Is This Any Good?

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.


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  • Caryn says:

    Great post. In the course of a year, we can all be better writers – how true.

  • Jamie says:

    Great post, Michael. This is something I think all writers can relate to. In fact, it’s something I was discussing with my CP partners today. Even after you’re published, whether or not it’s through the traditional route or not, you still struggle with this question. I see it in myself sometimes and in my CPs. It’s a question that will never be validated because we always have a tendency to measure ourselves to others. But your last point is spot on, in my opinion. If you’re not willing to work for it, then it doesn’t matter how ‘good’ you are.

    I think that’s all I wanted to say lol.

  • Yes, you can be amusing on social media, though your blogs of late have taken a different tone. I have been preaching against the words “good” and “bad” relative to the arts for many years so I applaud your post and all the substance within. If I may be so bold, don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the burden you chose to bear. Yes, all but one of us will be saddened to varying degrees – some are already suffering through all-too-familiar disappointment and moving on. Determination and persistence, along with the tidbits of encouragement you’ve included here, will help this class of writers grow stronger. Hopefully those of us who are not selected for two months of intense and painful labor, brutalizing our babies, will come away with new and lasting connections to a broader community. Call it a consolation prize – and not a bad one at that.

  • Brynne says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. There are some tough-to-read hard truths in there, but there’s also a lot of hope, and it helps to put things in perspective.

    It’s so easy to get caught up in a single opportunity and pin all of one’s hopes and dreams on winning, only to be crushed if it doesn’t work out. A lot of people are so afraid of failure that they never try in the first place, or they quit when things get hard. But this is just one competition, one year, one book, one way. As long as we continue to believe in ourselves, persevere, and are willing to put the work in, being successful is not a question of if, but when.

    I think I already know what the outcome of Pitch Wars is likely to be for me, but I have a plan, and I’m going to keep working. This writing thing isn’t easy for anyone, and I think it’s important to recognize that, and then keep trying, anyway.

    It’s natural and perfectly acceptable to be disappointed, but what really matters is what you do after the worst of the disappointment wears off. You can either let it destroy your confidence and give up, or you can take what you learned, pick yourself up, and keep moving forward wiser than before. The question is, are you going to let your disappointment stop you from writing? For those of us who are passionate about what we do, the answer has to be no. We’ll keep going, keep working, keep writing. Keep learning so that we can improve. Everyone faces rejection — it’s a rite of passage for a writer. The point is that you don’t give up.

    I love your story, Mike, because you’ve been in our shoes, and you didn’t get the outcome you wanted, but you didn’t give up, and now you’re on the other side. It’s proof that not getting selected for Pitch Wars now means nothing about one’s future as a writer. And there are so many stories like that. Not everyone can get into Pitch Wars, but everyone *can* learn and improve and work hard and find success, and that’s what matters.

    I am genuinely excited for whoever you guys pick. They’re going to have a great mentor team on their side. Please know that no matter the outcome, we all appreciate all of the time you have put into this process, and while we might be a little disappointed, it won’t change the fact that you’ve helped us in ways that go far beyond the 25th. Thanks for all the help, and good luck to whoever becomes a part of your team!

    To everyone else, I hope all of us hopefuls stay in touch on Twitter and keep cheering each other on through revisions and/or new projects. This writing community is amazing, and I hope we’ll be there for each other year-round. 🙂

    P.S. Out of curiosity, are you picking one of the 3 or one of the 15-20 to mentor? … if it’s not top-secret. 😉

  • Matt says:

    You walked right through the question I wanted to ask. Well done, and great post.

    Now for the question I walked away with. Can you talk any more about your experience from writing that first book to writing that second? What happened? What were you aware of as you went through especially that second book? How do you think you achieved that?

    I think a lot of people are, understandably, feeling variously miserable for various reasons, unable to see the progress they’re making even in down times. I’m not as interested in your emotions because I’m not you. But, I am interested in what you recognized as your craft changed. I’m also intersted in what your peers saw in that and what they thought about it more.

    • First, I absorbed a ton of feedback about my current book. The one I eventually shelved. I saw where I was telling. I saw that I had chapters that didn’t have definable goals, conflicts, and stakes for the main character. I saw that I didn’t understand structure. So I set out to learn about that stuff before I started writing again. And I read a lot, trying to see what great authors were doing, but looking at it from a writer’s standpoint more than a reader’s. And as I was reading, I read Gone Girl, which is outside of my genre, and the voice just kicked me in the teeth, and it kind of clicked…voice, that is. So when I started to write again it was from a more advanced place with a better idea of what I wanted to do. I read a ton for other people, too. And as I pointed out things in their writing that was wrong, it helped me spot it in my own. So when I inevitably finished a pretty crappy first draft, I had a much better idea of how to fix it.

  • Rie Neal says:

    So true. Thanks for writing this!

  • In my early years of my apprenticeship, my question was “Is this good enough?” I got a whole lotta No. Later on I got a whole lotta “wrong place/wrong time/wrong subject”. I know this, because a couple of editors would say, “not for me, but Joe-Bob might like it.” And when I subbed to Joe-Bob, he bought it.

    So now I’m stuck with stuff that probably is good enough, but it’s a crap shoot.

    Now my question’s shifted to “For where is this good enough?”

    I’d love to learn how to target better. I’d love to be able to see a single market and be wise enough to know how to sell a piece there.

    That I haven’t figured out yet.

    As for rankings, I know I’m not the top three. I suspect I’m not the 15-20, but at least I can say, with some relief, I’m definitely not the 141st. 😉

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I am a Soldier and a Science Fiction writer. Usually I write about Soldiers. Go figure. I'm represented by Lisa Rodgers of JABberwocky Literary Agency. If you love my blog and want to turn it into a blockbuster movie featuring Chris Hemsworth as me, you should definitely contact her.

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