As longtime blog readers know, I have a bit of a reality TV habit. I still watch Survivor (I know), I was a habitual The Hills watcher before our messy breakup, and I would very much like to be friends with Phil Keoghan from the Amazing Race, who seems like the type of person who would tell great stories at a cocktail party and then somehow convince everyone to join a contest to eat the most pretzels.
You might mistake this for idle time! No no no. I wasn’t frying my brain and/or wasting my time watching these shows. Not. At. All. I was learning precious writing techniques. I was studying. Learning!
Behold: The things I learned about writing while watching reality television…
1. Overconfidence is your greatest adversary
How do you know when someone is about to get themselves kicked off a reality TV show? When they stare into the camera with a smirk and talk about how they have it in the bag. Then they inevitably end up getting voted off Tribal Counsel faster than you can say “Jeff Probst.”
Overconfidence causes authors to just send out queries with a few dashed off words of explanation, trusting that the genius of their manuscript will shine through. Overconfidence blinds authors to the changes they need to make to their manuscript, and makes them deaf to good suggestions.
When overconfidence enters the picture authors can turn into their own worst enemies. It didn’t work for the Four Horsemen of Survivor Fiji, who entrusted their plans with someone who called himself Dreamz. By choice. It doesn’t work for writers either.
2. Don’t mess with the host.
Did it pay for Kenley to antagonize poor Tim Gunn on Project Runway? No, it did not.
Did it pay for Chima to antagonize the producers of Big Brother? No, it did not.
Did it pay for Tiffany to talk back to Tyra on America’s Next Top Model? No, it most definitely did not.
In the publishing game, agents and editors and publishers are your hosts. You may not like the rules of the game, but you won’t get anywhere making enemies with the people running the show.
3. Pay your taxes.
Read Kristin Nelson’s essential post on the things you should do when your book sells. Remember, your advance will come to you as untaxed income, just like winnings on Survivor. Get a good accountant, pay your taxes immediately, and invest your windfall wisely.
4. Be a student of the game.
The best contestants on reality TV shows are often the ones who have lived and breathed a show for its entire existence. This season, the otherwise contemptible Russell from Survivor Samoa knew enough about the show to keep hunting for hidden immunity idols even though he didn’t have any clues, simply because he knew that the show often places hidden immunity idols around camp. Sure enough, it worked! And anyone who has watched America’s Next Top Model knows that when in a tough spot the best strategy is to break down in tears and plead for Tyra’s mercy.
Study the publishing game. Learn it. Breathe it. There may not be any hidden immunity idols (at least, not until I’m in charge), but the name of the game is survival, and it pays to know everything you possibly can find out.
5. Play nice.
On reality television, a contestant will inevitably show up and wag their finger and shout, “I’m not here to make friends!”
And that person never wins.