General

“To take her Ladyship’s praise…”

I have worn out two pencils since late last week (and can’t find the pencil sharpener!), but I have done it:

I’ve reached the manuscript’s conclusion… and now I just have to go back and make the electronic corrections within it. I’ve already started to do so…

Recently in several blog posts and on Instagram I have also come across new variations on this old lament, and I thought I’d address it here:

“I keep getting rejected, so my writing can’t be good enough.”

Uh, not necessarily; and, in fact, that is probably decidedly NOT so. Too many other writers I see, however, have mistakenly apparently come to believe that is somehow the case. Rejections – from agents and/or publishers – they receive “prove” to them their writing is not good enough, and may lead them to become down on the themselves, or worse… or, at the very least, convince them it must be time to fork out thousands more on another creative writing course, or perhaps it is time finally to do that MFA.

But odds are neither of those will help get their book(s) published by a major publisher because they probably write well enough already. “I can’t spell for s-it,” my (now late) novelist uncle once confided to me. “That’s what editors are for.” Simply put, agents take on clients who write books they think will earn them – the agent – money because a publisher will want to buy it; and publishers buy and publish what they believe will sell and will earn them money. Period. None of them are charities or self-esteem counselors.

Indeed infuriatingly, we know, sometimes what is considered by most literary critics to be not great and even poor writing is published… and that is usually only because an agent and/or a publisher believes it will sell, and not because it is surely the second coming of Shakespeare. I remember my uncle also regularly groaning over what he considered “c-ap” writing that somehow got some “fraud” of an author a bigger publishing deal than he had, and in some ways we may all at times feel much the same way.

A major example of the last generation is this. A certain book that started life as online “Twilight fan fiction,” was reworked by its writer into an original self-published story for the Kindle, where it got LOTS of readers, and then therefore attracted a publishing deal (money, money, money), and starts with the word “Fifty” in its title… is generally also according to most critics’ reviews I have seen – including an opinion from someone named Sir Salman Rushdie: “[It] makes Twilight look like War and Peace…” – some of the worst writing a major publisher has published in recent times.

But that it might be that bad obviously didn’t really matter to the publisher. It did what the publisher thought it would: it made money; and indeed it made that publisher a fortune. So just because you receive, uh, “fifty” rejection letters/emails, that does not mean your book is lousy, for chances are what you wrote is FAR BETTER in terms of writing than that book that starts with the word “Fifty.”

[From Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, first published in 1813. Photo by me, 2019.]

I may open Pride And Prejudice just to read a few pages to relax and I’m always also impressed by Jane Austen’s writing. I particularly love her “period” use of commas… because remember, in 1813, then contemporary novels, and hers were no exception, were written often also to be read aloud, as family entertainment in the evenings by the fireside, prior to cable and Netflix, so commas, where we might not place them today, were then commonly inserted.πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ Being a big fan of hers, I will always also remember the director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath trying this stunt. (I can’t believe it is twelve years ago now!) The Guardian, July 2007:

David Lassman, the director of the Jane Austen Festival decided to find out what sort of reception the writer might get if she approached publishers and agents in the age of Harry Potter and the airport blockbuster.

After making only minor changes, he sent off opening chapters and plot synopses to 18 of the UK’s biggest publishers and agents. He was amazed when they all sent the manuscripts back with polite but firm “no-thank-you’s” and almost all failed to spot that he was ripping off one of the world’s most famous literary figures.

He had a reason for trying his little “gotcha” on publishers:

Mr Lassman admits that personal disappointment as well as academic interest prompted his experiment. A little like Austen, who initially struggled to find a publisher, he has been unable to find someone to champion his book, a thriller called Freedom’s Temple, a modern take on the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. “I know it isn’t a masterpiece but I think it is publishable. Yet nobody wanted it. I was talking with some friends and we wondered if Jane would find a publisher or agent if she were around today.”

Indeed would Austen? One suspects she might well have quite a tough time today too. So, if you write too, always try to remember that.

[An Amazon Kindle e-reader. Photo by me, 2019.]

The Kindle had not been an option available to the Jane Austen Festival’s Mr. Lassman back in early 2007 (as it was first released only in November of that year), but a way to reach readers nowadays and perhaps to build up confidence in yourself as a writer is by using an indie-publishing platform like that one. It enables a writer to cut out the publisher “middle man” and connect with an actual audience that, yes, may not be nearly large enough to impress a publisher interested in the biggest possible sales reach, but it does consist nonetheless of readers who may be really interested in your (type of) story and writing style.

Since 2013, I have read lots of books by indie authors – indeed, I prefer to read indie books because I know the author actually wrote it; it was not written perhaps by “committee” – that I consider to be of far higher caliber writing than large-publisher-produced, mass advertised, “big author” marketed novels. Better as an author to write for a smallish number of dedicated readers (and potentially many more), than to write for no one but yourself. Doing that you will also benefit from truly public feedback from actual readers… who are not your mom, don’t love you, and are not married to you.

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this. πŸ™‚

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