5.02.2006

Fukin' a -write you are!

Dear Miss Snark,

Does the appearance of the f-bomb in a manuscript reduce its chances with publishers? Obviously many novels have f-bombs and do quite well, but I've noticed that most novels, even those in genres where the f-bomb would be acceptable, don't have the f-bomb.

Is it better for a first-time author to play it safe and not include f-bombs?


Thanks a fucking lot. :)


Well, as usual it depends on what you're writing.
Arthur Nersesian's The Fuck Up and Robert Lasner's For Fucks Sake both have the f-bomb, as you so quaintly phrase it, in the very title of the book. I about dropped my fangs when I saw The Fuck Up at BN on 6th Ave.

If you're sending something to Center Street, the new warm and fuzzy imprint of Warner Books in Nashville, you better not have fuck or anything remotely like it in the title or the body of the work. Their audience is not likely to find it amusing, or appropriate.

If you're sending to Akashic Press, I don't think Johnny Temple is going to turn a hair at the word.

If you plan to sell your book at WalMart, I think they have a fuck-detector at the warehouse door...but I've never been in a WalMart so I only know this by rumor.

It won't kill you to leave it out if you can. Unless it will. Be yourself, let your characters swear like Miss Snark on a bad slush day...you don't want a namby pamby agent if you use ..ahem...colorful language.

And please don't tell Grandmother Snark that Miss Snark has a potty mouth. She may be getting on in years but she'll still wash out a dirty mouth with soap...and while Miss Snark may have dropped her fangs at BN, that's not her first choice on how to polish them up.

26 comments:

Epilogue said...

>>>I about dropped my fangs when I saw The Fuck Up at BN on 6th Ave.

I remember that same feeling of shock when Granta ran an issue, oh maybe 15 years ago, with the title "They Fuck You Up," black words on plain red cover. Using Philip Larkin's famous poem for a theme-issue based on ...... duh.

The 'shock' was electric, though. Of course I wanted to buy that journal and read it all the way through.

Here's the poem, for those who.. love poetry.

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

--Philip Larkin

Cheryl Mills said...

The best advice I've heard about using profanity comes from Browne and King's "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers", page 206:

"Just think about how much power a single obscenity can have if it's the only one in the whole fucking book."

Brilliant.

Of course, I haven't really put the advice to use, since I'm the one who had Miss Snark dropping f-bombs all over Central Park in the last competition...notice I didn't win, or even place.

HawkOwl said...

LOL if I took out "fuck" and all its variants, my 60,000-word draft would probably fit on a postcard.

Sarah Addison Allen said...

LOL. You could always use the creative euphemisms at the website "Glossary of Sexual and Scatological Euphemisms" (real site). Frik, flop, fiddle...

TwistableSim said...

Considering the content of my book, anyone who was bothered by the use of the word "fuck" is more likely to hate the entire concept of the protagonist being a killer instead. So I'm not too worried about the language in the story under the circumstances.

Problem Child said...

You've never been in a WalMart?

You lucky, lucky, lucky girl.

Here in Alabama, directions anywhere always involve a WalMart.

just Joan said...

LOL. I will not tell Grandmother Snark about your potty mouth (even if I did know her). If she were to discover this blog, not only would she wash out your mouth, but she may ground you from blogging. EEK! Then where would I go for my daily dose of Snark?

Anonymous said...

In addition to this, publishers employ people called "editors" who will ask you to remove the "f-bomb" (You're using the word in a novel and you're not comfortable typing it out in a query?) if they think it will offend their audience. They're still going to buy your book if they think your book is great. Really. But they may ask you later in the process to tone it down a few notches so as not to alienate their readers. Don't worry, just write well and concern yourself with editorial changes after the fact.

Anonymous said...

Living in NYC it's one of the words I hear most often. So it would be kind of hard to write a realistic contemporary novel without its use.

It's in the New Yorker all the effin' time.

Ever read Irvine Welch? You feckin ought to.

Et fuckin' cetera.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of old Irvine, both "fuck" and "fuckin" make the Amazon text stats list of the hundred most often used words in Trainspotting.

Aphrodite the Flighty said...

What the fuck? Miss Snark has never been to Walmart?

You do impress me as more of a Targette kind of gal.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

WAlMart most certainly has a detector at the door. They are highly motivated as a family friendly store, where you regularly see children running loose. I once heard a manager say, "That's all I need is a little blue haired old lady hitting me with her cane because her grandchild pointed out an offensive book on our shelves!"

And you're right about Center Street...that's the new Christian arm of Warner Faith...LOL...any sexual and/or scatological euphemisms are strickly prohibited!

snarky little vegemite said...

I went to Walmart once. I bought a discounted pumpkin suit for Halloween and a bag of those weird chips that don't make you fat (I think they just slide straight through you). It was quite the little American experience I was looking for, actually, and I'll always remember it fondly.

Patrice Michelle said...

You could always pull a BSG...frackin'! *g*

I agree that LESS is more. I feel it has a lot more impact when you see the word sparingly in a book...er, unless your character is a street thug. LOL!

kitty said...

And then there are all those books with bull$h!t in the title.

Anonymous said...

Ever see The Boondock Saints? It's WWIII faught with f-bombs and it actually helps set the movie. Done right, it can be brilliant.

Writers' Block said...

First Anon, above, has the best practical advice so far. I had this conversation with the editor of an academic press over a short-fic submission and the outcome was as I Anon says. It's about audience and fictive context. And BTW, Ruth Wajnryb wrote a hilarious and serious look at the current state of US swearing called Expletive Deleted, which I also found helpful in creating realistic context. Best example, from film--

character expressing sarcastic surprise: "Well, fuck-a-doodle-do." --Shaun of the Dead

S. W. Vaughn said...

My character is a street thug. Er, all my characters are street thug. They say "fuck" when they put their socks on...

Drat. No Center Street for me. And I kinda liked Walmart too.

Roy said...

...WalMart, I think they have a fuck-detector at the warehouse door...

Gah. I hope both word and deed.

BuffySquirrel said...

Wal-Mart might want to bear in mind that without fucking, there wouldn't BE any families.

BitchySmurf said...

What the fuck? Miss Snark has never been to Walmart?

You do impress me as more of a Targette kind of gal.


There are no WalMarts in NYC, the Land of Snark. And the only Target is in Brooklyn.

We scoff at your superstores.

December Quinn said...

That's one of the things I love about erotic romance. I can have my characters talk the way everyone I know actually talks and, compared to the language elsewhere, someone getting mad and saying "fuck" is pretty tame!

Linda Adams said...

One of the writers in my critique group was lamenting the fact that his editor had encouraged him to remove the f-word from his book. The book was a YA suspense, and the editor said that libraries would not buy the book if it had the f-word in it.

Ski said...

Your post actually made me laugh out loud. Thanks, I needed that.

Rgds..........Ski

Sherry Decker said...

There is one character in my novel-in-progress that uses the word, fuck. I hope no one ever asks me to remove the word. It speaks volumes when used by the right character at the right time.

I've been in a Wal Mart twice - the first time and the last time.

Anonymous said...

The protagonist in my second (unpublished) novel is a bit of a goody-goody, but her best friend has a mouth like a trucker. Every sentence is riddled with profanity, yet somehow gives the impression that every four-letter word is a caress rather than a curse. After her initial shock, the young protagonist becomes accustomed to her friend's speech, and after a few weeks she hardly hears the adjectives.
Walmart's pretty surreal at Christmas time. It reminds me of something between Stepford and the subterranean culture in the Don Johnson movie A Boy and His Dog.