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You’re no fool. Right?

But is it possible, perhaps, that you do foolish things sometimes? It is. We all do. As writers, we’ve pretty much all wrong-footed it at least once or twice.

But how do you know what’s foolish? Being too confident is a classic writer’s mistake, but so is being too shy and tentative. It’s just as foolish to think you’ll always fail as to think you’ll always succeed. With that in mind, take the quiz below to determine what foolish writers — and wise ones — do in some often-seen writing and publishing situations.

A. You ask your critique group for feedback on something you think is great. They think it needs work. You:

  1. quit the group in a rage. Clearly they don’t see your genius. Too bad, so sad. FOR THEM.
  2. accept all criticism, beat yourself up for not doing a better job, and slavishly follow each and every suggestion, instruction, or correction that they give you.
  3. listen to the criticism without arguing or getting defensive, but take some time to digest it. Then decide which of their ideas ring true for you and which ones you think are off the mark. Incorporate what you want and leave the rest.

B. Huzzah! An agent loves your query and wants to see the full manuscript. But she wants an exclusive. You:

  1. grant it right away, no conditions, no time limits.
  2. fire back a FURIOUS email declaring you would NEVER work with anyone who DARES ask such a thing.
  3. write back that other agents are reviewing the manuscript and you can’t give an exclusive, but you hope she’ll read anyway, and you won’t accept another offer of representation before informing her first (and attach the manuscript).

C. Now the agent has your manuscript and says she’ll get to it soon. Time goes by and you don’t hear from her. You:

  1. wait and wait, letting three months go by. Six months. A year. You don’t want to be a pest. If she likes it, she’ll tell you, right?
  2. start emailing once a week, then once a day. Then start calling. Remind her she promised you and she has totally failed. You NEED to know, dammit! Where is your ANSWER??? Maybe lie and say someone else has offered representation just to light a fire under her you-know-what.
  3. wait until the initial timeframe is up, then send a polite followup email. Continue to reach out politely, once every few weeks or so. In the meantime, tend your other irons in the fire.

D. Your agent or publisher wants to know what books you’d say yours is most like. You say:

  1. “It’s a cross between Harry Potter and Twilight, of course! It’s going to be HUGE!”
  2. “I really can’t compare it to any other book because it’s completely unique. There’s never been another book like it. Ever.”
  3. “It will appeal to readers of [author or book in your genre with some similarities of plot or premise, released within the past few years, ideally successful].”

 E. An Amazon/Goodreads/blog reviewer writes a very negative review of your book. You:

  1. respond point by point with an impassioned (and profanity-strewn) defense of why they are wrong, wrong, wrong.
  2. collapse in a heap, certain your book is now doomed.
  3. shrug, or have a glass of wine, or cry on the phone to your best friend, but under no circumstances whatsoever respond publicly.

So by now, you get the gist, right? The wisest path is often the middle of the road. It’s impossible to come up with a guideline that’ll fit every situation you’ll encounter on the long writer’s road, but here’s one to try: “Always” or “never” is almost never the way to go. If you find yourself talking in absolutes, you might be traipsing into some foolish territory.



About Jael McHenry

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.