February 26, 2013

How Should We Deal with Conflicting Advice?

Chess knights facing off with text: Whose Advice Should We Take?

Did you hear? History was made this past weekend. And no, I’m not speaking in hyperbole. *smile*

Imagine a writers’ conference with high-quality speakers, matching those found at national conferences. Imagine being able to attend for a fraction of the cost of other national writers’ conferences and with no travel costs. Imagine being able to attend no matter your location, time zone, health or family issues, etc.

Okay, an online global writers’ conference. That’s been done before—Yahoo email loops, blog posts, and text chats. Where’s the never-before history?

Now imagine all that in a virtual conference center, complete with a “lobby” for chatting between sessions, a private room for agent pitches, social activities to get to know other attendees, live presentations with webcams and screen sharing, real-time question and answer sessions by microphone (or by chat box for the shy). In short, imagine an online conference that felt like an in-person conference—other than the pajamas and fuzzy slippers.

This past weekend, Kristen Lamb‘s WANA International did a “soft launch” for WANACon, the first-ever fully interactive global writers’ conference. A few of us announced it ahead of time on our blogs and social media, but we didn’t push it that hard because this was the guinea pig session. Literally.

The software TechSurgeons (led by my tech guy) put together for Kristen had never been tested for this use. He had programmers making changes less than a week before the conference and built the servers the conference ran on just a day before opening the lobby.

Yet, thanks to everyone’s hard work, from Kristen and her team to the speakers and attendees, the conference was a smashing success. (You know it’s good when New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan gushed about her WANACon speaking experience.)

The speakers Kristen brought in were national conference quality (editors, agents, ebook designers, bestselling authors, etc.), and TechSurgeons’s technology all worked. I’ll admit it. I’m filled with pride they were able to pull this off. *leans close and whispers* I was the matchmaker for the business partnership between my tech guy and Kristen.

It ended up being a very long and exhausting weekend for me (I moderated fifteen 90-minute-plus workshops), but it was worth it to see the conference come together. And stay tuned, Kristen wants to make these WANACons a regular event. (Sign up for email notifications to receive the updates.)

Kristen’s hoping to hold the next WANACon in June because the publishing industry is changing so fast annual conferences aren’t enough. What worked six months ago might not work now.

And that truth brings me to the point of this post…

What Do We Do When Advice Conflicts?

Just like an in-person conference, advice from the speakers was all over the map. One didn’t like print-on-demand (POD) at all, one liked Lightning Source and hated CreateSpace, and one liked CreateSpace and hated Lightning Source (both POD printers, if you’re not familiar with the names). Some insisted expensive options were necessary and some advocated for “cheap but good.” Some represented traditional publishing and some believed self-publishing is the only way to go.

Is there a right answer and a wrong answer? Is one of them more tapped into the future and the rest are behind the times?

We see this same problem of conflicting advice with the feedback from our critique partners and beta readers. A character that one loves another one can hate. Same with plot twists, emotional scenes, etc. Which one is “right”? Should we change that character and cut that scene—or not?

It’s enough to make us freeze up and not want to do anything for fear of making a mistake. *raises hand*

The truth of the matter is that no one knows The Ultimate Truth Appropriate For All Situations (TM). Kristen purposely invited speakers with different viewpoints so we could learn about issues from all sides. We purposely use multiple critique partners or beta readers to get more eyeballs on our work.

We know that everything in writing is subjective, and that not every reader will love our stories. Similarly, what works for one person might not work for us, whether that’s plotting a story instead of writing by the seat of our pants or self-publishing instead of querying agents.

No one else can speak for what we want to accomplish. Not for that character, that plot event, that story. And certainly not for our career.

My goals are different from the goals of other writers. My priorities are different. My lines of what I’m willing to do—or not willing to do—are different. My budget, patience, and ability to take criticism and rejections are different.

So while it’s hard to keep our focus on our situation when we’re faced with conflicting information, we have to banish our self-doubt and listen to our inner voice. Only we know what will make us happy. And our happiness is more important than what others pressure us to do.

In what areas have you struggled with conflicting advice? Do you freeze up or push forward? How do you decide what to do? Have you been to other online writing conferences before? Does the format and interactivity of WANACon sound more appealing?

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I suppose my best example of “conflicting advice” comes in my book A Fistful of Fire. I break a lot of the “rules” in that one. The narrator’s very passive. It’s a rather meandering plot. It has a prologue. I was reading a bunch of advice to never do those things, and I still haven’t found any other authors I can point to and say “That’s what I’m aiming for” (which makes it difficult to figure out my market). Oh, there are some that resemble my tone, some the style, some the character type, some the political backdrop…but it’s stuff I see that others won’t necessarily. So I started breaking the story into pieces to rebuild it with a more active narrator, a more active plot—and realized: That would have destroyed the entire point of the story. Evonalé is passive. She’s paranoid. It’s an integral part of who she is and of the story itself. And readers who have read it through and then get in touch with me all comment on how much they enjoyed that very core I almost removed from the story. I go into that to point out that conflicting advice isn’t necessarily wrong. It isn’t necessarily right, either, but that’s where the question “What are your goals?” comes in. I’m a freelancer, and some of my freelancing is as a line editor and copyeditor. I’m not perfect, and I have my pet peeves as much as anyone, but I try to be clear about what’s…  — Read More »

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

I’ve heard astounding things about the WANAcon conference. I’m so glad it seems to have been well received and successful. So awesome!!
In reference to conflicting advice, well…I think, especially in terms of conference feedback, one should listen carefully to all viewpoints and then do what feels most right for you.
Once or twice I’ve learned things that didn’t quite sit well with me. I chose the alternate route because it worked best for me, personally.
Have a great week!!

Buffy Armstrong

I’ve gotten feedback all over the map – from negative to positive to ambivalent. (Ambivalent is the worst : Your story is fine. What the hell does that mean? Is this like when my husband says I look fine when he hasn’t even looked at me yet?) I try not to take it personally when someone doesn’t like something. Easier said than done, however. I try to figure out why someone doesn’t like something. Is it because I didn’t do a good job of explaining/illustrating my point/character/theme or is because of the reader’s personal taste. Or is the person a jerk. Some people are just jerks. I’ve had some of my worst experiences with positive feedback. A year and a half ago I sent off the first half of a novella I was working on to a good friend. She sent me a text message at like 3:00 in the morning telling me how much she loved it and couldn’t wait to see the rest when I finished. I was so afraid that I was going to write a crappy second half of the story that I couldn’t write anything for months. Months. And as far as careers go, I’ve realized it’s going to take as long as it takes. I’ll get there when I get there. The important thing is to keep writing. Every story we complete just gets us a little closer. It’s best to take in all the advice, weigh the pros and cons and do what…  — Read More »

Monique Headley
Monique Headley

I love this post, Jami! While I know the right career path – at this point in my life anyway – I really struggled with feeback from critique partners and beta readers. Not because it hurt my feelings, but because I automatically assumed they were right and I was wrong. It really stilted my writing and forward momentum.

The first thing I figured out is that I cannot send my work out for feedback until the 1st draft is complete. That was an easy one for me to learn.

And over the past year I’ve really put myself out there, understanding that the only way I will overcome this paralysis, is to learn and go through those growing pains. I have an almost overwhelming desire to improve my craft! I’ve read my chapters in front of my local RWA chapter, tested new critique partners and beta readers, I’ve posted excerpts and blurbs on trusted blogs for feedback, submitted to contests, and now I’m taking an editing class where we post our improvements to a forum for feedback. Feedback, feedback, feedback! Each and every comment I receive improves either my craft – if I choose to apply it – or my ability to see why something doesn’t work for my ms. It also helps me analyze the “reader mindset” and discover ways to power up my work. All good things!

Kristen Lamb
Kristen Lamb

*bows to Jami as Moderator Queen* And THANK YOU for introducing me to Jay. It’s why social networking–emphasis on NETWORKING–is so crucial. We never know who sits one degree of separation from the person who will change everything. Knowledge is power and the more knowledge we have, the more accurate that inner voice will be. All writers are different. Some are in their 20s, others are in the Golden Years. Some are balancing a day job and small children. Others are retired and can do this full-time. Some writers have enough savings to invest heavily in the beginning. Others are operating on a shoestring and a prayer. But this is the beauty of the new paradigm. Now ALL writer dreams are valid and attainable. This was the main reason I wanted all kinds of publishing voices, not just indie. Yes, I tend to favor the indie method, but I am a natural entrepreneur who thrives in high-stress environments. I can’t make the choice for what’s right for anyone but ME. And the truth is there probably are no “wrong” choices anymore because right and wrong are so subjective. But, this is the magic of having a lot of voices and multiple perspectives. We can each listen and feel what resonates. I am SO HAPPY with how WANACon went and I know I am not alone. There is NO WAY this would have happened if it had been just me. I thank social media for connecting me with talented, generous souls…  — Read More »

Michele Gibson

WANACon was great! Inspirational AND full of practical advice. So many great sessions. The keynotes with Candace Havens were delightful – loved her story about interviewing Kevin Costner. The sessions with the pub lawyer answered a lot of my questions. The Sunday morning session with Kristen Lamb for nearly three hours in our pajamas? Priceless. I will definitely sign up for any future WANACons.

Jami – Thank you for the great job you did hosting and moderating all those sessions. I hope you’ve caught up on your sleep. The technology all worked just like it should, sharing slides, video, desktops…interacting with the other attendees, without a single hitch. When does that ever happen?

Regarding conflicting advice: The danger is that it stalls you. I try to pick a path and move forward, which, I admit, is easier to say than do.

Allison Brennan

Yes, I had a blast this weekend! Thanks again!

As far as conflicting advice … we’ve ALL gotten it. What works for one person may not work for another. In writing itself, sometimes it’s about the execution, sometimes about voice, sometimes it really is about the skill of the writer. Some people don’t want to work hard to hone their craft, or they *think* it’s perfect and only show to people who agree.

I’ve broken all of the so-called rules (cough *guidelines* cough) and my books are better for it. But I’ve also been slammed by others because they don’t like the rules I break. (Read: they don’t like my voice, my writing, or me.) That’s fine. As long as first *I* like what I write and second my editor likes what I write, then I’m okay. I’m my first reader, and I have total trust in my editor that she’ll tell me when I’ve gone off the rails.

Rachel Funk Heller
Rachel Funk Heller

Hi Jami, I just wanted to give you a shout out and say THANK YOU, for being such a wonderful on-line hostess-moderator for WANACon. I loved hearing your voice, letting everyone know what session was coming up next. You also did a great job of keeping up with all the questions that popped up in the running chat room. Kudos to you dear! As for dealing with conflicting advice, I think one of the best nuggets I got was from Jared Kuritz how advised us to not just think about our books, but to think about our careers as writers. That it isn’t just about getting a book published, it is about crafting a career, that we are the brand and to take the time and decide how you want to manifest that in the world. This dovetailed nicely with Susan Spann talking about creating a business plan for each book, or each series and for yourself. With all that information, you can step outside of the puzzle, so it isn’t so much about you, but about making sound business decisions. Hope that helps.


Conflicting advice? I reckon the most tortuous is from beta readers/crit groups. With business matters we can find a little bit of objectivity (most of the time) because it is the business side, but those red ink comments on our precious MS’s? … Here’s the salt, pour some more into my wound!
My solution is often to find the ‘third option’. Which, boiled down, is what works for me … after breathing deeply, going for a long ride on my bicycle, or sitting beside Widderlake and letting my thoughts and emotions clear.

Also … I left this comment on Alison’s blog, but it fits in here too …

“I’ve been to a few online Cons over the last few years, and while some had live chats, some had forum presentations, some had audio/visual/powerpoint presentations – all very valuable teaching tools – none had all of it on one screen, at the same time. That and the depth of speakers is what made it stand out.

I think the lack of face-to-face engagement was somewhat eased by the ability to read the real-time comments/questions in the chat window.”


WanaCon sounded pretty good, but I didn’t think I was ready for it yet. Maybe next year – if Kristen decides to hold it again.

As far as conflicting advice, all you can do is listen to all the parties, try to get as much information as possible, then sit back and decide what works best for you. There is no one ( or two or a hundred) right answer(s). Everyone has personal preferences. The problem is that some writers think their preferences as rules to be followed.

Rhenna Morgan

So funny you’re writing this post TODAY. I think there must be a writer’s horoscope we all follow.

I’m a REALLY big to-do list kind of girl. And when I hear loads of good stuff, I make a humongous list and then frantically kill myself trying to get it all done. Needless to say, post WANA Con, my list runneth over.

So, now I have my brown paper bag out and am driving all friends and family members (and innocent by-standers who just happen to be walking by) NUTS with my stress levels.

I absolutely MUST begin all post-good-conference lists with two giant tasks at the top:

* Breathe

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

“So while it’s hard to keep our focus on our situation when we’re faced with conflicting information, we have to banish our self-doubt and listen to our inner voice. Only we know what will make us happy. And our happiness is more important than what others pressure us to do.” YES EXACTLY! It’s crazy how different your beta readers or friends’ advice can be, so in the end you have to think about what pleases you. But the problem is if you’re a a person who appreciates and likes both methods—or a person who sees the beauty in both ways and thus can’t decide on one. A recent problem I’ve had is the dilemma between the simple one plot vs the one with subplots, side character development scenes, other side scenes. I’ve been taught from storywriting guides that the story would be more complex, rich, and deep if I have SOME relevant character development scenes, short effective flashbacks, subplots, etc, (as long as it’s all done well, of course.) And indeed I like it when the author takes a break and shows me more about the main character, so I can learn more about them as a person. Or scenes that develop a certain two characters’ relationship are very nice to read too. However, I now realized that I’ve been trained to like more “complex” novels and care a lot about character development. I realize that a lot of other readers prefer reading a simple plot with no side scenes…  — Read More »

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Oh sorry forgot to add: One example is where I had a 75 page short story/ novella. My friends and family really liked it but many of them suggested I tell them about the lead girl’s relationship with her friends and family, as this story basically only talks about the lead girl and guy. They also thought I could give some backstory or background to her, so we can get to know a bit more about who she is. So, since I was still a naive writer then, I thought, “Okay, I can do that all and really flesh out my story!” But now I’m wondering if it’s too long. More importantly, I feel like telling the reader about her family and friends honestly contributes NOTHING to the plot. More impatient readers would just feel that I’m wasting their time telling them about such irrelevant things. While that bunch of friends told me to add those above developments, I had one friend who was a fellow writer who understands the practicalities of this task because she is a writer herself. She says that sometimes we want to keep it deliberately short and simple. And she herself, contrary to the English major stereotype (she’s also an English major like me), personally dislikes the more complicated style with subplots, side scenes, etc—she prefers reading the straightforward one main plot from beginning to end. It took me a long while to realize that the short and simple was just as powerful and respectable…  — Read More »


I understand what you mean. I’ve released a dark fantasy novelette that got a few “Ooo! Make it longer!” comments from betas, but when I pried for more details, it seemed that the comment was the result of them not wanting the story to end, rather than it being too short.

I’m working on the sequel, which will also be a novelette. (Right now, I have plans for a four-novelette series, but it could easily become five or more.) Someday, I may expand them into novels…but like Beauty vs. Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley, that will ultimately change the story.

Diana Beebe

Wonderful write up for WANACon! I’m loving all the different takes from the other attendees.

Conflicting information is good sometimes, because it makes us think through what we really want. If we got only one-sided information, we might be making decisions based on someone else’s goals.

I can handle conflicting comments from different beta readers. The ones who say, “Yeah, I liked it,” and give no feedback are harder to deal with. OK, so it was one of my writerly friends, and it floored me because I expected more than that weirdness from her. She won’t be beta reading the next one (I hope that doesn’t hurt her feelings)–that’s the best way to handle the vague kind of information.

Chris Todd Miller

The conference sounds terrific and I’ve signed up for updates. I’m very much in the thick of those decisions. I’m doing what I can to reach my goals and my audience without eliminating anything. I think we’ve seen that there’s no one way in this business, so I’m leaving my options opening and trying just about anything.


[…] Random Musings In my last post, I talked about the online opportunities for writers, including fully interactive writing conferences. So now is a good time to rerun this post about about how to reach out to other writers online and […]


[…] Author Jami Gold – How Should We Deal With Conflicting Advice? […]

C. C. Cedras

Jami, you were the ideal moderator for WANACon. Everyone involved made the conference the right combination of informative and fun. It will probably be weeks before I’ve digested everything and sorted out where it fits in my “practice”.

My background (lawyer) has given me a great deal of experience with conflicting advice (getting, but hopefully not giving LOL) but in this relatively new field for me — writing and publishing a novel — I’m proceeding with caution because I know that I don’t know what I don’t know.

I do have a business plan, but after some of what I heard at WANACon, I’ll probably be tweaking it because as Kristen and everyone has said, this business is changing so rapidly we need to stay constantly vigilant to stay relevant.

Thanks for this post, Jami, it both clarifies and empowers!


[…] February, I posted about the fantastic experience I had with WANACon, an interactive online writing conference. So you better believe I’m excited to announce that […]

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