Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year

I love new beginnings. I love picking up a new book and entering a universe where I'll meet new characters.

Maybe that's why I love new years so much. It's a fresh start on a new adventure.

I just finished writing a message to an bitter wannabe writer. He is angry because all he keeps getting are form letter rejections. He blames the publishing industry for being cowardly and calls the agents who've rejected him amateurs. He refuses to compromise his art for anyone and rages that his 600,000-word manuscript is being ignored.

I asked him "why" he writes. His response was eloquent, well-written and a bit schizophrenic (the way all writers tend to be sometimes). He writes for the joy of it, because he can't help himself and because he wants to earn money.

And therein lies the rub. When you're writing for yourself, you can write anything and any way you want. Your vision is what counts.

When you are writing for money, you must be able to adapt to
the vision of the buyer. That means, as a writer, you must produce what publishers are looking for.

I get so tired of reading posts about a repressive and short-sighted publishing industry that crushes artistic endeavors.

The industry isn't trying to crush anyone or anything. It is trying to stay alive.

The only other industry I can think of that takes as much flack is the filming industry. And, in both cases, the public is to blame, not the producers. We vote with our dollars. If we keep watching reality shows and Rambo 15, we'll get more reality shows and Rambos 16 through 22. If we buy crappy books, we'll get more crappy books.

Look at it this way. If you hired a painter to paint your house and agreed to pay him $5,000 to do it, you'd expect he'd paint it the way you wanted. If you asked for cream with black trim, you'd be pretty unhappy to get red-and-white polka dots. His explanation that polka dots were a part of his artistic vision probably wouldn't placate you.

That same principle applies to publishing. If a publisher asks for a 80K to 120K word fantasy, it's going to reject a 600K-word submission--no matter how well-written.

When someone tells me she has a 250K-word manuscript, I can almost guarantee I'll find tons of unnecessary backstory, tedious details about daily activities, and gobs of introspection. Any action will be lost in a sea of endless narrative. Some critics would call this literary fiction {grin}. I'd call it unsaleable.

I urged the writer who'd complained to decide on the purpose of his manuscript. He can write to please himself, or he can write to please his buyer. Hopefully, he's flexible enough to find a compromise that will permit both.

Otherwise on 1/1/09, we'll be having this exact same discussion all over again.


Maria Zannini said...


John Arkwright said...

Yeah, to be a professional writer you have to have something to say that enough people want to hear, and then say it in an excellent way.

The frustrating thing about trying to break into the profession is the lack of feedback from "customers," who, for the beginning writer, are agents. If you start a restaurant, you can figure out that people don't like your goat head barbecue pizza--they're more than willing to tell you exactly what's wrong with it.

But when good readers actually finish your work and convince you they love it; and you've read a few books on writing fiction; and you've read a million agents' blog posts on queries, writing, and markets; and you still don't understand why you're 0/100 with agents, you face the "not for us" brick wall.

Hm, overuse of past perfect tense is weak. Duh. Don't overuse adjectives. I hate it when writers do that. Get the reader into the story with an interesting scene. Uh, yeah. Stick closely with your viewpoint character. Looks like I have. The market for vampires/werewolves is dead for a couple of years. Not my problem. Etc.

Was it because in chapter 1 the protagonist was a kid? Was it because I used the word "maternal" in my query letter? Maybe agents without kids don't like that word. Was it because my query focused on the moral conflict more than the physical conflict? Maybe. I only have about 6 sentences to summarize a 91,000 word novel. Did it just not "grab" you? Something clearly grabbed the readers, since they happily finished.

How close was I? The market for writing will not tell me. If I find a "professional" that I can pay to tell me what's wrong, then they're probably conning me. The market will give me 0 information for the price of postage and flawed information at any other price. I'd love to compromise my art to sell what I've got!

I know you have heard this more than enough. I know, my writing must be suxxors if nobody is interested.

End of childish rant.

Love ya. :D

Maya Reynolds said...

Happy New Year, Maria!! God love you for taking in that geriatric, starving Rottie.

Maya Reynolds said...

John: You mention "good readers." Are they writers or friends and relatives? My experience was that my friends LOVED my work. My critique partners, on the other hand, beat me up regularly.

If you want feedback, send me your first three pages and your query letter. My email address is: mayareynoldswriter @ sbcglobal.net (without the spaces).

I'm not promising to love it, but I'll be honest.

Happy New Year.

I'm not an agent, but I'm

Maya Reynolds said...

Sorry, Bob the cat distracted me.

I was saying, I'm not an agent, but I'm a pretty good critique partner.

Gina Black said...

the public is to blame, not the producers. We vote with our dollars

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! I so wish people understood this.

Happy New Year, Maya. :)

John Arkwright said...


Thank you so much.

To answer your question, I'm in the same shape as lots of beginning writers--I do not have good writerfriends. I would love to find such a group to work along with and improve each others' work.

I looked around on the web and did not find anything remotely good. I have not posted my stuff because I have not seen good critics in the web groups. I lurk a bit and see a generally lousy writer post something that has problems such as severe adjectivitis. Then 5 idiots reply with various critiques that do not address "the thick blue cloud of ennui that hung over the calico bedspread" and the "yawning mouth of her partially open suitcase" in the first paragraph.

Maybe the Holy Grail is out there on the web, but I have not found it.

I'm sure it's been said a million times, but here goes. It is not uncommon for my wife to read a chapter and say, "It got totally boring after a couple of pages. Nothing seemed to be happening," or "I don't really care about that character. Am I supposed to?" Orson Scott Card's "wise reader" is his wife and mine is excellent, as well, as my credit card and Amazon attest.

My other readers are a few friends at work. I believe you when you say that relatives and friends are more accepting than other writers. I can't imagine me reading 300+ pages of something I don't like, and I attribute the same reluctance to my other readers, though perhaps I should not. Most of my readers make good constructive criticisms. I do not quite trust the ones who cannot find anything wrong (I doubt they're reading very well).

Again, I'd love that group of good writers to work with, but I can't find 'em.

Thanks again,


Maya Reynolds said...

Gina: It's so good to see you. Happy New Year!

Maya Reynolds said...

John: I don't know you, and I don't know your writing.

I DO know that what you're doing does not seem to be working--by your own account.

So, why not try something different? My early critique partners weren't Hemingway . . . then again neither was I.

The thing is, writers read differently than readers. Even beginning writers with lots to learn taught me things. They got better, and I got better. We helped to make each other better.

What do you have to lose?