Any gathering of authors ends up reminding me of the old song from GUYS AND DOLLS where three racing aficionados tout their choices for the next winner, each one certain that he's got it figured out. They end up singing over each other, an amusing number that's confusing if you actually want to hear the words.

Passing through crowds, standing in line, and seated at dinner at a writers' conference, what one hears is a succession of loglines, each delivered with the certainty that if this story just got "out there," it would be best-seller, blockbuster, and prize-winner in no time at all.

That, in my humble opinion, is why we have editors and agents. We authors are too close to our own stories, and we all think we have the "horse right here." While it hurts to have someone tell us it's not ready or it's not trendy, and while no individual agent/editor is always right (and they willingly admit that sometimes they're all wrong), in general it saves an author a lot of effort (and money) if she gets feedback from professionals in the industry.

We love our stuff and can't see why it isn't as good as someone else's stuff. I recently saw a letter where an author stated that he'd read a certain publisher's list and knew that he was "as good as anyone there." It's nice to be confident, but in whose opinion are you that good? If it's just yours and your mom's, you'd better think again.

I always tell my audiences at workshops: if all you want is to see your name on a book and if you've got the extra money to make that happen, then self-publishing may be for you. For those of us who recognize that we might be just a teensy bit prejudiced about our work, it feels better to have someone outside the circle of folks who love us confirm that this horse just might be a winner.

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Comment by Dana King on June 25, 2009 at 11:41pm
Ecellent points. A lot of unpublished authors don;t realize writing improves the more you do it. An editor or agent can be just as valuable for the insights they can provide. I've been lucky to have two agents who spent time helping with my writing. One showed me how to self-edit; the other helped with the macro parts of the story. The story that will be published in an anthology next year would never have seen the light of day had not Todd Robinson made a suggestion about the ending that greatly improved it.

It's easy to think "I'm just as good as these guys," without realizing there may be subtle things about their writing that makes them more entertaining, easier to read, whatever, that comes only with time. Those things are hard to see on your own unless you're looking hard, and know what to look for.

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