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Thursday, April 22, 2021

A Twelve-Step Program for Writers • Part 2



In 1997, in a few minutes of whimsy, I knocked off twelve lines of highly concentrated and somewhat snarky advice for writers seeking to develop or repair their writing careers. To my surprise these words of wisdom remain available on the SFWA web site. To my even greater surprise Guy Stewart has taken the time and trouble to explicate them in depth. Herewith, Guy’s Commentaries.

—Bruce Bethke

The second step:

We believe that an Agent far greater than Our Last Agent can restore us to publications, sales, and critical acclaim.

While I have seen this happen, I’m not sure that Bruce personally experienced this. For the entire time I’ve known him, he has been represented by Ashley Grayson Agency.

I haven’t had an agent long enough to wonder what “an Agent far greater” would be like. So far working with my agent has been a great experience. She understands me and after a few tries, I began to see what she was trying to tease out of my writing.

Hearsay is a different story altogether and while I’d never name any names, I have heard lots of stories. Also, if you’d like to read about bad agent experiences, you can read about them on plenty of author’s and writer’s group web sites.

What I’ve heard is that the agent doesn’t make or break you. For example, I’ve never had an agent before, yet I have written and gotten work published in some of the best markets: ANALOG, CRICKET, CICADA as well as others (including an article in THE WRITER). All of that without an agent.

What I’ve heard is that you and your agent are a team with different areas of expertise. Your agent may no longer want to be a full-time writer, editor, or publisher but they know the industry well enough and have enough connections within the industry—as well as knowing what editors and  publishing houses want—to have a good idea of where to direct your work.

Agents have also built a level of trust with editors at publishing houses and when they send a piece to an editor, the editor knows that the manuscript has been edited to within an inch of its life! They know that all that needs to happen now is for them to sit down and find out if this piece will fit the company’s goals and programs.

The gist of it is, is that the writer produces the best and most original piece of literature that they can. They tell their story as clearly as possible. They pay attention to all the things first time writers have drilled into their heads (whether by teachers, mentors or by reading about writing: dialogue. pace. plot. characterization. milieu. originality.).

Working together, the writer and agent form a team. For many, it’s a lifetime thing: besides Bruce, writer Anne McCaffery and her agent Virginia Kidd worked together for decades. But like everything else, blaming your non-success on anyone but yourself is an exercise in futility as the only person you can change in this world is yourself. I suppose that would be the best anecdote to go with this second step of Bruce Bethke’s Twelve Step Writer’s Program…



Guy Stewart is a husband supporting his wife who is a multi-year breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor who maintains a writing blog by the name of POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS ( where he showcases his opinion and offers his writing up for comment. He has 72 stories, articles, reviews, and one musical script to his credit, and the list still includes one book! He also maintains GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER & ALZHEIMER'S, where he shares his thoughts and translates research papers into everyday language. In his spare time, he herds cats and a rescued dog, helps keep a house, and loves to bike, walk, and camp.


NEXT TUESDAY: Step 3, We have made a decision to turn our lives and our professional careers over completely to our New Agent, God help us. 

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