Is this any good? Everybody says they want feedback, but really, deep down in that place we don’t talk about, that’s what we really want to know, right? Is this any good? Can I write, or am I wasting my time?
And then there’s that question’s insidious cousin. Am *I* any good?
Let me say right up front that this isn’t an original post. Somewhere in the past year I saw an agent address a similar question, but I don’t remember who, or really what the agent said. So I’m stealing the question. But the answer is mine.
I’m going to answer the ugly one first. Because sometimes we need to answer the unspoken questions. Are you any good? Yes. Absolutely. All of you. You wrote a book. That’s a huge thing. You don’t look at somebody who just finished a marathon for the first time and judge them on how fast they did it. Well, I don’t. They ran a freakin marathon. And that’s what writing a book is.
So let’s dismiss that part of the question right now. Your worth as a person and a writer changes not one bit with the outcome of this contest. Try to remember that in the next couple of weeks. It can be a hard thing to hang onto. And it’s harder to remember when people around you don’t understand. And they don’t. Non-writers don’t get it. Tell someone you’re a writer, and they’re going to ask you when your book comes out. Or where they can buy it. They don’t understand the amount of work that goes into it, or how competitive it is. We’ve all been there. Most of us are still there. I’ve got as many published books as you do (or, fewer, in some cases.)
That’s why you need to surround yourself with other writers. When we talk about the community, about finding critique partners — yes, we’re talking about getting better as a writer and learning from others. But just as importantly, we’re talking about a tribe of people who get it. When you get two rejections five minutes apart — and you will. Everyone does — you really want to have somebody who gets it.
But I digress. That wasn’t where I was going with this post, I swear. That’s one of the drawbacks of being a pantser. Hey, we are what we are.
Now we get into the dangerous territory. I’m going to talk in numbers, and things I think, and that’s an open invitation for people to disagree. This is likely to come off as arrogant, but hey, I own that. So here’s the deal — this is just one guy’s opinion. I’m telling you what I believe, to the best of my ability. You can agree, or disagree, and that’s cool. But know that *I* believe what I’m saying.
Is This Any Good?
Back to my point. I swear I have one. I think a lot of times when people ask for feedback, this is what they really want to know. Sure, they also want to know how to get better. I hope they do, anyway. But you know…come on…just tell me. Is it any good? Is it close?
Here’s the trick. I can’t. For a lot of reasons. First, I’m just an unpublished author. I have some editing skills, sure. I feel like I have something to offer or I wouldn’t be here. I can be amusing on social media. But I’m not the super all-powerful appointed judge of what’s good and what’s not.
Come on, Mike. That’s a cop out. You’re not answering the question.
Give me a minute. I’ll get there. First, define *good* for me. What’s that really mean? Do you mean good enough to get an agent as written? Because if that’s the question, then the answer is probably not. We got 141 subs. Of those 141 subs, I think there are three that have a chance, as written, to get an agent. Do I think they will? Probably not, but with just a bit of work, maybe. But the point is, they might. And that’s as close as anybody can tell you. Nobody can predict publishing. If you hit the right desk on the right day, it can work out. Same book, different day, maybe not.
(Whenever I say something like this, I inevitably get the question: are you going to tell those 3 people? Yes. Yes I am. And I’m going to tell them why I think probably not, too, in hopes that they can fix it. That’s why we’re here. And I firmly believe for those three authors, even if they don’t get an agent with this book, they will with their next.)
So if that’s your definition of ‘good’ then that’s your answer. In my opinion. And that’s just from our submissions. Other mentors may have different experiences.
But what if we change the definition of good? What if we define good as ‘Good enough where with two months hard work, it could be ready for an agent.’ Well now the number goes up quite a bit. From what I saw, we had about 15 or 20 books that we could have selected for Pitch Wars and had close to ready. Would they get an agent? Who knows. Of 125 mentees last year, 58 have agents. You do the math. That means that last year, over half the mentors picked something they thought was good and it still didn’t get there. Please remember that, when you’re thinking about whether my opinion on if it’s good or not matters. But my point — 15 or 20 of our subs *could* be good enough. And if you take that a step further, yes, that means 15 to 20 of our submissions we could have selected for Pitch Wars, with some level of confidence.
What if we expand the definition of good a littler farther. What if we take it outside of Pitch Wars. Can it be ready with six months of hard work? Now we’re up to half. At least half. Half the books I looked at, with the right learning and the right work ethic can be ready in six months. Maybe more.
And if we expand it further? Say to a year. Everyone. Maybe not with their current book. After all, there are some concepts that just don’t hit the current market, and that’s beyond our control. All we can do is write the best books we can. But in a year? You can improve and write a new book and get an agent. Or improve and rewrite your current book. Or whatever other path you decide to take.
Consider this: In October of 2014 I shelved my Pitch Wars novel. In November I started a new one. In March of 2015 I sent it to my first round of CPs, and got several comments akin to ‘This seems like a totally different person wrote it. Uh…no offense.’ None taken. That was kind of the point. My last book wasn’t good enough. And if I can do it from where I was, you can do it from where you are.
We have this thing where we want to focus on today. Where we are right now. If I put out an announcement saying I was going to rank my picks from 1 to 141, and all you have to do is sign up to hear the answer, I’d get an overwhelming response. Everyone wants to know. I’m not going to do that, because it’s ridiculous. I *can’t* do that with any accuracy. And it’s self defeating. You can’t compare yourself to other authors (By the way, this doesn’t stop when you get an agent. Or when you get published. Or ever. You can’t compare yourself. It will tear you up.)
You’re asking the wrong question. You shouldn’t be asking if it’s any good. You should be asking what you can do to get better. And this doesn’t matter where you are in your writing journey. We can all get better. The submission I’m reading right now does something better than I do. I want to learn how to do that.
So let me ask you the question that matters. And it has nothing to do with if it’s any good. The real question is this: Are you willing to work at it? Because if you are, then whether it’s any good or not today doesn’t really matter.