Thursday, August 11, 2011

Real-Life Advice

I'm trying to figure out how to write this blog without offending a whole lot of people, which is ridiculous really because if I've leaned anything from this blog it's that I have no idea what's really going to offend a whole lot of people.

We've talked a lot about how there's bad advice everywhere, and while I'm talking publishing I think we can all agree this is true of everything. We blogging agents work hard to try to dispel the bad advice as much as possible, even going so far as to politely correct other agents on Twitter and even their blogs when we feel they are giving bad advice, or advice that's not quite in agreement with what we're doing. It might not be bad, but we have a very different opinion from our very different experiences. Our hope is that if you hear enough good advice it won't be long before you're able to make your own conclusions based on all the knowledge you now have.

There's one group of people though who I hear incorrect advice from regularly and, granted, not all of them give incorrect advice (it would be ridiculous to even think that), and certainly not everything they say is wrong. However, it's come up on Twitter and in the comments on the blog and, more important, it's come across my desk. When it comes to giving real-world advice on publishing I find that professors and college-level academic employees, namely those teaching publishing programs who have never themselves worked in publishing, often give advice that is so far afield or worse, so old-fashioned, I just cringe.

Let me stress, it's not the writing advice I'm talking about, it's the how-to-get-published advice and, frankly, even the career guidance. Many times I've been asked to look at the resumes of my interns and I'm always more than happy to do so. Every single time I advise them to make changes, primarily to place the focus on their work (i.e., intern) experience, I'm told that's not the way their career departments told them to do that. Well, who's doing the hiring here? Do you want to work in publishing or in the career placement office? I'm actually shocked by this. It feels so old school. In a time when we have so many struggling to find jobs, why would you place the focus, your education, on top of the resume unless you're seeking a job in education? For the most part, everyone you're competing with has a similar level of education, so it doesn't make you stand out, not when a potential employer is looking at hundreds of resumes.

It's not just resumes though. I've been amazed at the how-to-get-published advice people come up with, advice they learned in classes at school. Again, typically the query letters will stress academic background over the book and conflict with a lot of the networking, query advice many of us give on our blogs.

I don't think anyone is doing this on purpose. In fact I know they're not. I also don't think any of the advice they're giving is going to kill a career or ruin someone's chances of getting published, but when a professor or someone with an academic background gives us advice we tend to really listen to it. I know I did. When I was in school I had a lot of amazing teachers. I looked to them for advice on everything, and if they said it I believed it must be true.

The academic world is very different from the professional world. I know this from discussions with friends working for colleges and universities. I respect everyone who works as a professor or teacher. I tried it. It's a really difficult job and not something that just anyone can do. It's not something I feel I can do, or do well anyway. I only wish that when giving advice on how to work in the professional world more people in the academic world would take the time to consult with those of us in the trenches to ask our advice. I know that if someone asked me how to successfully apply for a grad program or as a professor I would refer them to someone in those trenches because, frankly, I've never been there and don't have a clue.