I’m deep in deadline mode now, so you’ll likely not see the most fascinating posts from me for a bit. Meanwhile, here are some blogs that have made me think hard recently:
Tess Gerritsen agreed to look at a new book for blurbing purposes and was treated incredibly rudely. You know what, I get it that sometimes, they don’t do print galleys. I’ve agreed to read books in the past and gotten, instead of a bound galley, a manuscript that’s been printed and bound like a English project at Kinkos. Fine by me. But to be told “authors such as yourself ask for books and then sell them on eBay as compensation” (epmphasis mine) — I’m sorry, that’s the height of rudeness! I have never sold a galley I’ve received and would never dream of it, either. And the idea of giving blurbs for compensation — ugh! I don’t know what this publisher was thinking!
Justine Larbalestier talks about rhythms of work and deadlines if you’re a freelance (read: full time) writer. It’s something I’m still working on. I tend to cut things pretty close to the deadline, personally. I’m working on it.
The fabulous Lauren Baratz-Logsted discusses her fascinating new book, CRAZY BEAUTIFUL, and its unusual journey to publication. Seriously, go read this article now. It’s fascinating to learn that even an author as seasoned as Lauren still goes through a discovery process with her manuscripts and can hit a few snags on its journey to publication. In this case, Lauren wrote a book about a boy with hooks for hands. It was originally envisioned as a MG novel, but the MG editor she’d conracted with wasn’t such a fan. Which actually worked out brilliantly as Lauren realized that this book really needed to be YA, recast it as such, and sold it at auction. And that element “boy with hooks for hands” is such an incredibly high-concept hook that Crazy Beautiful has received a ton of pre-pub buzz! I’m dying for it, personally.
(And, as someone who lives down the street from Walter Reed and sees many of our service men and women — many of them teenagers — wearing prostheses, I can tell you right now that hooks are not as far-fetched as that editor thought.)
Reading a story like Lauren’s reminds me that often, what one thinks of as “marketable” can be incredibly subjective. From house to house, certainly, and also, perhaps unfortunately, in the rumor mill of the authors in the trenches. So let Lauren’s story be a lesson to you. Had Lauren listened to the editor who told her that it was “unrealistic” to have a teenage boy with hooks for hands, we might not be able to get our hands on CRAZY BEAUTIFUL in September.
In 2004, I was an unpublished author with four manuscripts under my belt. When I entered those manuscripts in contests, I got results that were all over the map. The same entry in the same contest would net a published author giving me her email address on the scoresheet and encouraging me to let her contact her editor on my behalf, and an unpublished writer telling me that my writing is choppy and awkward. I’d win a Molly Award and a Maggie Award (two of the more prestigious regional RWA contests) and then my Golden Heart scores would be in the toilet.
Anyway, at the same time, I was also administrating an RWA contest, and I was shocked at the number of entries that came back from my judges citing “rules.” You can’t have a prologue, you can’t have a flashback, your heroine must be meek and mild and not sleep around and good to her parents and little puppy dogs…
Stupid contests, was what I decided, and I set about to write a book that broke all those contest “rules” which didn’t, I firmly believed and wanted to prove, have any real bearing on whether or not the resulting manuscript was any good. That book was Secret Society Girl, and it sold on proposal a few months later in a six-way auction. It had prologues and flashbacks and a girl who recounts all the guys she’s slept with (including a highly regrettable one-night stand) in the first few chapters.
That was five books ago, and given the experience, it’s little wonder that it’s been a long time since i’ve thought about the silly and arbitrary “rules.” I believe that anything that makes the story better is fair game, and all those things you’re not supposed to use (“was” verbs, adverbs, prologues, flashbacks, rock stars) are absolutely fair game when employed correctly and in the service of your book.
Which is why I was initially taken aback by this post of Courtney Milan’s in which she discusses making her “unmarketable book more unmarketable” and then selling it at auction. The things she describes doing to her manuscript to make it more “unmarketable” seemed to me to be making it more powerful, more interesting, deeper (in a word, more marketable).
“My heroine had once been a fairly simple girl, a little unlikable because she waffled between her own happiness and what her parents wanted. I made her less likeable. In fact, I turned her into a con-artist who made a living pretending to tell the future.”
Hmmm, fairly simple girl with no real goals or hardship or motivation to make her own dreams come to life, or a girl who is forced by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to become a con artist. Who would YOU rather read about?
Then I realized that she wasn’t making her book more unmarketable. Not really. What she was doing was what I’d been doing — she was sticking it to the uptight contest judges.
“I knew I’d made the manuscript less marketable, because I entered it in contests and got back a smattering of low, low scores complaining about my hero and my heroine. In one of the few contests where I finaled, an editor gave me a “one” for marketability. (To be fair, I also had my share of successes—but the low scores still smarted.)”
I’m beginning to think that wildly veering contest scores are a good sign. It means your book is provoking a strong reaction. But don’t think this stops. My books provoke the same kind of love-it-or-hate-it reaction in the readership, too. I’ll get a review praising my novel, and then one that’s essentially “WTF?”
Courtney Milan goes on to add:
“But I think I understand it now. In the first version of my manuscript, thoughts of the omnipresent “market” lead me to tone down my hero until he was bland instead of different. They’d made me imbue my heroine with mouse when she needed to be full of fire. I needed to stop pulling my punches. The very things that made it “unmarketable”—the long journey my heroine faced to redemption and the amount of sheer social rehabilitation my hero needed—gave the book a power and an emotional complexity that I wouldn’t have been able to tap with characters who were more closely aligned with the market.”
And that, my friends, is the crux of the issue. Don’t pull your punches. Whatever you need to make your story more powerful is okay — more powerful stories are more marketable. Period.
Pulling punches is somethign I find I struggle with with every manuscript I write. I’m afriad of doing the really, really bad thing. Fortunately, I’m also pretty good at catching myself in the act, and forcing myself to go through with it — to make it even worse, perhaps, then originally intended. If I discover I’ve been pulling that punch, I not only go through witht he punch, I add a kick for good measure. I wa actually just having a conversation with my editor about this earlier this week, as I discovered that one of my punches was landing too softly. So instead, I’m making it a knockout blow.