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August 25, 2005

Preach it, brother
Posted by Patrick at 01:21 PM *

Tim Clare, “Everyone Does Not Have A Novel Inside Them”:

“The publishing world, frankly, is a cartel,” opined G. P. Taylor, children’s author and erstwhile self-publisher, “you can only get in there if you’re in the know…I and J. K. Rowling were discovered by accident. Most people are in the club, and it’s a mafia.”

[…F]or a grand cosmic fluke, J. K. Rowling’s “discovery” seems suspiciously stage-managed. Upon finishing her first Harry Potter novel, The Philosopher’s Stone, she sent the first three chapters to an agent, who turned them down. She sent them to a second agent, who asked to see the rest of the manuscript. A year later the agent secured a publishing contract. Behind the scenes there may have been smoke-filled pool halls, gunpoint negotiations and the ritual amputation of little fingers, but on the surface it seems rather genteel for the mob.

The truth is a disproportionate number of publishers are wide-eyed idealists with a frightening propensity for chucking good money after bad. As much as agents and editors may feign a cool professional insouciance, most dream of stumbling across The Next Big Thing and securing their place in industry history. While veteran authors languish in the mid-list doldrums, jammy first-timers rake in vast advances on the promise of long and lucrative careers, which frequently fail to materialise. Publishers act with one eye on posterity, leaving their accountants with ulcers the size of kumquats, and the UK book market saturated with newcomers brawling over a limited readership.

Despite this, there will always be luminaries such as G. P. Taylor who are happy to curry favour with the disaffected and untalented. Enthusiastically promoting a competition with the aim of finding “the next J. K. Rowling”, Taylor made the bizarre claim that “for the first time ever, a publisher is going to offer someone totally unknown the chance to be published”. […T]he simple fact is that unknown authors are being taken on every day, and frankly, publishers and established authors suffer because of it. The British publishing industry is crying out for a high-profile hothead to disabuse thousands of needy, bumbling timewasters of the notion that nascent masterpieces stir within their loins.

[…] If anything, the British publishing industry is too open to new writers at the expense of skilled stalwarts. […] Instead of promoting an attitude of “everyone has won and all shall have prizes”, the industry needs to remind people that brilliant writing is very, very hard, that there are many dragons to be fought on the way to publication, and that perishing in the battle is no shame.

The above was read aloud to a small band of Tor editors who responded with unruly outbursts of cheering. Mind you, this was on a day when I’d bought a first novel just two hours before, and a good book it is, too. Which simply demonstrates that Clare has hold of a Higher Truth, which, like many Higher Truths, is easily refuted and yet persists…

Comments on Preach it, brother:
#1 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 01:34 PM:

I suppose that Mr. Taylor's version of reality is the same one shared by those folks that tell me, whenever I'm raving about a new novel, that "they could do much better". They used to be legion in some parts of fandom, back in my day. Never do produce anything, in the end...

#2 ::: Henry ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 01:39 PM:

There's a bit of language play there that may escape non-UK/Irish readers. "Jammy" in "jammy first-timers" means 'possessed of undeserved luck.' It's almost never used afaik except as part of the phrase "jammy bastard." Mr. Clare clearly doesn't like undeserving first-timers very much.

#3 ::: Luthe ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 01:40 PM:

I, for one, am perfectly content not to contain a novel. I only wish some others of my acquiantance would be content to be so.

If anyone needs me, I'll be writing fiction based on *other* people's novels. It is a field in which there is far less competition, very little similarity to the Mafia, and, admittedly, no lucrative paydays. However, it is fun, which I feel is a quality sometimes forgotten in 'serious' literature (thank god for sci-fi and fantasy).

::dreams a world in which there are more readers, fewer would-be novelists, and a good selection of talented authors::

#4 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 02:05 PM:

"Everywhere I go, I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher."

-Flannery O'Connor

--::dreams a world in which there are more readers, fewer would-be novelists, and a good selection of talented authors::--
Amen.

#5 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 02:06 PM:

The flip side of the coin is you shouldn't assume you *don't* have a novel inside you. You just shouldn't assume the whole world is out to get you if nobody buys it. Playing off of the idea that there is a grand conspiracy to beat you down is very attractive (and if marketed right *can* work for you) but it's really not fair.

Unless you're talking about the computer industry. Then the gloves come off.*

*I say this only because it excuses my activities in one specific part of my online life. But ultimately that's a crock, too...

#6 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 02:46 PM:

Every talented author starts out as a reader/would-be novelist, and that's a good thing. As much as I love them, the greats won't be publishing forever and the best way to fill their giant shoes is to stuff your socks full of their books. Reading them helps, too.

#7 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 02:53 PM:

I'm happy enough to have a novel (several in fact) next to me - piled up by my bed, cluttering my cubicle, jamming up my inadequate bookcase and fighting the action figures for valuable closet space - I don't need any in me. Frankly, I don't know where it would fit.

From time to time I have been known to cough up a short story fanfic, but those are few and far between and never imposed upon an unsuspecting public. I am quite happy to remain a reader, although I always find these publishing stories fascinating.

#8 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 02:55 PM:

Is it too late to chime in with bursts of unruly cheering?

I am fascinated by the number of people who think that to be published is to be rich beyond dreams of avarice. As for the "mafia" notion, it has me picturing a large room, well furnished as to food and drink (there's a whole wall of single malt Scotches) and comfy chairs and laptops and pens and pads of paper and even the odd old typewriter: all mod cons, as it were. And it's filled with all the writers. No one gets in or out except for a promotional tour, unless they die. In which case one of the pre-vetted elect is admitted to the room, sworn a blood oath never to give a bad blurb to another member of the mafia, and permitted to Let the Novel Out.

#9 ::: Andrew T ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 02:56 PM:

From the second to last paragraph:

"Queuing is what made our nation great."

I would love to know more about that particular sentence. Is it a joke about British national stereotypes? Or is he serious and is he invoking some deep cultural argument about politeness and standing in lines and national greatness?

#10 ::: Fiendish Writer ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 03:00 PM:

I have a novel inside me -- indeed I have cast the manuscript to editors at Tor and beyond. But alas, these same editors remain silent upon the matter, and my stomache doth grate with much distress. Pray, what is the difference betwixt my lowly endeavor and that which you so recently acquired?

#11 ::: CEP ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 03:19 PM:

I think a large part of the problem is the attempt to view publishing as a monolithic enterprise. It's not. Things are vastly different in trade nonfiction; they are vastly different in "non-New York" publishing areas, such as Christian publishing; they are vastly different in academic and nontrade publishing; they are even substantially (that is, less than vastly) different across different publishing categories within fiction. If anything, children's fiction is the most-extreme outlier—as Olga Litowinsky once remarked, "it's a bunny-eat-bunny world." Trying to draw conclusions about publishing as a whole from experiences solely within children's fiction publishing is about as valid as drawing conclusions about average American stature from NBA rosters.

#12 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 03:37 PM:

I happen to have several novels within me.

Lucky for you, that's where they're going to stay. Everyone may in fact "have a novel inside them," but that is not to say that it's a novel worth reading.

#13 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 03:38 PM:

Once I was called upon by the fiction editor of the publisher I worked at to write a vitriolic rejection letter for a particularly egregiously offensive manuscript.

I duly went and composed six dense pages of shattering deconstruction of the manuscript, starting with its poor spelling and uncertain grammar and ending by taking issues with its theory of homosexuality.

Then I presented it to the fiction editor who frowned and said: "You know, I appreciate this, but I gotta tell you, it's not cruel enough."

I said. "Oh, come on, have some heart. One of those poor girl is a depressive, says so in the cover letter. What if she gets the letter and kills herself?"

The fiction editor hesitated a little, then she said firmly: "No. Some people have got to be stopped."

(We didn't do this to everybody: this manuscript really managed to offend my fiction editor deeply. Mostly she wrote kind encouragment critique letters - which usually earned her the emailed wrath and neverending hatred of the people she responded to, such being the ego of your average would-be writer.)

#14 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 03:40 PM:

Everyone has a novel inside them. Few of these are any good. I, in fact, have a novel inside me. It is not any good nor is it causing any problems where it is, so I feel no desire to engage in a difficult and taxing process to extract it.

A number of my friends believe themselves writers. I frankly do not understand the burning desire to "be a writer" -- the money's rarely good, the heartbreak unending, and there are a swarm of vultures constantly circling to defraud you or exploit you. There's some other payoff there, but I think I get a similar satisfaction from telling stories or, in fact, drafting a particularly nice set of claims.

Creativity is where you find it, and the shelf at B&N is an odd sort of laurel to grasp to validate it.

#15 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 03:41 PM:

A young author, sending samples of her work to Somerset Maugham, asked if she should put more fire into her stories.

He replied: "No - vice versa."

#16 ::: D'noces ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 03:47 PM:

I believe it is fine to have a novel inside of you, each and evey one of us. A story particular of themselves with characters that help them cope with situations. And to many, their story is the most personal and worth sharing with others. So as far as being published it's like anything else, if you don't try you won't know.
Now with this in mind, unfortunately writing has become confused with other forms of get rich quick schemes and lured many mediocre and bad artists to attempt the climb to the top. Not all editors and agents are great at picking out the best, and so many a jammy get published fueling the fire. Unlike other get rich quick schemes these people find out writing is long, hard and a tiring process, so when many of the slackers finally finish, they are determined to get to the top no matter how poor their finished product is and will take every and all rejections to the heart, and let it personally affect them. The novels are there inside, we just have to learn to keep them there. That is all.

#17 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 03:52 PM:

I have a number of short stories inside me. It's sort of like having a mildly dysplastic tumor instead of cancer; I'll be able to extract them with a minor visit (or 17) to the surgeon (computer) rather than a MAJOR visit followed by chemo and radiation.

This sort of thing always depresses me. I have some book-length ideas, but then I know most people do. I think mine are really good - of course. I think I can actually tell my stories well enough to sustain the interest of a reader - naturally. So does everyone.

Maybe I won't do NaNoWriMo after all. Too depressing.

#18 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 03:54 PM:

"Writing should not be easy. Bowling should be easy. Writing should be hard." -- Harlan Ellison

I've been having trouble for over 6 months writing a story ("Playing the Numbers") about the Mafia trying to muscle into the lucrative Mathematics journals. Not every human being has an equation inside them struggling to emerge!

#19 ::: Ed Gaillard ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 03:55 PM:

"Fiendish Writer" asks: "Pray, what is the difference betwixt my lowly endeavor and that which you so recently acquired?"

Now, I haven't seen your book, so this is just a guess; but I am given to understand that using different words, and putting them in a better order, is usually the key.

#20 ::: Fiendish Writer ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 04:04 PM:

Ed: My friend, yes, I agree! My difficulty, however, lies in obtaining the ever-elusive response, whatever its color or disposition. Therein lies madnesss.

#21 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 04:09 PM:

"Queuing is what made our nation great."

I would love to know more about that particular sentence.

Once upon a time I read an essay titled something like "Queuing and the Spirit of Anarchy". The take home message being that good little anarchists can form an orderly que to board the bus without an extended meeting, explanation, or supervision. The article went on to bemoan the current situation in the UK where people can barely wait for the bus without some sort of external management.

Not sure what it means, but it's another data point for you.

#22 ::: Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 04:10 PM:

Writing is really hard, even bad writing. It's easy, when writing and recieving little recognition to become bitter and to start hating the sad state of the world. Editing is also a difficult job. It’s easy to hate people who do a really crappy job but who think they are fantastic. There are myriad ways to feel better-than and bitter in the world of writing and publishing.

In my opinion, if you want to be a writer, then you should know that you are signing up for a lot of work with no gaurantee of success or recognition.

If you want to work in publishing, then know that you will be hit with a barrage of crap writing to sort through and edit.

In either case, right or wrong, these seem to be part of the territory, so if you do choose to be a writer or editor, try to remember that you signed up for all of it. In other words, try to be nice.

Sorry that I sound like the church lady.

#23 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 04:14 PM:

Jonathan, let us know when that story about the Maffia and the Mathematics publication comes out.

#24 ::: veejane ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 04:24 PM:

How glad am I that computers resurrected the legitimacy of the word "queue" in the US? Very. Somehow telling line-cutting hooligans to "mind the queue" just sounds more imposing.

(Don't have anything to say about first-time novelists, except that every novelist has been one, at least once.)

#25 ::: tom p ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 05:08 PM:

The British instinct for queueing is one of the strongest and most all-pervasive cultural forces anywhere in the world. If you stranded a group of us on a desert island, we would spontaneously form a giant, rootless queue, which would roam the island like a vast, moaning serpent, seeking enchanted glades and rockpools to which we may be admitted strictly two at a time. Pushing-in would become a capital offense (or at the very least would get you sent to the back of the line, with much tutting).

It's how we gained an Empire. And, in all probability, how we lost it as well.

#26 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 05:12 PM:

Xopher:
Try Nano anyway, if you can. Last year, I managed to write the teenage angst novel that has been brooding in me for decades. It was a relief to get rid of it. It was awful, but I got it out of my head. And proved I could write that much, which was good for me, in some odd way.

Jonathan Vos Post:
"lucrative Mathematics journals". You have to be kidding. Do you mean any of those huge sums we pay for technical journals actually reaches the authors?
(I'm the Serials Librarian at a college. Poetry journals, $30 a year. Physics journals, add TWO decimals places. Yes, $3,000)

#27 ::: Slothrop ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 05:15 PM:

I'm confused. What's a novel? Is that a long book with lots of characters and plots and deep, underlying significance?

What my grandparents read before radio, phonographs and TV's?

Is that what you're talking about?

Are they still, like, published or something?

#28 ::: Madeline Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 05:30 PM:

tom p: you just gave me a horrible flashback of standing in the dinner queue at primary school and being REALLY ANGRY with the people who were pushing in. Maybe it's that anger that made the empire -- a feeling of huge affront when people don't play by the rules, dammit.

The simple fact is that unknown authors are being taken on every day, and frankly, publishers and established authors suffer because of it.

I do see his point, but it's not going to stop me from trying to get published. I don't think there's anything that anyone could say that would stop me. Of course my book will be The Best Book Ever In The History Of Books Ever. It will confound the publishing industry and break all the records. My second book will be even better. I have foreseen it.*

*I'm joking (alright, half-joking). But since wanting to be published requires a lot of self-belief, there's not a lot that anyone can do to stem the flow of manuscripts. How do you argue against belief?

#29 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 05:38 PM:

slothrop: It's one of the things produced as part of the third wave of marketing a film, I think...

#30 ::: alkali ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 05:53 PM:

Henry writes:

There's a bit of language play there that may escape non-UK/Irish readers. "Jammy" in "jammy first-timers" means 'possessed of undeserved luck.' It's almost never used afaik except as part of the phrase "jammy bastard."

I was just thinking the other day of this lyric from the musical "Sweet Charity":

All I can say is "Wow-ee!"
Look-a where I am.
Tonight I landed, pow!
Right in a pot of jam.
What a set up! Holy cow!
They'd never believe it,
If my friends could see me now!

In particular, I was thinking that I had never heard the expression "land in a pot of jam" to mean lucky in any other context. (The lyricist, Dorothy Fields, was an American, not a Brit.) Perhaps there's some connection.

#31 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 06:02 PM:

for the first time ever, a publisher is going to offer someone totally unknown the chance to be published

You mean Pauline Réage, "Joey," and the author of Go Ask Alice don't count?

#32 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 06:07 PM:

The problem is, of course, that:

- since published authors do not come from any source *except* aspiring authors,

- therefore one cannot reasonably get rid of *all* aspiring authors without losing all the possible future published authors.

AND:

- since it is impossible, even by reading the current slush, to say which aspiring authors will improve sufficiently to become published authors, and

- since those aspiring authors who are discouraged by articles like this, or by the realities of publishing (or by any other aspects of reality), do *not* directly correlate to those who will never improve enough to be worth an editor's time,

- therefore neither can one reasonably find a way to sift the never-will-bes from the could-well-bes.


So, sorry, I'll keep trying. I think I'm a could-well-be, but then, so do a lot of people no more reality-deficient than I.

#33 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 06:09 PM:

::dreams a world in which there are more readers, fewer would-be novelists, and a good selection of talented authors::

All I want is for Neil Gaiman and Steven Brust and all my other favorite writers to write faster.

#34 ::: james woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 06:10 PM:

I'm about 70,000 words into writing my first novel, and I have to say this post by Patrick and some of the subsequent comments here make me feel a little weird. Maybe I'd be as quick to leap up and join in the unruly cheer if it was my job to wade through the swamp of unsolicited manuscripts that I can only imagine Tor editors must face regularly. Fortunately, it isn't— thanks be to Jeebus— and I'm glad for it, given the strange reactions it seems to produce among people in the publishing business. I just don't get the unruly cheering thing. Very weird.

Most of my friends who have read excerpts from my first novel keep telling me that I should try to get it published— and I'll probably go through the motions just to placate them— but I'm thinking, honestly, who needs the fscking heartburn? I mean, really.

You know what I think? The publishing industry could probably double its market if it would just stop publishing new works entirely and concentrate on its core competency by reprinting only new editions of the classics. Seriously.

Let new writers stop worrying about publishing. That's what I plan to do. I figure I'll spend an extra year or two collecting rejections, while I write another novel to follow the first one, then I'll do what I wanted to do all along: publish them for free download on the web. Sure, I won't get paid, I'll have to hire an editor, and I'm lousy at promotion, but so what? That's not why I'm writing a novel. At least, I won't have to deal with fscking publishers, or their sclerotic and muppet-headed fellow travelers in the lit-crit world, like this windy Tim Clare gasbag.

And, I'll still enjoy my day job.

#35 ::: echidna ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 06:36 PM:

Magenta Griffith, not only do those vast sums you pay out for academic journals not reach the authors, the authors (actually their grants) get to pay "per-page charges" for the privilege of being published in said journals. (Sure, it's a racket, but you have to publish.) The Astronomical Journal, for instance, charges $110 per page.

Maybe this means scientists are more likely to fall for vanity-publishing schemes, since the "pay to publish" model *is* how it works for the journals?

#36 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 06:37 PM:

Chris: I say this only because it excuses my activities in one specific part of my online life. But ultimately that's a crock, too...

Speaking as someone who's been happily reading for years, if that's a crock then they're under-rated...

(That's one of the things I like about ML - it's surprising the people you find posting.)

Fiendish Writer: if you write novels in the style of your comments on here, people are probably still trying to understand them. ;-)

James: Sure, I won't get paid, I'll have to hire an editor, and I'm lousy at promotion, but so what? That's not why I'm writing a novel.

In which case, skip the year of rejections and just put it straight up on the web. Saves time. ;-)

Besides, I can't imagine that just reprinting the classics would be particularly interesting for either the publishers or the readers. Particularly since one person's classic tends to be someone else's abomination. (Step forwards, Charles Dickens.)

#37 ::: Christy Bertani ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 06:37 PM:

I went to a writer's workshop once where the token industry professional insisted he loved to sit in on these workshops because he got the opportunity to discourage people from becoming writers. Though an aspiring writer myself, I found myself sympathizing with him. I had been horrified enough with the quality of some of the other submissions, I realized I'd happily stop writing entirely if I could ensure half of these other writers would stop committing atrocities in print along with me.

Alas, they keep writing, so I keep writing, hoping maybe I can dilute various slush piles just a little with plain "bad" instead of "spork the eyeballs out" bad. I think of it as a service to poor slush pile readers. Maybe I should just send bleach and sporks in my submission envelopes. Or, better yet, find a way to flat-package good single malt scotch to dull the pain.

#38 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 06:38 PM:

Magenta Griffith:

Lucrative FOR THE PUBLISHER! The silly Mathematicians (and scientists in general) get paid zero, and often have pay "page charges" (extra if color illos). The publishers pocket the $$$, and thgen charge arms & legs to the colleges and corporations that employ the silly authors. The journal publishers net over $100,000,000. That's enough to attract organized crime (in my story, at least). Why do authors do this?

(1) Psychological ownership. "I'm a Mathematician (Chemist/Biologist,...) writing for an audience of my fellow Mathematicians (Chemists/Biologists,...) with papers edited by yet more Mathematicians (Chemists/Biologists,...), so it's all cool.

(2) Geoff Landis claims that there must be a value per average paper published per average author, maybe in the $2,000 to $10,000 range in lifetime earnings (hired/promoted/tenured earlier) including salary, grants, benefits.

I've learned from Patrick & Teresa & my parents to be VERY skeptical of such reasoning.

#39 ::: james woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 06:41 PM:

Paul writes: In which case, skip the year of rejections and just put it straight up on the web. Saves time.

That's what I keep telling my wife, and it's like talking to a brick wall. So I just say, "Yes dear. Whatever you say. Of course, I'll try to get it published." I know this woman. She will not be satisfied until she sees the rejection letters arrive in the mail.

#40 ::: Fiendish Writer ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 06:48 PM:

Paul: You mock me!

::weeps in grief::

If truth be told, my writing comes in several styles, but my novels are as unlike these comments as starlight is to lima beans.

#41 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 06:52 PM:

Everyone has a novel inside them. To get it out, I recommend bran.

#42 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 06:53 PM:

Perhaps I wasn't emphatic enough when I observed that Clare "has hold of a Higher Truth, which, like many Higher Truths, is easily refuted and yet persists". Another way to say it would be: he's wrong, but he's right about a bunch of stuff on the way.

Anyone who actually thinks Teresa and I are opposed to publishing first novels should take it up with Maureen McHugh, Susan Palwick, Raphael Carter, Jonathan Lethem, Terri Windling, Geoffrey Landis, Jo Walton, Cory Doctorow, Stephan Zielinski, John Scalzi, and Adam Stemple. Coming soon: David Keck and Sandra McDonald. I'm sure I'm leaving some off, and I daresay the other Tor editors who found the Clare piece funny could point to their own lists as well.

None of us regret the first novels we've published, nor do we plan to stop. But the constant spray of aerosolized horseshit about book publishing's imagined hostility to new work demands a strong response. One way to make people laugh is to say the forbidden, and say it well. This appears to be in the spec for "human being".

#43 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 06:55 PM:

PS: "Fiendish Writer", whose IP address betrays his/her identity, is actually quite good. Those suggesting otherwise are mistaken.

#44 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 07:00 PM:

Indeed, the moral of this conversation, like all such conversations, is that no matter what you do to discourage bad writers, a significant number of the good ones will take what you say to heart and slink away in shame.

#45 ::: Fiendish Writer ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 07:01 PM:

Patrick is very kind. Fiendish has been inside all day wrestling with XML and lima beans, and so is a bit giddy right now.

#46 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 07:09 PM:

John Scalzi: Everyone has a novel inside them. To get it out, I recommend bran.

*goes and eats a giant bowl of raisin bran*

I think my own problem is one that is probably quite common. I not only have a novel inside me, I have six or seven trying to play American Gladiators to win my attention. I think I'm finally focused on one, which is good, but heart-wrenching, since anytime the muse trips over anything related to the other novels, I have to tell her, "No. Bad Muse. No biscuit." And then she goes off and sulks somewhere and refuses to play at all, leaving me to slog along, museless.

I've heard the "publishing is an impenetrable cartel" canard before, but this is the first time I've run into the "you young whippersnappers are ruining the game for us old skilled masters" thing.

#47 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 07:16 PM:

PNH: I've certainly noticed in the past that you and Teresa appear multiple times in the bought/delivered section of Locus, so I don't think anyone would accuse the two of you of not buying books...

Fiendish: not mocking, just joining in the joke, I thought. Writing that overblown is usually done on purpose, I've found. :)

The mention of XML and lima beans makes me think of a certain Mr Stross, for some reason. I've also noticed he has a forthcoming article in "Nature", which - bizarrely - appears to have been co-written by two 419 scammers (going from names alone). Could be interesting...

#48 ::: james woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 07:17 PM:

Patrick writes: But the constant spray of aerosolized horseshit about book publishing's imagined hostility to new work demands a strong response.

Does it really? Wow.

If I were you, I think I would consider cultivating it, rather than trying to fight it. They do that at mit.edu, you know— it's probably part of the orientation for new adjunct professors.

At some point in your career as an undergraduate there (or so I'm told by people who had the grades to be accepted), some professor is guaranteed to respond to your request for help understanding something difficult by telling you that you should just stop trying and go study animal husbandry or something at your local state college. The idea is to weed out the more fragile students early so they can concentrate their efforts on the tougher ones with enough backbone to respond to their bullshit by saying something like, "You're a ratfscker, you know that?"

I'd think that slushpile management would be a lot easier if more new writers could be intimidated into suicide or heroin addiction before even submitting their manuscripts in the first place.

#49 ::: Fiendish Writer ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 07:29 PM:

Paul: Methinks our jokes entangled one another. Both well-meaning mischievous sprites, we laugh and hope the other understands. I think I need dinner.

#50 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 07:31 PM:

John Scalzi Says:
Everyone has a novel inside them. To get it out, I recommend bran.

I would have figured (since the average novel is printed on wood-derived paper) that the high cellulose content of a novel would help bowel regularity, and not require extra bran to... pass.

But then again, maybe the novels that are in most people are printed on red-meat. Ooh, or lucious liver and onions. Oh oh, could be thin sliced muenster cheese too!

(is it lunch time yet?)

#51 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 07:34 PM:

I don't have a novel in me. I've got some Mary Sues (my current favorite being the bluestocking who saves Stephen from that Mrs Villiers) but they're never going to see the light of day, and aren't you glad of that? I do have some translations in me, but I suspect that's more connected to my need to teach.

#52 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 07:37 PM:

BSD: I frankly do not understand the burning desire to "be a writer" -- the money's rarely good, the heartbreak unending, and there are a swarm of vultures constantly circling to defraud you or exploit you.

It occurred to me (reading this right after Clare's comments) that one reason is visibility. Everybody sees bus drivers, hamburger flippers, and so on at work, and can see that the jobs suck -- and even if they heard of an occasional bus driver becoming a prize-winning racer they'd still have all of the counter-examples. But nobody sees unsuccessful writers (or actors, or ...); all they see is the adoring throngs, TV interviews, and big checks that go to the top successes. Most people don't have to read slush (or sit through performances by wannabes, or ...), so they have no idea how tiny a fraction of the iceberg they are seeing.

Minor-league baseball is becoming increasingly popular; I wonder whether its fans have any more realistic view of writing (or acting, or at least professional athletics -- another example) than people in general. But athletes at least have rigorously quantifiable goals (even more quantifiable in recent years -- cf the article on Readercon driver Eric Van and his statistical pursuits for the Red Sox), where writing IMO does not; can you measure the difference between the lightning word and the lightning-bug word, or even clearly see it passing the defender's outstretched fingertips?

This is not to argue that writing can't be taught; experience shows us otherwise, even far beyond the quantifiable mechanical levels. But the difference between one's personal (but merely tolerable) creation and something publicly accepted can be hard to see.

#53 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 07:51 PM:

Two thoughts:

Please remember: EVERY published writer starts as an unknown. EVERY published writer begins as unpublished. Can someone please tell these idiots who perpetrate the publishing-as-mafia that simple fact.

Second, please remind people that it takes only a day or two (if you are a fast reader) or a week or two if you are slow) to read a book. Most good novels take weeks,months, years to be written. Advice? Be a reader. It's more fun. Cheaper, too.

Jane

#54 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 07:56 PM:

Just last week, I made my first-ever submission to a professional fiction market. I don't expect it to be published, because it's got imperfections that I can see (but can't quite figure out how fix), and since I can see them, so, certainly, will a professional slush reader. But it's pretty good, so I subbed it.

The thing is, I trust the slush reader to know if the story is good enough to be interesting to the editor. I trust the editor to know if the story is good enough for publication. If they reject it, I'll write a better story next time and send that one to them. I'm not going to submit a novel to anyone until I have stories in print, because Gene Wolfe said not to (in a talk I attended), and I trust him.

In the end, if I never publish anything, I'm pretty sure I'll assume that it was because my stuff either (a) didn't fit any existing market/genre or (b) sucked. I will not assume that I failed because publishing professionals hate new talent.

Does this make me a tool?

#55 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 08:06 PM:

General comments, because, good Lord, the thread multiplied insanely when I turned my back.

Sure, writing's hard. It's hard to get it right. And make no mistakes, I've gotten my huge share of rejection letters (well deserved. Including the ones with good comments), but I rarely lament. I remember when I realized it was what I wanted to do. It's still what I want to do. I try not to trash it, because, when it comes down to it, a keyboard and screen are still home. This is what I do, and what I love to do, even when it's hard love. I've gotten good comments. Mike Curtis at the Atlantic Monthly liked my story, and Will Shettery liked my novel, and it's not like I was paying them to compliment me.

Why am I trying to do it? Visibility? To a degree, I guess. But it's more also that I didn't start out just wanting to be a writer. I've never wanted to just be a writer. I've wanted to write books. Not novel-length stories. A physical object, with paper and (hopefully) good words. Something that, someday, someone might pick up in a second-hand shop, and think, huh, and read, and enjoy. I'm lucky enough that the goal has become secondary to the writing itself, though. It wasn't always like that, and I think I grew a lot, as a writer, when it did.

I don't like the writers who lament it. I used to be on the Well, and one of the members had "You're an author. [Bugger] off and auth," as a pseudonym. I always liked that. People get on me sometimes, but, when it comes down to proving myself, I don't argue. I just bugger off and auth.

Along the lines of physics/mathematics journals: I'm the editor of two nursing journals, one clinical and one academic. Their subscription rates aren't as high as the ones cited, but I know we don't pay our authors except in comp copies. Which I send out, every month. I send out most of the correspondence, in fact. I hate days when I have to send out rejection letters, because I always fear it's karmic, and I've gotten enough myself, thanks. I know I'll get more. But I don't want them, and I'd care not contribute.

Xopher, I think I encouraged you to do the NaNoWriMo before, but if I didn't, do so now. It's a good exercise, and what've you got to lose? A month of sanity perhaps, but, hey, sanity's overrated, anyway.

And I just want to note that I really like that you commented on Fiendish, Patrick, and that the comments got you giddy, Fiendish. That's always wonderful to see. Good luck to you, Fiendish.

#56 ::: JohnD ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 08:12 PM:

Hey all, long-time lurker and first-time poster here.

I just recently came to understand how Clare feels. I'm one of those folks who has a novel rooting around somewhere inside, so I have a lot of sympathy for first-time authors. This led me to tell a friend that I'd read, critique, and edit his first novel, which had already been rejected by several publishers. I suppose I had a romantic notion that reading something that no one else had ever read would be a wonderful and enlightening experience.

Enlightening, yes, wonderful, no. I let myself in for 600 themeless pages of characters unsympathetic and inconsistent as individuals and horrific in ensemble, set in a nonsensical world, with a plot composed entirely of holes that dies with a whimper about 200 pages before the end of the book, heavily salted with irrelevant info dumps, bad research, tortured language, and repellent personal philosophy. Never knew that one brain could hold so many neuroses or anatomize them in such excruciatingly dull detail. I've had to stop critiquing around the 100th page, because everything past that point is just interest compounding on the previous damage.

It initially pained me to be so discouraging, but it doesn't seem to discourage him at all. He's writing another one, and it seems to be the same book all over again from what little I've seen.

#57 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 08:30 PM:

On queueing, what springs to this mind is Arthur Dent's line from the H2G2 movie: "Leave this to me. I'm British. I know how to queue."

On NaNoWriMo: Xopher, I gotta second Magenta's motion. Do, do, if only to get that novel out and on paper where its fate can at last be decided! I'll be doing it right alongside and I know it'll be just as gruesome as anything you end up with!

#58 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 08:36 PM:

Mary Dell - I'd say that makes you pretty rational, m'self, but then I'm of the same mind as you, and I flatter myself that I'm rational. Which may be a mistake, you never know.

#59 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 08:36 PM:

I had at least two novels in me.

What I don't have is a novel with at least as much commercial viability as a bacon-cheese margarita.

Since audience is important to me, I should probably web the things, but that feels too much like giving up, at least on odd-numbered days. HTMLifying anything tends to feel too much like work on even-numbered days.

But considered as a private hobby, something that expects no audience, I get rather more out of going back and starting to put in a piper's seven years over again.

#60 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 09:00 PM:

My brain just tripped over They Might Be Giants singing "There's just two songs in me, and I just wrote the third."

#61 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 10:21 PM:

Xopher wrote:

> Maybe I won't do NaNoWriMo after all. Too depressing.

NaNoWriMo helped me extract the novel which was inside me. It turned out to have been written by my inner child.

It was still fun though. I'd advise you to embrace your inner incompetent and have a good time.

#62 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 10:36 PM:

NaNoWriMo is like a sewer: what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. (I shamelessly steal all my best material from Tom Lehrer)

But seriously, I've done NaNoWriMo for two years now... I "won" the first year, didn't even come close the second. Both times it was a BLAST.

#63 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 10:36 PM:

mmmm. Bacon-cheese margarita...

Sorry. What were you talking about?

#64 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 10:52 PM:

Everyone may well have a novel inside them. That doesn't require them to try to get it published. Nothing wrong with writing it for the fun of just, y'know, writing it. Too bad more people don't seem to get that.

'Cuz, see, I like writing for the fun of, well, writing. Storytelling is itself rewarding to me. Sharing it with even one other person pretty much gives me enough of a happy to make it worthwhile. The selling it part (or, rather, the not selling it part, I say, eyeing my growing stack of rejections) is for other reasons, namely, the insane hope of making enough money off of it to have more time to do it.

(And if one doesn't like writing for the sake of writing, whyinthehell would they want to pursue a career doing it? I mean, it can't be for the steady paycheck.)

Xopher: Do go ahead and do NaNo. For fun. Worry about whether or not you can or even want to edit and later try to sell the result after. NaNo's about getting the story from your brain to the paper (or at least a file on your computer), to see if you can. That's all.

#65 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 10:54 PM:

echidna:
Oh, so *that's* why it's called Astronomical Journal - because the price to get *in* is astronomical.

JVP:
I wonder what the move to online publishing of peer-reviewed journals is doing to that system. I know the library I work at is switching to online access and databases because of both cost and space considerations.

It's either that, or build the mythical fourth floor. (For some reasons the elevators have 4 floor buttons in a 3 story building. Our fourth floor an ongoing joke.)

#66 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2005, 11:56 PM:

Gaaaah.

The question isn't "Do you have a novel in you?" Maybe you do, maybe you don't. You can assemble a novel from parts off the shelf if you don't have one growing deep in your heart. That really isn't the point.

The correct question is, "Can you entertain readers?"

It's not about the bloody writer. It's about the readers. Nobody cares what's in the author's sorry little soul; the reader wants someone to tell him what's in his soul.

Every would-be writer can entertain himself, because he's looking into his own soul and saying, "Oh, look, here's that nasty dog that bit me on my eighth birthday, dressed up like a dragon, and here's my sister as the frustrating wise woman..." He gets all the jokes, understands all the symbols -- and most of the time he can't see why everyone else doesn't.

So sure, he's got a novel in him. It just isn't one anyone else cares about. But it entertains him so much that its failure to sell and earn him a zillion dollars must be due to an Evile Conspiracy in the publishing industry.

And you can't convince him otherwise.

Gaaah.

#67 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 01:18 AM:

Just checking here - do professional published writers think of their novels as being 'inside them'? It seems too vague and cod-mystical for someone who sits down and actually writes for a set number of hours a day, producing a finished novel on a fairly regular basis.
The idea of having a novel 'in me' makes me uncomfortable, rather in the same way that the idea of having to depend on some flitty gauzy Muse makes me uncomfortable. Or indeed the idea of being 'inspired'. I much prefer the idea of craft and a learned skill, something that I could rely on, and that would be good for producing more than just the one primally-inspired and entrail-wound book.
Speaking of which, someone needs to cite this review: http://books.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,4061538-99930,00.html
for its immortal headline:

Everyone has a book inside them...
Sadly James Thackara's is terrible. Philip Hensher despairs of The Book of Kings.

Reviewing someone's first novel, it is customary to be polite about it, to find things to praise in it. So let me say straight away that James Thackara's The Book Of Kings is printed on very nice paper; the typeface is clear and readable, and Samantha Nundy's photograph of the author is in focus.
(it goes on)

#68 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 01:23 AM:

How do you see the IP address on one of these mailto links people have in blogs?

And then, seeing an IP address, how do you figure out who the person is from it?

I mean, that was an AOL address. That's pretty well generic.

Other than that, I can't think of anything to say on this topic that isn't wildly neurotic and self-defeating. So . . . Look, over there!

#69 ::: Aquila ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 01:35 AM:

I presumed that our hosts can see things we can't. And that Fiendish also posts here under another name.

#70 ::: Carolyn Davies ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 01:45 AM:

CHip: Everybody sees bus drivers, hamburger flippers, and so on at work, and can see that the jobs suck -- and even if they heard of an occasional bus driver becoming a prize-winning racer they'd still have all of the counter-examples. But nobody sees unsuccessful writers

I agree with that; the only writers I ever meet at parties are the wistful, unpublished ones who haven't done anything silly like quit their day jobs and tried to make a living off it yet (or sent it off to a slush pile--they'd (sigh) love to, but you know that publishing business, so it isn't even worth trying). Though once at a family reunion I met somebody whose history of a small town sold fifty copies. She thought it was great.

Well, that's excepting parties thrown by publishers, but they don't count.

I tend to surround myself with people who have novels in them. They make funny sticky-out shapes in our torsos, so we have to hang together or people look at us oddly. Fortunately, not all of us see the burning need to get these novels published.

#71 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 02:22 AM:

To add to what Aquila said, blogging software generally has IP logging as a security feature, usually only visible to the owner(s) of the blog. (Most modern web forum software also has this feature.) The purpose of which is, btw, to be able to track down/report spammers and other malicious dorks.

I have it turned on at LiveJournal myself, though thankfully I've yet to have an actual use for it.

One presumes the other possibility besides matched IP addresses would be that Fiendish has an IP that maps to a very obvious hostname, but that's probably immaterial.

"Spammers and Other Malicious Dorks" would probably be a good title for an editorial.

#

Back closer to the original topic: I think that it would be interesting to see the statistics for number of manuscripts reviewed vs number accepted, although from what I've gathered it basically is a fraction of a percentage for any largish publisher. I doubt it would do much to educate anyone not already looking for an education, though, and it'd probably just support the Great Publisher Conspiracy Theory.

If it weren't for the fact that it's probably a) been done already and b) not something I could write well, I swear I would do a thriller by that title.

#72 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 02:25 AM:

"He's writing another one, and it seems to be the same book all over again from what little I've seen."

"To do a good painting, you must first do 200 bad paintings."

#73 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 04:14 AM:

Since audience is important to me, I should probably web the things, but that feels too much like giving up, at least on odd-numbered days. HTMLifying anything tends to feel too much like work on even-numbered days.

I, personally, would like very much to see a Graydon novel, whether it be in print or on a web page.

#74 ::: Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 06:37 AM:

james woodyatt writes: "I'd think that slushpile management would be a lot easier if more new writers could be intimidated into suicide or heroin addiction before even submitting their manuscripts in the first place."

I don't know what new writers did to you when you were young, but it must have been bad.

#75 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 07:16 AM:

I was ignorant of NaNoWriMo but enjoyed learning about it. I also enjoyed a humoristical piece on their site entitled The NaNoLand Chronicles which addresses many of the themes touched on here. This line alone was worth the clicking calories expended:

"Artists in our community can be easily recognized, for they all wear a single incontinent muskrat strapped to the top of their heads."

#76 ::: Samuel Kleiner ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 07:21 AM:

Graydon,

Oh please please please web(or something) your book. I've wanted to read it since the first excerpt i saw on rec.arts.sf.composition a couple of years ago.

#77 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 07:29 AM:

Harry --

My original example of something not actually toxic yet severely lacking in commercial potential was 'potato-endive daiquiri'; the first two people I mentioned it to happened to be the same general sort of vegetarian, and the response was more or less "Actually, that sounds good... Especially without the yucky alcohol!"

Since you are clearly not a vegetarian, I may have to resort to "liver and three bean custard", or just give up on the idea of coming up with something that's obviously lacking in both lethality and commercial potential.

tavella --

Thank you!

#78 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 08:38 AM:

PNH: Indeed, the moral of this conversation, like all such conversations, is that no matter what you do to discourage bad writers, a significant number of the good ones will take what you say to heart and slink away in shame.

Ministers tell me that when they give sermons, the people who least need to apply the lessons to their lives wrestle with their shortcomings, while the ones at whom the sermons are aimed nod smugly and pick out the all the sinners in the congregation.

Randolph Fritz: "To do a good painting, you must first do 200 bad paintings."

But you must do them in the process of trying to paint a good one, and there must be forward progress. Doing the same bad painting 200 times only makes you skillful at painting badly.

#79 ::: Simstim ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 09:00 AM:

I'm guessing that what applies to pots also applies to books.

#80 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 09:04 AM:

There is no conspiracy.

On the other hand, the "who gets published" game does resemble a lottery -- why, exactly, was J.K.Rowling refused so many times?

And if publishers have such lofty standards of acceptance, why didn't the publisher of The Da Vinci Code remove at least the *worst* howlers from the text?

See, these are only a few of the arcane mysteries of the publishing industry -- mysteries which understandably make outsiders baffled and suspicious.

I'm still waiting for the tell-all book that spills the dirt on what really goes on inside modern publishing -- can anybody recommend one?

-A.R.Yngve
http://aryngve.blogspot.com

#81 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 09:39 AM:

I'm still waiting for the tell-all book that spills the dirt on what really goes on inside modern publishing -- can anybody recommend one?

Oh, it would never be published, of course! The 12-foot space lizards would never allow it.

#82 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 10:53 AM:

Who cares about bad writing in The Da Vinci Code? As they say in marketing, the only unforgivable sin is to be boring. Only writing geeks think that "howlers" matter to most people.

Complaining about infelicities of prose is just as pointless as complaining about impossible physics in a Hollywood movie -- 90% of the audience doesn't notice or care. All they care about is a good story.

Which, mind you, is no reason to not make an effort to avoid clumsy writing; there's that other 10%, as well as the whole matter of self-respect and personal pride in doing the job well. Still, it's very far down on the priority list for anyone who wants to make money as a writer, somewhere below "Looks good in jacket photo."

#83 ::: John Dilick ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 10:57 AM:

How do you see the IP address on one of these mailto links people have in blogs?

And then, seeing an IP address, how do you figure out who the person is from it?

The IP address would be available from the server logs (which I assume Patrick has access to). He could then check his mail from the user, look at the headers, and match that IP to a mail sent from the same user to verify his identity.

Admittedly, this is merely *a* way to do this, not necessarily *the* way Patrick did.

#84 ::: JohnD ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 12:20 PM:

Lawrence Watt-Evans: So sure, he's got a novel in him. It just isn't one anyone else cares about. But it entertains him so much that its failure to sell and earn him a zillion dollars must be due to an Evile Conspiracy in the publishing industry.

And you can't convince him otherwise.

Aconite: Randolph Fritz: "To do a good painting, you must first do 200 bad paintings."

But you must do them in the process of trying to paint a good one, and there must be forward progress. Doing the same bad painting 200 times only makes you skillful at painting badly.

My thanks to both of you for clarifying the points I had hoped to make. On Lawrence's tip, the novel I read is all about the writer and holds nothing for any reader who doesn't know him (and if you do know him, you don't get anything you didn't already know out of reading it. Well, maybe some things you never wanted to know.) In his mind, the book is him, and he is good, therefore he knows that his book is Good. He knows this in the same unexamined way that he knows he walks on ground and breathes air. He doesn't seem to feel that there is a publishing conspiracy working against him though; I get the impression that he writes in part for the odd private pleasure of being a Kafkaesque unknown-in-his-lifetime genius, with every criticism and rejection slip feeding this self-image. And going from what Aconite wrote, he doesn't want his next book to speak more to his readers, but instead wants it to be even more purely himself than the last one. Yet he wants some audience to like his books and won't see any conflict between these goals. I suppose he just wants people to like him for being himself, which is entirely normal but doesn't make for good novels.

Sorry for running on. This is my first experience with seeing things from this point of view, and I'm still trying to piece it all together.

#85 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 01:02 PM:

"I presumed that our hosts can see things we can't."

Indeed. Teresa's eyes can pick up IR well enough to see ten-minute old footprints glowing in the dark, and Patrick can echo-locate as accurately a bat.

This is not unusual. Anyone who works near the Ley Line intersection under the Flatiron Building develops powers of one sort or another.

#86 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 01:20 PM:

Regarding IP addresses, etc.: Aquila is right on both points.

A. R. Yngve asks "[I]f publishers have such lofty standards of acceptance, why didn't the publisher of The Da Vinci Code remove at least the *worst* howlers from the text?" Lawrence Watt-Evans responds, correctly, that "howlers" matter more to people like us than they do to the broad mass of readers. Another point to be made in response to Yngve is that publishers don't claim "lofty standards of acceptance," we're just looking for books that seem to us like something lots of people would like to read. Loftiness has little to do with it. Finally, of course, publishers are largely staffed by human beings; you'd be amazed at how expensive it is to hire infallible god-creatures. As a result, we screw up as often as everyone else. Next?

#87 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 01:22 PM:

Not only that, Stefan, but one day young David Hartwell was boarding a commuter train in Westchester County when he was bitten by a radioactive haberdasher. This explains things.

#88 ::: Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 01:25 PM:

I used to have a novel inside me. I exorcised it.

#89 ::: Karl Kindred ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 01:49 PM:

Posts like this really feed the demon-of-self-doubt-and-discouragement(TM) that is always lurking on the back of my chair. His reedy little voice cackles in my ear that the editors I respect most in the world are "cheering for my wholesale rejection."

Luckily, my particular demon is easily flicked backwards onto the floor with a quick swat from my hand-of-reality-deflection(TM).

It frustrates me that my personal background tells me that two simple truths exist: First, that my mother's example gives me hope that I too have the "writer's genes" in my bio-chemical makeup. And second, there really are that many completely-crap-tastic, pseudo-literate and reality-oblivious wanna-be-authors out there.

My mom was a genre author from the time I was seven until I was twenty-seven. She wrote seventeen romance novels for Pocket Books and St. Martin’s Press under the name Marylyle Rogers. She won awards from Romantic Times and Affair D'Cour, went to conferences and conventions, and really loved the chance to tell stories and entertain people. And she NEVER expected to be an author.

She joined a writers group in Portland that required everyone to submit a synopsis and three chapters to a publisher. She didn't want to write, but she did want to spend a couple of nights a month with the ladies in the group, so she wrote it up and sent it off. A two-book contract came back.

For the rest of the universe the publishing process isn’t quite so fortuitous. My mom met countless people who wanted her opinion and advice about “their book.” Of the countless masses that approached her, to my knowledge exactly one went on to get published. The rest were exactly like every description of the industry slushpiles we’ve all heard before. Occasionally they were legible, some might have even been in English, but by and large it was an incredible lesson in personal tact on the part of my mother.

I now have unending respect for people that can say “you have a frightening lack of basic written English skills” with words that sound like “nice try, give it some polish and see what happens.”

Throughout my youth and into my early adulthood I saw how the publishing world works. How being an author works. How brutal and messy the act of creating for money really is when your livelihood is on the line. I wanted none of it. There are countless easier ways to make a better living.

My problem is that I simply “can’t not” write. It seeps out of me. If I store it up it becomes unmanageable, but if I write it down I have release. And if I take the hours to create people with personalities, places with substance and plots worth attention and interest…then what else am I to do with them? I could cherish them as untouchable examples of my pure creative genius; leaving them to rot in a drawer because surely no one is wise enough to critique my perfect babies…

Or I can pack them up, give them a cover letter, and hope that they find a home where someone can take them from their current life and edit them, challenge them, and hopefully polish them into something that the larger world could discover and enjoy.

A manuscript I leave in my desk is just self-doubt masquerading as a personal victory. A manuscript that gets a rejection letter is a personal victory that will haunt me as self-doubt. I choose the real victory that haunts over the delusion that no one will ever see.

Sorry for the book length post, if you read this far let me say thanks for participating in this moment of catharsis.

#90 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 02:11 PM:

One useful piece of advice that was passed along to me from a friend who draws comic books is "everyone has 1000 pages of bad drawings in them. The only way to get past those to the good pages is to draw them."

It's helpful to think of my bad stories as "practice sketches."

#91 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 02:16 PM:

Ray Bradbury said something similar about writers having 100,000 bad words they need to get out of them.

#92 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 02:32 PM:

Quoth Stefan Jones:

Anyone who works near the Ley Line intersection under the Flatiron Building develops powers of one sort or another.

I dunno... I worked two blocks from the Flatiron for a time, and all I got was the power to remain employed in a sales position while making very little in the way of actual sales. Eventually, even that wore off.

#93 ::: SCB ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 03:14 PM:

I heard it was a million words, not 100,000. 100,000 words is only one novel, and most people have several horrible novels lurking inside. (I, too, have done NaNoWriMo.)

Publishers/editors are not hostile. That they continue to enjoy the genre they work with is amazing in and of itself. (It is very easy to burn out reading slush. I've done it for two publishing houses, and it can quickly kill the joy of reading anything.) Editors honestly delight in finding people who can actually write and have new perspectives. Otherwise, their jobs would be extremely tedious.

It seems that most of the people who are angry about the state of the publishing industry are the same people who have had their own babies rejected time and time again. Yes, there are things that people in the industry know that most people don't know instinctually. (Here's one for free: get a reputable agent, if you're serious about getting your book published. Otherwise, it's rare that an editor will actually look at your book, and you'll have people like me reading and rejecting it.) However, all of these "secrets" are out there for anyone with a library card or an internet connection.

#94 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 03:44 PM:

What do you do if what you write isn't what you want to read?

I mean, if you read long fantasies but only seem to be able to write short fiction, how do you learn to write what you like to read instead of what comes out? Or do you?

#95 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 04:03 PM:

Only 100,000 bad words? That can't be right. Just two winning NaNoWriMo drafts until you hit gold?

Where's my gold, dammit?!

#96 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 04:36 PM:

Graydon, I've been wanting to read your novel for years now. Have you tried small presses? Perhaps Small Beer? They're the natural home for works likely to attract a small but very enthusiastic audience.

#97 ::: deadmuse ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 05:56 PM:

My apologies in advance. The vision of the mafia muscling in on a math journal was too compelling. The urge to write often overpowers the common sense understanding that one's writing mostly sucks, and Tim Clare's manifesto, as accurate as it is, gets shouted down by instinct.

TONY SOPRANO: We got a new thing this week?
SILVIO: Yeah, Tone. It's a math thing.
TONY: What the #$%^ do I want with math? What else we got?
PAULY: It's a fat job, this math thing. Joey Saggs says it's a hundred mill a year. He knows math.
TONY: How's it work?
SILVIO: Publishers print stuff they get from college !@#$, and get this, they don't pay a dime for it. All da cash is in one spot, so it's an easy job.
TONY: I don't like it. Who da #$%^ would buy math *&%$? It's gotta be a tax scam.
CHRISTOPHER: No, it's not. The college !@#$ buy it. Joey was telling me about it.
TONY: What the #$%^! They sell it back to the same dumb-*&%$ they stole it from? You sure about dis?
CHRISTOPHER: I swear, that's the way it works.
TONY: Ok, whatever. I got a guy working the paper route in Weehawken, I'll pull him off and we hit the publishers dis weekend.
CHRISTOPHER: Uh, no Tone. Joey wants to hit the college !@#$. You know, the publisher pays up when they see the cash cow walking towards the meat grinder.
TONY: Why the #$%^ does Joey wanna do everything backwards? We should just go for da cash they already got.
CHRISTOPHER: Joey flunked an algebra course at city college, so he wants to beat some heads.
TONY: What the !@#$, you guys said he knew math.
CHRISTOPHER: Well, he does. He's no Stephen Hawkwood, but he's tryin.
PAULY: These city college professors are loaded. Think how much cash they must have if they wasting it on math *&$#. Heh heh.
TONY: Ok, call Joey. We'll go see the college !@#$. Tell him to bring that new Mizuno five-iron.

#98 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 07:11 PM:

Is anyone else bothered by the headline?

"Everyone does not have a novel inside them"

I would have said:

"Not everyone has a novel inside him."

Leaving aside the singular-plural mismatch, "everyone does not have a novel" suggests that a novel is something everyone does not have. The headline writer intends to say that, while some people do contain novels, a lot of people don't. But it doesn't come out that way.

I hear a lot of confusion between "you can't just verb" and "you just can't verb" these days, which is another distinction in emphasis.

(Tim Clare presumably didn't write the Grauniad's headline, but he, too, mixes the singular and plural in saying "everyone has a novel inside them," in contrast with his later line "everyone has won and all shall have prizes," which scrupulously avoids the conflict. Do you suppose the newspaper's stylebook permits mixing "everyone" and "them?")

#99 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 07:12 PM:

jane, reading is even cheaper if you use the library. I'm 4th on the request list for Pay the Piper.

#100 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 07:23 PM:

A.R.Yngve sez: And if publishers have such lofty standards of acceptance, why didn't the publisher of The Da Vinci Code remove at least the *worst* howlers from the text?

What makes you think they didn't?

#101 ::: janra ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 08:40 PM:

I have been known to visit writer's forums on occasion (ok, I've been trying to start my own... but never mind that) and so many times, the subject of the odds of getting your first novel published comes up.

"There are hundreds, maybe thousands of stories that land in the slush pile every day," they cry, "so my precious gem has only a 1 in (insert large number of your choice) chance of getting published!"

And I re-read slushkiller and smile to myself. If you can actually write something readable, the chances are much better than that, because you won't be in the early part of that list - and if you can't, your chances are basically zero. This isn't a coin toss...

#102 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2005, 11:30 PM:

What I wish, is that Tor editors, when rejecting manuscripts, would note the Slushkiller category number somewhere on the form letter.
Or would that just lead to trouble?

#103 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 12:39 AM:

Bill: Putting the universal quantifier first is a recognized structural idiom: compare Tolkien's "All that is gold does not glitter". And what's that about a singular-plural mismatch? I don't see any disagreement of number.

#104 ::: SEM ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 03:02 AM:

Well, well. I'm another long-time lurker, (not quite) first time poster (I also posted on the mother drive-by thread many moons back, under my full name; I used my initials here to avoid confusion with another Scott). This is such an entertaining and enlightening thread that I can't help but join in. WARNING: This response is long, rambling, discursive, and contains graphic descriptions of a bad query letter. Viewer discretion is advised.

I've given up on writers' groups and workshops for the time being. Yes, I've benefited from the critiques I've gotten (at least when they pointed at specific problems). And I'm not a fan of my own stuff, either. Generally, I see myself as being worse than Sidney Sheldon and Harold Robbins put together, minus the camp value and the guilty pleasure factor, but with a load of pretentious bullshit shoveled in to take their places. So it gives me a warm, happy feeling when someone says something nice about my stuff. I don't quite dare believe it, but I like the happy feeling. It's like the feeling you get from petting a puppy, without the drool and nip marks.

No, it's the critiquing. Now, disclaimer time: I've met lots of nice people in these groups, many of them far more talented than I am. A few wrote stuff so fine that I keep expecting to see their names in magazines, or on a bookshelf (nothing yet, though).

In every group, it seems like there's always at least one... person... who can't write, at all, and isn't aware of the problem. This same individual will be absolutely convinced that he (or she) has a God-given talent which will make him (or her) a billion dollars, get her (or him) on the Letterman show (which doesn't book writers, as far as I know... but I digress), and land many attractive members of the opposite sex in her (or his, or its) bed, possibly allowing her/him/it to dump off his/her/its/Carrot Top's current significant other.

There is nothing you can say (or put in an e-mail) to these people that will convince them that they have done anything wrong, and if provoked, they will start muttering about all the various Publishing Conspiracy Theories. You know, all editors hate writers (must be tough, then, having to work with them every day... you'd think they'd want to find a different and more rewarding career, like licking envelopes, or breeding rabid komodo dragons); first-timers never get published (oh, I see, there are really only ten writers in the entire world, and they're all immortal, and they write EVERYTHING... playing spot the pseudonym would be an awfully fun game in this situation, don't you think?); and my favorite, you can't get published unless you know someone who's already been published, or works for a major publisher. Because as everybody knows, nothing says "success" in today's world like "pyramid scheme."

I remember one guy in a seminar, in particular. He thought he was a genius, and typed a sample query letter for us to look at and critique. My first feelings of impending doom surfaced when I noticed he'd typed it on wide-ruled looseleaf notebook paper. Confirmation followed when he began by telling the publisher (he didn't bother to look up an actual editor's name, or, come to think of it, even address it to "Editor;" no, it was dear-publishing-house) that he had been writing stories for many years, was pretty good at it if he said so himself, and then allowed as how he ought to back up his claim by giving them a sample of his writing.

Which he did.

By putting a paragraph of it in the letter.

And it was about... a mine-shaft. Yep, a lot of tension going there; nothing spells "drama" like a description of a mine-shaft. You don't need action, characters, or a plot when you've got a sweet set-up like that. No, sir.

I wish I could remember a sample of it to share with you all, but, sadly, my brain fries whenever I remember this incident. I think I'm repressing it.

Anyway, after the incredible excitement generated by that scintillating mine-shaft (I think he did use the phrase "black as coal" at least once... although I don't think he was going for even feeble irony; that might be giving him too much credit), he went on to say--and this I DO remember:

"Well now youve seen how good I am. So let's get together. You publish my stories and I write my stories and together wel'l make a lot of money together."

Nobody could say anything. Nobody dared. I know I didn't, because I was madly chewing the inside of my cheeks to avoid going off into gales of hysterical laughter.

And he was proud! And this was the actual letter he was going to send off to the publishers!

This was the last week of the seminar, so I never got to find out just what the publishing house in question thought of his letter (if anyone there dared to answer it either). However, if they responded with a negative, I'm sure he started muttering that you needed to know someone to get in, or that they hated newcomers.

No matter how badly I bollocks-up something, I can at least feel some solace that I am several thousand leagues ahead of this guy.

I feel for slush-readers and editors. I'd go mad trying to sort through that kind of crap, not once, but SEVERAL TIMES A DAY (I think shouting is warranted in this inst.).

Forget news articles, blogs, or witty sayings. Anyone who tries discouraging these people with anything other than a cattle prod or a blunt object is barking up the wrong tree. (But I kid. Maybe.)

#105 ::: Madeline Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 06:20 AM:

Barbara Gordon wrote: What I wish, is that Tor editors, when rejecting manuscripts, would note the Slushkiller category number somewhere on the form letter.

It could become standardised throughout the publishing world -- in simplified form, of course. Rejection letters could be stamped with an appropriate grade:

A for 'Almost there! Keep trying!'
B for 'Back to the drawing board. You've got a little way to go yet.'
C for 'Come on now -- this is nowhere near ready, is it?'
D for 'Dear oh dear oh dear. Please stop.'
E for 'Ever heard of PublishAmerica? They might take you.'

#106 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 06:40 AM:

What I wish, is that Tor editors, when rejecting manuscripts, would note the Slushkiller category number somewhere on the form letter.
Or would that just lead to trouble?

Yes. But the key question -- which is not quantitatively answerable, and I doubt has a qualitative one -- is how much good it might do.

Actual responses to editorial suggestions accompanying rejected mss. fall into three broad categories:

-- Those who are pleased to get the advice, or at least acknowledge that the editor has a point
-- Those who send the ms. back, with some variant on, "I did what you said. That means you'll buy it now, right?" (Sometimes it does, but the fraction is, in exact statistical terms, poofarooney.)
-- Those who are outraged that . . . well, you know what they're outraged at. (In my experience, the poets got the most outraged, but I worked at one of the few sf magazines in those antetelarian days that accepted verse at all.)

The "well, but" argument (at least, the immediate one), to the effect that "wouldn't you rather just have everybody in the third class, and all but the sensor ghosts in the second, go away?" is spiritually foreign to the goals of the job, and carnally* doesn't work. The slushpile is a Schrödinger litter box, where the ms. is both alive and dead; as long as it's out there, somewhere, the wave function springs eternal. And everybody knows that there'll be another editor next week, because . . . uh, ask Jacob Weisberg, I'm sure he can tell you everything about it.

Back to the point, when the most basic hardware suggestions, like Your Artistic Freedom Does Not Extend to the Page Format, produce paroxysmal rage, suggesting that the novice read Slushkiller, tainted as it is by actual working members of the conspiracy (not to mention Peter Lorre-accented effete snobs like me) would only confirm what the earnest neonovelist already believes, and that's never a tough thing to confirm.

Now, the Flying Spaghetti Monster knows I have a cheese-deficient raviolus, so there are sure to be cogent dissents. This was just, well, you know.

*Another technical expression.

#107 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 09:01 AM:

I hear a lot of confusion between "you can't just verb" and "you just can't verb" these days, which is another distinction in emphasis.

That's not just a distinction in emphasis! It's a distinction; it's just not a distinction in emphasis.

See what I mean?

#108 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 10:05 AM:

(I think this thread wins my all-time lurker prize for "thread I have most frequently wanted to comment on, but not quite gotten up the nerve to do so on.")

On the phenomenon of bad writers not having the ability to recognize themselves as such: I think it's a long-recognized truism that the better one is at a skill, the more self-critical one tends to be. In combination with Patrick's observation that writers who shouldn't be taking this to heart are the ones slinking off -- let me cite the classic study in the field of inflated self-assessments: Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.

It's an interesting study, but the gist is this: people who honestly just suck at something but seem to think they're great -- well, they really DO think they're great. The same lack of skill making them hoover (or Roomba, to update the phrase) at their chosen field of endeavor is what they would need to properly judge themselves and find themselves lacking. And the worse they are, the less aware of it they tend to be. This explains much about the slush pile, and the fact that more talented writers read posts like this, decide they're dreadful, and slink off, while less talented or truly dreadful writers take it as a condemnation of all who are not supremely talented like them.

(Naturally, more talented writers read this study I've cited and decide it applies to them, while the slushiest of the slushies march on.)

Karl Kindred: Right on. (I'm a fellow writer's child, and great-niece of another to boot.) But don't you think it's better to be writing with a decent idea of what one's letting oneself in for? I do. I tried not writing, and it didn't work. I figure if I'm writing anyway, I may as well try to get published, as I believe our gracious hostess observed on a panel at Noreascon IV dedicated to why being a writer is a crap idea. It was a lovely panel.

Mary Dell, from waaay up there, and someone else who asked about length: I know I've heard authors mention that they tried selling shorts before books, but they just couldn't work effectively at shorter lengths and wound up selling novels first. I think people do have natural working lengths, or I hope so, because I know I've had a lot of personal rejections say a story "feels like YA" and/or "feels like a novel synopsis/first chapter of a novel/an idea which really would need a novel," and I'd like to think rejection comments that consistent mean something. (Especially given that I'm finishing up rewrites on a YA fantasy novel.)

#109 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 11:10 AM:

"Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments."

Does everything have to come around to the neenerconservatives?

#110 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 11:38 AM:

G. Jules - I believe incompetence itself stems from lack of accurate (or even honest) self-assessment. People who have accurate self-assesments notice their errors and fix them on a continuing basis. With writing quality this is a lifelong process. People who never self-assess never improve.

Hmm. A recent study also showed that depressed people actually have more accurate self-assessments than do non-depressed people. I wonder if that explains why so many writers are depressives?

#111 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 12:05 PM:

Mike -- do you really have a Peter Lorre accent? That would be really nice . . .

(I had a crush on young Peter Lorre as a teenager. No, really. He was in a movie called "Three Strangers" and in a version of "Crime and Punishment" and something else I can't remember at this distance and he was really really sweet in them)

#112 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 12:13 PM:

G. Jules,

Hearing Gene Wolfe talk about writing led to an epiphany for me. He told a few hundred of us, during a great evening at the Chicago Humanities Festival, "you shouldn't try to write and publish a novel until you've written and published short stories." [Emphasis mine]. When someone asked why, he said "because a lot of people can jump a one-foot ditch who can't jump a three-foot ditch, but there's nobody who can jump a three-foot ditch who can't jump a one-foot ditch." He also talked about how The Book of the New Sun was originally 3 volumes, with the 3rd volume being longer than the first two. His editor told him to write some more stuff and make it 4 volumes, so he wrote the hospital section, in which the characters tell stories to each other. Basically he wrote half a book at the request of his editor.

That's when it really clicked for me. If I'm going to call myself a writer, I should be able to write whatever the gig calls for. Yes, I believe people have natural lengths for their writing. And I'm pretty sure that mine is about 500 pages. But I've written all kinds of bizarre stuff over the years, because I was being paid to do it. I wrote a manual on internal audit procedures for a large corporation, years ago, and I never once thought about whether it felt like my true voice. I just focused on making it useful and readable.

So now I'm using the same approach with fiction, and reminding myself over and over that it's work, rather than a sacred expression of my psyche. My short stories are starting to feel like short stories, instead of truncated novels, because I'm learning to write to the strengths of the form, instead of letting my natural inclinations lead me off into the tall grass.

This may not work for everyone, but it cleared my blocks right up, and made writing fiction fun again after years of feeling limited by my particular strengths. I do think at its root, writing is a talent, and you either have it or you don't. But now I believe that success in any particular form is a skill that you build like any other.

#113 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 12:18 PM:

Lucy -- only the usual, horribly* affected one. In fact, there doesn't appear to be any paprika at all in my gene pool, tragic as it may be . . . but that's another thread.

*And not in a good, Warner Brothers, way, but in a bad, AIP one.

#114 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 12:23 PM:

Gene Wolfe is wrong. The difference between a novel and a short story is not just length, and the ability to write one does not necessarily correspond in any meaningful way to the ability to write the other.

#115 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 12:59 PM:

Then why do editors want to hear about short story publications when you're subbing a novel?

I don't take his "ditch" analogy as being about the length of the work so much as the size of the task.

#116 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 01:09 PM:

I believe I'm a competent writer. I believe I'm an incompetent writer of fiction. I don't want to put in the necessary work, time, energy to become a competent writer of fiction. I may have a novel in me, but it's not likely ever to come out.

It's just not worth it. Buying lottery tickets is a better path to monetary stability.

#117 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 01:11 PM:

Mike:
"Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments."

Does everything have to come around to the neenerconservatives?

Howl!!

Anyway, to my surprise, I have finished a short novel (or the first half of a longer one), and have at least one other one perculating away. You never know what might happens when you're unemployed and aren't hopelessly worried about getting a new job in the short term.

I'm trying to sell the first novel, but, I'm a realist so I know I don't have enough objectivity about it to know if it's saleable. But I think getting in the habit of writing fiction regularly may help me write a saleable one in the future.

#118 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 01:12 PM:

I think this speaks for itself -- it's what I got in my spam folder this morning:

ADV We will sell your book, even if you published withanother company!
Bookman Marketing is the only company in the publishingindustry contacting bookstore owners and selling books.
Whether you published your book print on demand or with asubsidy publisher, we will sell it for you. (And no, you don't have toreprint or republish with us.)

(I think the lack of spaces between some words is an artifact of the message being originially in html and my stubborn refusal to enable html in my mail reader)

#119 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 01:12 PM:

Taylor is actually a fascinating writer. I've read two of his books, and I think that what he's doing is trying to write Charles Williams' versions of the Narnia books -- gnostic Christian children's novels. It's not surprising that it would take a very special editor to see the value of these books, which I enjoyed.

#120 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 01:13 PM:

Oh yeah, and I should add that my husband is strongly in the "QUIT ENCOURAGING NEW PEOPLE TO WRITE" camp.

Unless the person is the next Ian McDonald or Susanna Clarke...

#121 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 01:56 PM:

Tom -- That's what I don't get -- Taylor already is a published author, while most of the people who think that publishing is an elite club are the ones who make editors bang their heads against walls. Why is he spreading this idea when he of all people should know better?

#122 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 01:57 PM:

Oh -- and am I the only person who thinks of the movie Alien when I hear the phrase "Everyone has a novel in them"?

#123 ::: Chris S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 02:00 PM:

The best and hardest-working authors I know tend to have the simultaneous understandings that:
A)their story is the Best Thing Ever and everyone will adore it; and
B)they are but small specks in a large world which owes them nothing, with as much (or little) chance of success as the person next in line.

Moreover, they don't see these attitudes as contradictory. Opposite, sure, but not mutally exclusive. Problems arise when one attitude is not leavened by other.

#124 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 02:03 PM:

Good news to report:

Encyclopaedia Brittanica is suing PublishAmerica for trademark infringement. Visit URL http://www.courts.com/FedAlert/reportAug22/encyclopaedia.htm to see the filing. However, most of the details require special permission to view, so don't expect to see anything more than that page, so visit John Savage's site at http://www.authorslawyer.com to see more than that.

#125 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 02:06 PM:

My cat had a novel inside her once, but the vet said that we should check her litter box and that she'd probably be OK on her own. Mostly she ate my homework, but only when she was annoyed at me.

OK, pre-emptive apologies offered...

#126 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 02:17 PM:

JMF: "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments."

Well, contemporary corporate culture discourages critical self-assessments. Self-criticism is seen as weakness to be exploited and summons the sharks as surely as a bucket of warm chum. In the workplace at least, only a fool doesn't produce an inflated self-assessment.

The real problem starts when you believe your own public self-assessments. Lots of emperors with new clothes or their own design out there...

#127 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 02:39 PM:

Xopher writes:

That's not just a distinction in emphasis! It's a distinction; it's just not a distinction in emphasis.

See what I mean?

Oh.

#128 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 03:25 PM:

Mary,

I think it's because the editors know that, on average, writers of short stories can write novels. They may be much, much better at one or the other, but knowing a novelist is capable of writing publishable short stories puts them a ways up the heap. How the editors find those who can write novels but not short stories is a real good question.

#129 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 04:12 PM:

Mary Dell:

Someone capable of writing a short story publishable by a major magazine in its genre is already known to have bypassed ALL of the lower levels of the Slushkiller list. They can be assumed to have not only the basic tools, but several above that. They can be assumed to be able to create characters, situations, and resolutions; they can be assumed to be able to do enough basic research to keep the average person from shrieking at the howlers. If the person is using their writing to work through things better dealt with with a therapist, then at least they can tell a good story simultaneously.

There's no guarantee that they're able to sustain a story through 350 pages. However , even if only the top 1% of submissions is published, I imagine the slush reader likes knowing that the submission is likely to be in the top 5% ahead of time. It softens them to expect something good, or at least restfully not-bad.

Lisa Goldstein: Oh -- and am I the only person who thinks of the movie Alien when I hear the phrase "Everyone has a novel in them"?

Kind of, but the bit that comes to mind is the spoof scene in (IIRC) Spaceballs.

"Hello my baby, hello my darling..."

#130 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 04:55 PM:

I didn't get the hang of writing short stories until I'd sold half a dozen novels.

Editors may or may not care about short story credits, but if they do it's as Lenora Rose says -- it demonstrates that the author isn't totally illiterate or clueless. It may mean he already has a small fan following.

It doesn't mean he can write novels, but it does mean it's at least worth taking a look.

#131 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 05:03 PM:

Xopher: Good point. It could turn into a nice little feedback loop, couldn't it? Inflated self-assessments make people less self-critical, which means they don't work as hard to develop their skills, which means they don't develop the skills to judge their own abilities, which leads to inflated self-assessments, which leads to -- well, madness, if nothing else. (And slush. Lots and lots of slush.)

Mary Dell: I think that, like everything else in writing, it's a YMMV situation. And I'm certainly not arguing against writing short stories at first, but rather observing that it doesn't have to be the only path. At one con I remember Tamora Pierce said she had the opposite experience -- that she'd tried the short story thing, but it wasn't until the novels that she hit her stride and made her first (novel-length) sale. Her short story sales followed after that. *shrug* There's room for all sorts of different paths.

#132 ::: Madeline Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 06:46 PM:

That's not just a distinction in emphasis! It's a distinction; it's just not a distinction in emphasis.

Xopher: I think I love you.

#133 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 07:24 PM:

It could turn into a nice little feedback loop, couldn't it? Inflated self-assessments make people less self-critical, which means they don't work as hard to develop their skills, which means they don't develop the skills to judge their own abilities, which leads to inflated self-assessments, which leads to -- well, madness, if nothing else.

The expression I've used for this particular type of madness is delusions of adequacy. I wish I could claim that as original, but I got it from a friend.

#134 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 08:07 PM:

It isn't enough to notice the self-assessment problem.

As I mentioned above, I'm an unpublished author, who is about 70,000 words into his first real attempt at writing a [fantasy genre] novel. It would be easier to do the self-assessment if I could find a better way of acquiring useful feedback than by pressing copies of my manuscript into the hands of five or six reliable friends and asking them to be brutally honest with me about their reaction to it.

I'm aware of at least one or two alternatives. I'll probably use critters.org when I have a complete first draft. When Usenet was still worthwhile, I could post my writing exercises and get decent feedback on them, but all that stuff went right into the public domain the second I clicked [SEND]. Some of my friends are using livejournal.com for that purpose now— I might try that. Still, I wish there was a good way for an unpublished author with limited resources to test the actual market for their work without damaging their rights to the material in the process.

Does anybody have any other helpful advice on this subject? There's gotta be something out there, and I just don't know about it yet.

#135 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 08:41 PM:

Workshops, like Clarion or Viable Paradise. Some of the best feedback you'll ever get, from all I hear. Not always pleasant, though.

#136 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 09:29 PM:

I just want to note, it's a good thing neither Terry Pratchett nor Jo Rowling were there to hear Gene Wolfe say you've just *got* to write and publish short stories before you move on to novels.

Also, two things about slush. Someone mentioned the writer who addressed his query letter simply to "Dear Editor." I know, you're not supposed to do that. You're supposed to do research, and figure out to whom you're sending your manuscript, and address it accordingly. But you know what bugs the shit out of me? Out of all the rejections I've received, I'd say 90% of them are addressed "Dear Author." My name is on the letter. My name is on the envelope. There would be no research involved. I know, I know, we get "hundreds of stories every day." So? Writers get hundreds of rejections over their lifetimes.
Just annoys me.

SASEs: Of course, I always include the SASE, but I only include the business-sized one, for the letter. Because, I figure, if the editors/agents are going to take it on, they'll keep the pages. And if they're not, what am I going to do with them? I already *have* them.

#137 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 10:23 PM:

Writers get hundreds of rejections over their lifetimes.

See this.

#138 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2005, 11:20 PM:

Before we move on, I'd like to thank John M. Ford for The Word For the Day:

"antetelarian".

It'll probably be a long wait before I can drop it into a conversation, but it's nice to have.

#139 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 05:38 AM:

I have 10,000 short stories inside of me, does that count for anything?

I actually had a novella inside of me that I got out, but somehow I don't think a story about Elvis Presley as a secret agent of an FBI rogue division, in a homosexual love affair with J. Edgar Hoover trying to stop a bad seed of the Mellon family from dropping a viral lsd-producing lifeform in las vegas' water supply, co-starring several reputed mob figures and Resorts International, a vampire Howard Hughes, and several of the old memphis mob as misogynistic, racist, murderers and dope addicts would be publishable.

Amazingly I had never heard of slash fiction until after I finished it.

#140 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 05:59 AM:

sorry about the comma problems in the previous comment. I have a headache right now and am not in the mood for good grammar.

#141 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 05:59 AM:

I've read stories that had much less publishable themes than that. Depends on how it was developed....

As David Hartwell says, "Don't reject your story! That's my job!"

#142 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 06:01 AM:

well the thing that makes me think it particularly unpublishable would be the legal ramifications. Especially as how Elvis Presley Enterprises would react.

#143 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 07:20 AM:

Chris S wrote:
The best and hardest-working authors I know tend to have the simultaneous understandings that:
A)their story is the Best Thing Ever and everyone will adore it; and
B)they are but small specks in a large world which owes them nothing, with as much (or little) chance of success as the person next in line.


Er wrong on the first count, Chris. Most hardworking authors I know think that what they have just produced is hardly a patch on what was originally in their heads. It is part of the reason we keep writing.

As Edith Wharton once said, quoting in French, but I don't DO French: "I dream of an eagle, I give birth to a hummingbird."

Jane

#144 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 07:56 AM:

Alex Cohen: See this.
Oh, God. Every single person who reinvents the "rejecting the rejection" rejection letter thinks they're a genius. Because, of course, no other writer in the history of publishing has ever been creative enough to come up with something like that.

#145 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 09:48 AM:

Delusions of adequacy. I like that. I like that a lot.

#146 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 09:52 AM:

Mary Dell, Will Entrekin, Karl Kendrick (et al): to (over?) simplify --you're sane, while people who toss around slurs like "mafia" are talking through their tinfoil hats. (That's not a professional observation, but I expect some of the many professionals on this list will correct if I've overdone it.)

On the side: when did "mafia" become a generic? Or was it always? -- IIRC it's an outside term, where the members said "Cosa Nostra".

Bill: our hostess has said that using singular pronouns with collectives that we see as singular is \not/ required. (I am not a historian of English; maybe she can expand on this?) That this is also a neat way out of gendered pronouns amuses us as it enrages Mallard Fillmore and his ilk.

#147 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 10:05 AM:

I've read stories that had much less publishable themes than that. Depends on how it was developed....

As David Hartwell says, "Don't reject your story! That's my job!"

Hmm, I've been rejected by a guy who claimed that I wouldn't like him if I REALLY knew him (this after a year of emails back and forth)...I told him he didn't have the RIGHT to decide what was good for ME, only for himself.

Funny, he didn't buy that argument. But I think you're right about stories nontheless.


#148 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 10:42 AM:

but did he worry you'd sue him?

#149 ::: Chris S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 12:08 PM:

Jane wrote: "Most hardworking authors I know think that what they have just produced is hardly a patch on what was originally in their heads."

Very true. Then there's the crippling sense of self-doubt, the 'everything I write is slime-covered lizard droppings' stage. But... and it's a big but... at the same time, there's also the feeling that the story is absolutely original, utterly wonderful, and needs telling. The former is in the head, the latter in the heart (or possibly vice versa).

A strange contradiction to be sure, but thankfully, writers are used to impossible things.

#150 ::: Stephen Sample ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 05:01 PM:
Bill: our hostess has said that using singular pronouns with collectives that we see as singular is \not/ required. (I am not a historian of English; maybe she can expand on this?)

I'm not a historian of English either, but I played one in college ^W^W^W^W was a linguistics major, and I've studied the evolution of English. So, without presuming to speak for Our Hostess, here's my take on the matter:

Since English (under the theory that 'they' is plural-only) doesn't have a third-person-singular pronoun that is not marked for gender, there isn't a clear way to refer to individuals who are presumably gendered, but for whom the gender is not known or not salient. So 'they' gets pressed into service as the most closely matching available pronoun. Indeed, many linguists and English historians would point out that 'they' has been used with a singular antecedent for at least 500 years, and so is fully grammatical in this use.

Currently, singular 'they' is much more common in speech than in formal writing, so some prescriptivists argue that its use is a mark of illiteracy. However, there are fairly widespread examples of the singular 'they' in the literary canon at least as far back as Shakespeare, so that argument strikes me as unconvincing.

There are also parallels in English with 'you', which started out as plural-only, but now has both singular and plural uses; and within some Southern US dialects, with 'y'all', which is currently undergoing a similar shift. German has a similar situation with 'Sie', though the cases aren't really parallel.

I can't think of any English pronouns other than 'they' and 'you' (and 'y'all', in some dialects) which have both singular and plural uses, but the phenomenon may be more widespread than these two cases. Does anyone know of further examples? Teresa? Xopher?

#151 ::: rindawriter ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 09:03 PM:

It amazes me how much time everybody, writers and publishers alike, seems to spend on debating esoteric issues like this...just amazes me...

#152 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 09:26 PM:

But rindawriter, it's fun. And besides, we need something to take our minds off that other thread over there.

#153 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 10:56 PM:

I can't think of any English pronouns other than 'they' and 'you' (and 'y'all', in some dialects) which have both singular and plural uses, but the phenomenon may be more widespread than these two cases. Does anyone know of further examples? Teresa? Xopher?

Hmm. I'll think about it. I did know a woman back in college whose first-person-singular pronoun was apparently "most people," but that had no plural use.

#154 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 11:01 PM:

How about a movement to press "one" into service as a third-person singular gender-neutral pronoun. Right now "one" is afflicted with a sort of Jeeves-like stuffiness - I say it's time to set "one" free of its cultural baggage and let it let its hair down!

One could do worse than to use "one".

#155 ::: Justine ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2005, 11:25 PM:

No, one really could not do worse than to use "one". It is to gag.

#156 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2005, 12:52 AM:

Theirs up, ones down.

#157 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2005, 12:54 AM:

There is the Australian use of "yous" as a second-person plural. "Yous blokes". (It may be found elsewhere, but I haven't observed it. My experience is limited.) Always said to be very incorrect, for some value of "incorrect" that means something like "not done in my particular part of the tribe."

#158 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2005, 01:06 AM:

Using "one" is a f*ck of a lot better than using "you". I don't like being told what I can and cannot think, what I have and have not experienced. Which is how "you" has been used on this thread, and elsewhere. I disagree with you, Justine.

#159 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2005, 01:31 AM:

Justine,
In the midwest, the custom is for a person to approach 3rd person abstract this way in informal settings. "One" suggests enough formality to distract a person from what is being said, if the rest of the setting is informal. "A person," implies "a person like you or me," without being as intrusive as to speculate about what "you" think or want (as irritates Tom.)

#160 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2005, 02:12 AM:

There is the Australian use of "yous" as a second-person plural. "Yous blokes". (It may be found elsewhere, but I haven't observed it.)

Mister Runyon has youse guys (and dolls) faded.

#161 ::: Jeff VanderMeer ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2005, 04:02 PM:

The problem with most writing advice is that it's anecdotal. Gene Wolfe is right *and* Lawrence Watt-Evans is right. The separate advice they impart works for each of them. It may or may not work for you, depending on the type of writer you are and your temperament.

For me, the entire novel is not *inside*, just the core of it, that which is personal or autobiographical. The rest *accumulates* around me as I write because the novel I'm working on soaks up the world as I experienced it before writing the novel and how I experience it during writing the novel. In some odd way, everything in my environment becomes part of the novel, transformed by it. I forget to shave and wear the same pants for a week and walk around soaking up everything. The way light falls across a sidewalk. The particular way someone in a park holds their arm as they read a book. Stray lines of overheard dialogue. Etc. This interlocks with whatever personal aspect I bring to the novel.

You can't entertain the reader without entertaining yourself, so it is, in a sense, about the writer...and about the reader. And writing should be hard but also fun--it should be fun to sit down at the typewriter and write.

Is it this way for every writer? No. This is just my anecdotal evidence. And the key to teaching creative writing is to take those things about technique that are relatively objective and then sussing out each student's "type" and finding the anecdotal evidence that will help that beginning writer the most.

Re that self-published writer. He's delusional. But a lot of us are delusional in the writing game. It's just a question of what we delude ourselves about.

Jeff

P.S. I think this is my "guess what--the sky is blue and the grass is green" post.

#162 ::: Tiger Spot ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2005, 04:58 PM:

bryan: Whether or not it's publishable, I'd kinda like to read it. (Vampire Howard Hughes? How can one resist?)

#163 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2005, 02:15 PM:

Well, I do not have a novel inside of me. I remember making that realization some time ago.

I have an inner critic / reviewer / literary analyst.

I co-author larps, which may be as much work as writing novels. The large one I've been working on for a decade almost certainly is, and I've recently decided that I and I ALONE will do the current rewrite. But larps are not novels.

I run regular rps, and there's a lot of work and creativity there, but rpgs are (generally) not novels. They may get turned into novels, and I have had to explain to my father that, no, I could not simply file the serial numbers off my long running game and have something publishable.

Nah, I like looking at things from all sorts of angles, figuring out what makes them tick, and discoursing at length about all of it.

-Lisa Padol

#164 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 04:12 PM:

I'm a Canadian English teacher in Athens, and many of my colleagues are British. I once came upon a sentence like "Everyone does not have a novel inside them" in a textbook we were using. I objected that it meant, "No one has a novel inside them", and that it should be "Not everyone has a novel inside them".

None of my colleagues could see any difference. (All of my colleages could not see any difference.) I've concluded it must be an idiomatic difference between UK and North American English.

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