Saturday, September 03, 2011

Tough Questions.

"If you don't know what you've written or don't write well then maybe you shouldn't write for publication."

I can imagine that someone reading this statement would ask what gives me the authority to judge whether writing is good or bad. That would be a fair inquiry. I would argue that after many years in this business, I can pretty much tell by just reading a query letter whether someone writes well or not. By writing well, I'm speaking generally as to whether the work would meet basic writing standards; those established by high schools and colleges universally.

If a query rambles and is disorganized, it's fair to assume that the author's novel or non-fiction piece will ramble and be disorganized. Also, if there are many grammar and punctuation errors in the query, chances are the work will also have these problems. I've tested this theory many times and can truthfully say that I'm usually not wrong in this assumption.

Some also believe that it's the publisher's responsibility to make things right in a manuscript and that edits and revisions are what royalty splits pay us to do. In some cases this is correct. As many will testify, I go to extremes to help authors fix what's wrong with their work, but I will only offer this kind of help if I believe the author has the talent to do a major edit. After all, as an editor I can only help up to a point and I quit when the novel becomes more my writing than the author's. If I have to go beyond that point, then I might as well ask to be a co-author or just write my own novel.

The bottom line in all of this is that a person must know if he writes well enough to be published before he submits his work to publishers. How does one know what's wrong when he receives a rejection that says the work is too literary or not commercial enough? First of all, these two statements mean about the same thing. Literary works are not very commercially viable because fewer readers read literary novels. Commercial fiction, on the other hand, usually holds to tight genre standards. Yes, genres can be mixed and the novel still fit a particular genre; however, the main genre must be the driving force for this to be the case. In other words, mystery novels can have romance, suspense, and even fantasy mixed in but the main driving force is the mystery, or the whodunnit (we don't know who did the dirty deed until the MYSTERY is solved).

How well do you write? How do you know? Do you know what you've written? These are good questions to ask yourself before submitting your work. If you can't answer them or are unsure, you probably won't get the positive response you're seeking. Taking a minute or two now to evaluate your work can save you lots of time, stress, and rejection later. Know what you've written and write it well.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate this advice. I am, however, highly amused that in a post cautioning against submitting a query containing errors in punctuation, spelling and word usage, there is a lulu in paragraph five. It makes me wonder how many wonderful novels have been rejected by editors based on a stray comma in a query letter! people make mistakes, even writers, and it would seem, even ebook publishers!

Ampichellis Ebooks said...

As we’ve mentioned a number of times,we write these posts quickly and so there might be mistakes. It’s a blog post, not a dissertation.

We’ve also mentioned a number of times that we don’t reject on simple GMP errors unless the book is filled with so many that it’s a distraction and pulls attention away from the story. Many agents and editors do reject on simple errors because that’s how they operate. Others say they do and really don't.

I think people get confused when we ask them to follow the standards taught in high school and colleges because they think that only grammar is taught in those places. The truth is that they teach much more, including sentence variation, pacing, the rhythm of language, etc.

Don’t confuse our desire to keep writers from distracting readers from their stories through sloppy writing technique with the pompous, know-it-all attitude that pervades certain parts of the industry. They are not one and the the same.

Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff as always.
As a writer, I find there are far too many folks out there supporting what I think are a large number of *cough* hacks who should stop writing now.

There are too many people crying from the treetops that you can succeed in writing you just have to persevere and keep writing! When in all good conscience, a bad writer will probably always be a bad writer. And they waste their time in this endeavor when they could be actually doing something worthwhile with their lives. (yes, yes, this should be "he" or "she" not "they" but for the sake of brevity)

And here's the part where someone tosses out, "What if your writing is the sucky kind?"
That's where I think the line gets drawn.

You can kind of tell if you're at least a decent writer from critique groups, either online or in person, and if you're getting any bites in the market. So often I read people's writing, and I can tell right off if they're any good (I think most of us can). And try to offer up constructive criticism. But often, when I get their revision or a new piece, it still shows the same level of suck.