, to help you become a better writer. Trust them, use them, and grow as a writer.
The only way to land an agent is to query. That means a synopsis, that means entrusting your manuscript to them, that means luring them in so they want to take you on. Don’t make things difficult for them or they’ll regret even picking your letter out of the slush pile.
None of these vital steps involve being precious. Do yourself a favour and put yourself out there. There are so many stories floating around that nobody is going to steal yours, but they might remember it and that is exactly what you want.