anghara (anghara) wrote,

Addressing a few writerly issues...

From a message board I frequent, from a poster who sounds new (at least I haven't seen the name before) and whom I will leave anonymous for obvious reasons:

is everyone a potentual writer?

Is it jus me or r there many would-be writers out there, it occuered to me that many people could think up a good story and be a good enouth writer to get it published but many do not have the connexions needed am I right.

Punctuation and spelling left intact from the original post.

Yes, I realise that this was posted on a chat forum. But - and I cannot emphasise this enough - it is not a cellphone, these are not this poster's buddies, and the apparent inability to cope with basic spelling and punctuation makes me think that this is someone who is EITHER very young OR has drunk of the sour grapes with a rejection or two of their deathless prose under their belts and convinced that they were rejected because of a lack of "connexions" and not for any other reason *at all*.

I've said it before, and I've been called arrogant for saying it, but I'll say it again. Publication is not a right. It's a privilege. It's a privilege you work hard for.

Sure, there's a heap of luck involved. The right place, the right time, PRECISELY the right editor, these all do make a difference - but all that presupposes, in my own mind, a submission that is literate in the most basic of ways - and while it is barely conceivable that someone who cannot spell "pontential" or "enough" or know where to put a full stop or a question mark (yes I know I'm being harsh on the original poster, but HONESTLY! Did they have a basic grade-school education? Have they ever READ anything?) can have a story that's scintillating enough for a publisher to take on the task of rendering it intelligible to actual, you know, readers - but most publishers get snowed under by such a large number of manuscripts that it is unlikely that they will want to bother. They might not find anythign quite as scintillating in the slush pile, but they might find something more workaday which will require considerably less investment of time and personnel and STILL turn a profit.

And connections...? I'm sure that people working in publishing have plenty of bosom buddies or cousins and siblings and mothers and fathers and aunts and grandparents who desperately want to get published - but how many of those do you think made it to the bookstore shelves just because they "knew somebody"? If it were that prevalent, it would be a known thing. I know of one confirmed case - the wife of WIlbur Smith, the bestselling South African novelist, published one book (I don't know if she did any more) which was one of those rare things I handed back in to my newspaper book page editor and said "I can't review this" - by page 10 I was guessing not just the plot but the DIALOGUE that would come up on the next page, and you know, I wasn't wrong. I heard her interviewed on radio just after the book's publication, and one thing she said was somethign about "...our agent..." and I thought to myself, yeah, right, like Wilbur SMith's agent would kill the goose that laid the golden eggs and risk losing THAT client by saying something about the quality of the wife's writing - but that, in my years of being involved in the publishing trade, was the only case of trading on connections that I know of. I will freely admit that I knew people at Harper Collins New Zealand BEFORE my books were published by them, by virtue of having worked in the publishing industry with at least one of them previously and in NZ the publishing staff is a very incestuous little bunch, moving from house to house and everyone knows everyone else... but I have no doubt that, had my manuscripts not measured up, I would have been unceremoniously (if politely) bounced. As I had been before. As I will undoubtedly be again a few times in the future. NOTHING IS GUARANTEED. You get your feet on a rung of this ladder, and you work your tail off just to stay there, never mind climb. Connections help very little. Of course, if you're Paris Hilton and already (in)famous... but those are not the kind of books our original poster had in mind, I do dare say.

So. Here's the rundown.

1. Write the best book you can.
2. Make sure it conforms to basic tenets of grammatical language and spelling rules - of course, if you're deliberately breaking rules ("Feersum Enjinn" or "Ulysses") feel free to ignore me but if you're just starting out people are far more likely to buy the story that you're marginally literate rather than that you're trying for some off-the-wall original idea. Save the "feersum enjinns" of your career for when you've actually GOT a career, and a readership which might be counted on to pick the thing up just because it has your name on it. KNOW THE RULES BEFORE YOU BREAK ANY.
3. Don't depend on connections to get it published. Send it out to likely prospects. Face the fact that it is likely to get rejected the first time, or the first twenty times, unless you get fortunate enough to fall into just the right publishing slot at precisely the correct eleventh hour - but don't count on that. There WILL be rejections. Live with that.
4. Never rest on your laurels. These days agents and publishers are interested in people who are pursuing careers, people who have more than one book in them; once you've sold the first one the onus is on you to keep writing, and keep writing well. You're only as good as your last book, in a lot of ways.
5. Do realise, once you ARE published, that there are many kinds of readers out there. Some of them are reviewers. Half of them will like your book, half of them will not. Brace yourself. There WILL be a bad review. Learn to live with it.
6. Understand the industry you're hoping to enter, in as much as that is possible, and in today's world of the Internet and bloggers and an avalanche of information it IS possible. DOn't send the wrong book to the wrong publisher. FInd out editors' names and address your stuff to PEOPLE not to positions. Submit what is asked for, in the format in which it has been asked for. Don't get cute, or precious, or try to stand out in the wrong ways. Your STORY carries your foray into the publishing oceans, not your ability to grandstand or to crack jokes. Know that it takes a long time for a book to be accepted, an even longer time for it to be prepared for publication, and possibly a year or longer before you get paid for it. And do realise that if YOU are paying for it you're sailing off into shoals and shallows - there are plenty of warning signs, ignore them at your peril.

Above all - if you're a writer, write. This is what you DO. But be prepared for teh possibility that other people may not agree with you that it's the best thing since sliced bread, people who have seen a great deal of sliced bread in their careers. You can submit the book elsewhere, and then elsewhere, and elsewhere and elsewhere again until you run out of places - and at least one writer I know did this and then, when he ran out of elsewheres, turned back to the beginning of the Writers Handbook and started again from the top, and got published that way. Also be prepared to realise at some point that THAT particular book is not publishable, for whatever reason, and if you are still determined to see your name in lights WRITE ANOTHER BOOK. Rinse and repeat, as necessary. Persevere. Nobody will ever believe in you the way you can believe in yourself. But for the love of God don't expect to step out onto the publishing stage and have the red carpet rolled out for you because your uncle is a copy editor, and don't nurse those sour grapes forever if that red carpet is NOT rolled out for you if your uncle is NOT one. The rejection slip is for the book,not for you. If you can write a better book, they might take it. But NOBODY can do that except you. There are no guarantees, in publishing or in life. You will get published, or you won't. It doesn't depend on your pedigree.

It depends on what's on your pages.

Being published is a privilege.

Now go earn it.

Tags: writing, writing rant

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