In one of my favorite Andy Griffith Show episodes, Gomer Pyle is looking for a job and decides to answer an ad for a butcher. Andy asks, “Do you know anything about cutting meat?” Gomer, startled, says, “Do you think they’ll ask me that?”
It’s funny when Gomer Pyle says it. But that kind of attitude is NOT funny coming from a would-be writer. I regularly get asked to evaluate manuscripts from hopeful writers who haven’t taken the time to acquire the skills needed for a writing career.
Here’s a typical snatch of dialogue:
Me: “What word-processing system do you use?”
Writer: “What’s that?”
Other questions: Are you familiar with Amazon.com? (You’d better be – they’re going to be selling your books.) Have you studied books similar to yours to see how they’re put together? Are you thinking about self-publishing? (The odds are strongly against persuading a commercial publisher to take on your book.) How much time and energy are you willing to commit to marketing your book?
Writers who take themselves seriously can produce outstanding work. My husband, a garden writer, just came across a beautiful self-published book about ornamental tobacco plants: Illustrated Guide to Flowering Tobacco for Gardens by Richard Pocker. I’m writing a review of another impressive book, The Baby Mama Syndrome by Judge Robert Doyel.
Another self-published book didn’t impress me as much – and it underlines the point about knowing the writing business. I just finished reading The Art of Compassion by Yola Miller Sigerson. It’s a biography of Sigrid Undset, one of my favorite writers, and it’s beautifully researched and a joy to read. All the scholarly apparatus is there, including pages of endnotes.
But…there are no endorsements on the back cover. Sigerson spoke to Undset’s relatives and friends. Why not ask them to make some comments about her book to enhance her credibility? And there’s no acknowledgments page. Another problem is that the word didn’t was misspelled numerous times (with an extra apostrophe).
Yes, Gomer, butchers need to know how to cut meat. And yes, dear would-be writer, you need to go to the library, pull some competing books off the shelves, and learn how to punt your book into the same league.
It’s all about a commitment to professionalism.