8.06.2005

The middle of the bell curve...

Miss Snark is catching up on her reading today. Query letters abound, vacation looms, Miss Snark wants to leave a tidy desk just in case Jann Wenner
Mr MomWenner comes a'calling.

Mr Wenner aside, Miss Snark turns to the slush pile.

Not quite as many crimes against the written form in today's mail.
Some good material in fact. Good, but not good enough.
Not publishable, not marketable..nada.

Thinking of the posted rejection letters here

and the entire blog devoted to "not right for us" here at 756 Agents

Miss Snark notes that for writers of novels there's very little space for the "just for fun" writer.

Think of musicians who play for love not money. Church choir members. Garage band guys. Amateur orchestras and bands.

Or artists: Painters and sculptors at local galleries and shows.

Filmmakers who make movies for friends or families.

There's no way to be an "amateur" novelist really. No real place to just write novels for fun. Short story writers and poets have a multitude of outlets (few of which pay worth spit but they're there).

I have no suggestions for how to change that.

I can't even write to these queriers and say "this is good but not good enough" cause all they do is write back with MORE stuff that's not good enough.

I have to admire these writers. Theirs is a quest with a certain nobility, dreaming of characters and plots that might never go beyond pages read by a very few.

I have some respect for people like that, always hoping the next one will be the one. Always hoping someone will share their vision. It evokes the hero motif don't you think? Toiling in the wilderness?

Amateur didn't used to be a dismissive word. It used to mean ladies but mostly gentlemen who were devoted to something for love rather than lucre.

I would venture to say most published novelists don't write for money, but to get something published, money enters and controls the equation. Miss Snark is not an amateur agent nor is anyone in this business. But we can only take on the very top of the Bell curve, the five percent or so who are writing publishable, marketable work.

Is there a place for the next group? the 80-95%ers who aren't bad at all...just not publishable, and not marketable.

I wish I had an answer, but I don't. Do you?

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

I believe it's called 'E-pub'.

:)

Anonymous said...

I wish there was a way the 80-85 percent had their turn. But you know what? If writing/filmaking/music gets people up in the morning with a smile on their face, it can't be a bad thing. Isn't it better to have a goal and working towards it better than sitting on your butt and doing nothing? Even if the person doesn't achieve their goal, they would have had a great learning experience - and you can't buy that. Admittedly it creates more work for agents and publishers, but doesn't everyone deserve a shot?

Anonymous said...

Honestly, no. I'd agree that everyone deserves a chance to try. But a shot at publication, absolutely not. Some people just can't write. Period. Pick five manuscripts from anyone's slush pile. Go ahead, i dare you. If you don't want to run away screaming and gouge your eyes out, you're insane. Yes, I am saying editors and agents probably are, on some level, insane. It's the only way they keep that job. God bless 'em.

Anonymous said...

Sure: keep rejecting them.

Anonymous said...

I'm with e-pub up there. If there weren't so many amateur writers with mountains of confidence in themselves, publishing novels online would never have been an issue.

Anonymous said...

POD -- definitely. Friends and family members are excited to get a published novel, even an unreadable one.

Anonymous said...

A number of your amateurs end up at Publish America. I think that says a lot... mostly that PA has figured out how to profit from that 85% by posing as a real commercial publisher who tells them "we're going to take a chance on your book" gives 'em a dollar and moves on to the next one in line.

I wasn't pubished by PA but a number of my friends were. They weren't ready for publication and should have spent time improving their writing instead of believing they'd 'make it' because of PA's line.

kitty said...

Look at all the people here named Anonymous. Did y'all hail from the same gene pool?

kitty said...

Is there a place for the next group? the 80-95%ers who aren't bad at all...just not publishable, and not marketable.

Are you certain that it isn't publishable or marketable? If there exists a healthy market for Elvis paintings on velvet and Patterson's crap, why not the 80-95%ers? Maybe the publishers tried to target the wrong market. Hicks, cretins and lowlifes buy stuff too.

Christine Norris said...

Ah yes, Publish America, catch basin scam for those who haven't yet learned how real publishing works. The shame of that is that they take a good book as well as a bad one. I've read a few post -PA books by authors they've snared, and at least one excellent. That poor soul's other book was trapped by PA until they released them from their contract. In the meantime, she found a small publisher and published the book I read and enjoyed.

It's like fishing with a big net - you get the dolphins with the catfish.

M.J. said...

I've always thought about this issue: painters, sculptors, musicians, filmakers, actors - every kind of artist other than writers has an outlet for their "amateur" efforts. It frustrated the hell out of me before I was published and it was one of the decieding factors to self publish my first novel. I used to go around saying, Indy filmakers not only get to indulge but get a whole festival for their "amatuer" efforts.

I'm sure the author of Eragon and Zane, and Anais Nin and D.H.Lawrence and Virgina Woolfe and e.e. Cummings and a lot of othe "amateurs" felt annoyed too.

You know sometimes people are wrong, even big publishers, even wonderful agent.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but there's a difference between writers fifty years ago setting up shop in their basements to crank out their own work and the thousands upon thousands of amateur writers today taking their manuscripts to companies which have the reputation (and the proof) of publishing just anything.

If you're going to design your own imprint and do it ALL yourself, then that's the true indie spirit- you'd still have tons of trouble promoting your work, but literary journals and zines do it all the time- most of the best ones have their humble beginnings in someone's basement on some state's arts grant.

However, if you're not doing the research you should, or giving your manuscript a fighting chance the traditional way (the way that gets more books in people's hands, which is supposedly what you're trying to do as a publishing writer), and you go to a vanity press, then you can expect not to be taken seriously- unless you sell really well and the agents and editors hunt YOU down.

Frankly, the odds of that happening are as good as your self-published book being studied in uni courses years from now alongside To The Lighthouse and Sons and Lovers.

Anonymous said...

Hey Kitty! :-)

Miss Snark kind of set the standard for anonymity! I'm going with the default because I'm not trying to create a personality or anything- I just want to throw out some ideas and get some answers.

Plus (just to show you what a chicken shit I am), I never know how much time my own agent has on his hands, or whether he spends that time searching blogs...

I'm sure, however, that I'm the only one hailing from my gene pool.

Anonymous said...

Kitty: Was that meant as a "meow", litter, or just plain catiness?

kitty said...

Ah-ha! But Miss Snark did give herself a name! At least make up a name to distinguish yourself from the other anons. Like "Gutless in Seattle: :) Be brave; set yourself apart from the homogenized anons.

Madame X said...

What irritates me about the rash of vanity publishing (which it IS regardless of the clothing it wears) is that it encourages people to have their first work put out in the world when it is not ready and quite possibly when it will never be ready because they cannot write.

My god, I remember my early stuff which, unfortunately for those who knew me during those years, was godawful. The nascent talent was there, but eeech!, so was a lot of ridiculously amateur writing. I don't have any of it since I don't like looking at my penicillin- producing leftovers. But if the cheap vanity route had been around then, I shudder to think what might have happened and where I would have stopped.

Why is it that people who want to write think their first efforts deserve publication and readers? Would they think their first Chopsticks recital good enough for Carnegie Hall? Would they think their first sculpture or painting good enough to be found at the Louvre? If your answer is "yes," please excuse me while I ... run screaming from the room.

P.S. I am a professional book reviewer.

Comments from the peanut gallery said...

Ok, I'm one of the few people who have their first book published by a commercial publisher. I mean, the first book I finished, not the first I wrote. God no. But I worked really hard to make it worth reading - crit groups, rewrites, beta readers, the works. I learned tons in that time. Are my subsequent books better? Of course - artists should always strive to be better and not stagnate.

I just don't think everyone has the innate ability to write and I still don't understand why they think they do? Do these same people also think they can play for the NFL or win the Nobel Peace Prize? Sigh.

AvidReader said...

I have worked for several years in small press publishing and have to agree with Madame X on several points. Too many people expect too much from their (often weak) efforts. Sadly, in earlier days, I was in that category myself. Most people seem to think "I speak English, therefore I'm a writer." As if knowing the language is the only qualification.

Perhaps because English is one of those core courses -- we all learn how to construct a sentence -- we think we're professionals. Sometimes I wish there were technical impediments to writing. Maybe then people would have more respect for the effort and skill it requires. Do we all expect to be Olympic/professional divers because we can bounce off a board? Do we all expect to be commercial pilots because we played with model airplanes?

As for venues for the 80 - 95% who aren't publishable -- open mikes are great for this, as are community newspapers, and writing groups or workshops. I just don't want to suffer through another open mike myself. Though I do hope that those who get up and read find the experience fulfilling.

Actually, I find it sad when people can only be happy with their writing if they are paid and/or accepted for publication. There are so many other benefits.

However, having said that, I hope to be one of the 5% myself! And I'm willing to work for it.

Anonymous said...

"Sometimes I wish there were technical impediments to writing."

Dear avidreader,

There are many "technical impediments" to good writing; that's why it's known as a craft.

Richard said...

Of course the dirty little secret of many of the literary small presses is that many of their works of fiction and poetry are subsidized by the authors. My last book was published only because I turned over to the press $5,000 from a state arts council fellowship in fiction. The book did manage to get some nice reviews -- from PW, American Book Review, and various gay magazines -- and has sold enough copies that I've made some of my "investment" back in fairly substantial royalties.

It seems fair to me. Like the authors you are discussing, I am an amateur and a hobbyist. It was a good enough experience that I am now trying to find a press who will let me subsidize my next story collection and avoid the Publish America/XLibris/iUniverse black hole.

Anonymous said...

As one of those trying to claw her way into the top 5%, I still find I'm writing publishable stuff but not marketable stuff. Done before. Isn't everything "done before?" So it's up to the writer to put a fresh spin on it, but apparently my spins aren't fresh enough. So far.

pina-la-nina said...

"Is there a place for the next group? the 80-95%ers who aren't bad at all...just not publishable, and not marketable. I wish I had an answer, but I don't. Do you?"

But dear Miss Snark, you do have an answer, as do I. We blog. C'est tout.

Another Author said...

An editor once told me that she gets a lot of material across her desk that is good, she can't find fault with it, but it just isn't "good enough" -- and so she passes. I think this is where "voice" and subjective opinion come in -- otherwise, how can one major publishing house pass up a book that another major publishing house is willing to pay big bucks for?

Considering the quantity of books published today, someone though they were "good enough" to be published.

W. S. Cross said...

It's interesting that "quality" becomes a cudgel for beating up things we don't like. Everyone agrees, right, that "American Idol" is dreadful, so we don't have to take it seriously. And books that sell 1,000 copies are "worth it" if they win a prize or a cult following.

But if publishing is a commercial venture, then shouldn't a book with a pre-sold following be worth publising, if nothing else to support the really good stuff that won't sell?

When I was at Yale working in the book store, the manager gave me a tour: "here is the literature section. We have one because of the popular fiction and best sellers. But the rent gets paid by the ski department upstairs."

I'll be happy to be a pair of skis to some truly qualified writer whose work will never sell.

Laraqua said...

Speaking of self-publishing and POD, how come big-name writers don't do it? They could keep the profit, book stores would stock them and people would flock to it. Imagine the next Harry Potter or Stephen King as a POD ... sure, the publishing advances for them are high but surely keeping a lot higher percentage of the royalties would be better.