I’m attending a conference next month, and I’m very much looking forward to it. I haven’t been to a writing conference for a few years, and the opportunity to mix and mingle with like-minded folk is very appealing at the moment. But I dread the Know-It-Alls. There is always one of them. They appear at conferences not to learn but to demonstrate their vast knowledge to anyone who will pay them half a second’s attention. At the last conference I attended, as an agent was giving a very engaging presentation on shifts in the children’s market, a K-I-A piped up from the back of the room that the agent hadn’t discussed the growth in self-publishing.
“Since I don’t represent that market segment, and it isn’t necessarily a genre, I’m not in a position to talk about it,” the agent said.
The K-I-A persisted. “Yes, but it is an important segment of the children’s market.”
“Not really,” the agent answered without a pause. “It represents less than two percent of the total industry, and that’s an incredibly small number.”
And since the agent had been speaking on genres and not on publishing options, the comments by the K-I-A were completely off target anyway.
K-I-As show up in all kinds of places, and certainly they are not relegated to writing, but for some reason, I find the writing ones more annoying than the others.
This, by the way, is not intended to mean I know more than they do. The minute anyone in the children’s writing industry states that he or she knows everything about the industry is the day that person should be locked in a well-padded room with the key tossed out. Publishing in general is such a dynamic business that each day brings new innovations, changes in policy or procedure, or interesting twists on the business. There is no possible way to know everything – but that just doesn’t stop some people.
Particular favorites in the K-I-A realm include those who offer critiquing services to new writers who can not, themselves, speak or write using correct grammar. For example:
A new writer is someone that has spent much time on their craft.
If you can’t spot the many errors in this sentence, you have no business offering writing advice to kindergarteners, let alone to anyone who is serious about writing.
Sending my submissions alphabetically to each publisher listed in the Writer’s Market Book will guarantee I find the right publisher.
Any editor who has been in the business will tell you that he or she can spot one of these within the first sentence of the cover letter. But there are K-I-As who swear by this process.
A brief interlude before I segue into another section:
I love working for ICL. I love teaching students to write. I love when a student sends me something that opens my eyes and causes me to gasp either because it is so compelling, or beautifully crafted, or just unique. I love seeing students progress from awkward, rambling beginnings to smoothly painted prose. There is a lot of joy and reward in doing what I do.
But every once in a while I get a K-I-A. These are the students who, because they did well in high school English class, believe that they know all there is to know about writing. They write comments like, “I have so much to teach children,” or “My life has been such a challenge that I think kids could really learn from me,” or “There are no good books out there for kids.” These students require additional patience and guidance. Some of them get it eventually, some of them never do. I can’t force people to learn, I can only offer them the information I have.
To be honest, sometimes I want to say, “I’m paid to do this. And you?”
But I don’t.
Okay, now I have. I guess that should get it out of my system.
K-I-As are good for a few things, though. They are a good reminder that there is a diversity of opinions on writing. They are a good reminder that no one can possibly know everything about this weird business. They are a good test of patience. And, sometimes, they are just a good source for a laugh.
For that, I guess I have to be grateful.