Love your writing, hate what you've written

Miss Snark, what is it with editors saying they love you, love your writing, want you, would like nothing more than to publish your next book, but don't like your current idea? I thought it would end once I had my first novel published, but it hasn't and I'm getting a bit sick of hearing this. Is it that they have a fixed idea in their heads that you should be writing something in particular, or is it just another one of those 'let her down gently' phrases?

This is the part of the industry I hate a lot. It happens more than you think. That it happens at all was really horrifying.

"I love your writing but don't like your current idea" can be just that. I've got a couple people who've queried me with probably three novels at this point now. Great writers. I just hate the book. It's usually too violent or icky or has subject matter that I find gross. So I say "love your writing, hate this book, got anything else" and they cough up another novel, and I read it. This can go on for donkey's years I think.

Now, the other part of that is when an author published a book and we're working on the second one. This only seems to happen when the second book is optioned of course. The writer goes completely off the rails and writes a book that is near and dear to his/her heart. It's completely different from the first novel. We all love the writing and hate the book. Trust me, these are NOT happy conversations and threats of death and dismemberment are whispered far and wide across the landscape.

My point of view (biased of course) is to suck it up and write something your agent loves. You probably should not follow this advice quite as closely as I want you too cause I have a greedy little mercantile heart and my reaction to "but this is my art" is "art fart, gimme something I can sell, the dog needs a new tam".

Yes publishing is a business but the product can't be measured by a simple yardstick. Would that it could; widget production sounds mighty good some days.

So, take cold comfort that you're a good writer. And don't plan for this "I love your writing but not your idea" to ever disappear. Sadly, it's a fact of life. And as things go, it's probably better than "you suck, go develop an interest in the aerodynamics of kites".


Anonymous said...

Miss Snark,

If the writing's really that good, and the publisher doesn't want it, couldn't the writer start shopping it around to smaller presses? Especially if the writer has already published one book? I'd rather give my undivided attention to the labor of love for a while, rather than immediately jump on churning out something that's more agent/editor-friendly. Obviously, it comes down to whether the writer wants a crack at a glamorous sell or the writer wants to see the book published, but if the writer feels strongly enough about the book they've written, they should give themselves some credit.

My first agent and I parted ways because he didn't like the second book I wrote, and I believed in it enough to stick by it. Luckily, there were other people in the industry who believed in it as much I did.

I can see how this aspect of your job would tear at your heart/stomach. It's a reminder of how subjective the book-buying biz really is.

Maxwell said...

Sometimes those books get out too. There's a sci-fi writer whose work I've enjoyed - John Barnes. He's got a lot of clever alternate history stories that are a fun and thought provoking. So, I'm minding my own business, working my way through his body of work when I hit 'Kaleidoscope Century' which gets into subject matter far more demented than I was expecting.

I like a wide variety of subjects, but I could see where if you read this first you might either: never pick up another his books again, or be hugely let-down by his more mainstream material. This would have been a good time to use a pen name.

Stephen D. Rogers said...

There are two magazine editors who have written back to say how much they enjoy my submissions, that I'm one of their favorite writers, but that I'm not quite sending what they need. But keep sending it!

One of those mixed blessings reactions for sure.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark,

I've gotten a few love your writing AND love your story, BUT marketing/publisher/senior ed says doesn't fit into a tidy genre, so can't market it. Do you give the same advice--suck it up and write within the marketing lines? I seem to always cross genres in my novels. Is there a way I can make this work for me?

Thanks for a fabulous, informative blog!

Anonymous said...

This response was not in the least bit snarky. It was calm, reasoned, and sympathetic.

You're losing your touch, Snark. The dog will be looking for a new owner soon.

Maya Reynolds said...

I recently stumbled across a new-to-me Irish author by the name of John Connolly. I picked up his latest hardcover expecting a mystery, but realized pretty quickly (like from the first few pages) that it was more of a thriller. He crosses genres--mystery and horror--but does it expertly and I couldn't put the book down.

I'm now working my way through all his work. You can see his growth as a writer along the way. One of the most interesting things to me is that he sets his character, a homicide-cop-turned-detective named Charlier Parker, in Maine.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, this is a bit off the beaten path, but I think somewhere on the blog you work with composers and such, so...
I've seen some agents' sites that say they agent musicians as well as writers. What kind of music is this? I have a piece for conert band I'd like to get published, and I was wondering if these were the people to turn to, or if they really only do 'pop' music. There's very little I can find about the symphonic music publishing industry, so any insight would be great.

Elektra said...

*trumpets blazing* The full-time (maybe, if it works) Crap-O-Meter.

Desperate Writer said...

You know that situation DOES stink. For writers to write what they want, what is a story true to their heart, and those that are in the position to get that work out don't like it so it stinks to be you.

But even if and agent or editor finds the subject matter of a book repugnant, or just "icky" and not their cup of tea but it is a work that could be viable in the market, do these professionals choose to try to sell it or say, "Nope, don't want to bother." Or is it a little bit of both in today's world?

Pixel Faerie said...

Dear Miss Snark,

Among the many books on writing that I purchase, I did buy -- get this monster title:

"Author 101: Bestselling Secrets From Top Agents: The Insider's Guide to What Agents and Publishers Look For
by Rick Frishman, Robyn Freedman Spizman, Robyn Spizman, With Mark Steisel" on a whim.

It looked like a fluff book but it did have some interesting points inside when I took it off the bookshelf at B&N.

I found a quote to the effect of the then writer/now agent who submitted her first manuscript via an offer from a Hawaii's writing group. A writer would send a manuscript to this group for a $50 or so fee and supposedly within a few months, they will send you responses from agents.

I dropped the book, nearly choking with laughter. This lady highly recommended it but it sounded like a lot of those scams out there. Have you read about this and have you ever heard of a legit writing group who does this sort of service? Have you ever read any ms from such a service?

I was just curious, because the woman sounded completely serious. The only reason I bring it up is because she had a number of credits to her name. (Not sure if that's a big deal or not.)

Have you read that book? Do you have a recommended reading list for fiction writers?

Love the blog. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I could have written Maya's comment, with the exception that I only read one John Connolly novel. I didn't care for the supernatural element. Not my genre. Back to Michael Connelly.

Readers make the same choices that agents do. John Connolly is a good writer but his work is not at the top of my booklist.


Maya Reynolds said...

And I love a good supernatural book so the crossed-genre of Connolly really appealed to me.

But you're right. To each his own.

snarky little vegemite said...

Thanks, Miss Snark. Glad to know it isn't just me. My agent pulled more of a response out of my ed. yesterday (the proposal she knocked back would've been my fifth book with this publisher) and it's all because it's not 'high concept' enough. Sigh. Another term I hate. I don't know about anyone else here, but I've read Donald Maass's Breakout book a number of times now and I always want to go slit my wrists in the bath afterwards. Well, back to the drawing board (OK, iMac...).

Anonymous said...

This whole subject is too freaky to think about. Must be the place where the difference between an agent and a writer becomes a yawning chasm. I wonder how many times Faulkner was told "love your writing, hate what you've written"?