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.