Monday, March 27, 2006

Why Can't I Do That?

“Why is it that you say my opening is slow, when I can pick up ten books at just about any bookstore with slow openings?”

The answer to this one includes a real-life field trip we took to our local library. As we were leaving (okay, it was a short field trip), I picked up a new book by Elmore Leonard, read the first few lines, and said to Sharene, “Now this is how a novel should begin.” She, in turn, picked up the book right next to it, read for a few seconds, and said, “Read this opening.”

Even though it was by another well-known, multi-published author, it was awful. So if both books were written by famous authors, why did one opening wow its reader and the other ramble onward with paragraph after paragraph of nothingness? The answer is very simple: Multi-published authors do not have to write openings that hook readers in less than a minute. They have well-established audiences who buy their books on name recognition only. As an example, many people will buy James Frey’s new book, “My Friend Leonard,” even after all the controversy. Why? Because his first book sold over a million copies and even if half of its readers were turned off by the whole scandal, that’s still a 500,000-book sales potential and equals a well-established audience, not to mention a nice return for its publisher.

The bottom line is, name recognition sells books and because of this, those with names can take risks in their openings, can use any technique they wish, and take chances of all kinds.

Can a new author do this? The answer is usually no. An exception would be in creating something new and different that hits the market at exactly the right time. The DaVinci Code and Harry Potter are great examples of these successes. Is it wise and prudent to risk doing this? Of course it is—if you want to be rejected by everyone under the sun. Innovation always has risk. Good advice, however, is if you want to be published, stick to the tried and true at the beginning. Let the basic writing—characters, language, etc.—speak for itself. Keep your story and your technique simple. Risk should be reserved for that new twist you need to put on an old story. Save innovations in technique until you are an established author with a sizable following, then go for it and have fun with it.


CortniQW said...

This explains some of those cryptic comments in my rejections from publishers. It never occurred to me. I now look at my book in a different way. Thanks.

DanStrohschein said...

Noteriaty means a lot in publishing, as it does with just about any industry. What I think is funny is that reviews and critiques, even by agents, are subjective to the person. One person might think a beginning is slow, while another thinks the same ending is just the perfect pace.

The advice given to me has always been - write what your heart wants, and find the agent that fits it, not the other way around. I guess it depends on if you are writing to write, or writing to be published. I don't think, however, that the two are mutually exclusive.

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

I think I spend more time refining my opening chapter than the rest of the book.