9.20.2006

Miss Snark Challenged to a fontfight

Dear Miss Snark,

I wrote once before. You weren’t too hard on me and the comments were interesting, so I thought I’d try my luck again with something that’s been on my mind.

I don’t presume to be The Next Great Author, but I want to challenge the notion that getting published is “all about the writing”. There are some wildly successful authors who freely admit they write an outline and then relegate the actual writing to their “assistants”. And then there are some terrible writers that get published because of who they are (e.g. well known, controversial, etc.), and not how well they write. Good Lord, Snarky, there was even that thing earlier this year where four publishing executives called on a televangelist to convert him to their company’s multi-million dollar One True Book Deal.

So, I want to challenge the notion that it’s “all about the writing”. I do subscribe to that theory for unpublished authors, but would the Great and Powerful Miss Snark consider that quite often it’s “all about how many books we can sell and how much money we can make?” Two sets of rules?

Sincerely,
The Next Great Author



Leaving the writing to assistants doesn't mean it's bad writing. Or unmarketable. James Patterson and Barbara Cartland come to mind. I don't read either of them but I respect the fact that they sell millions of books to people who like the books.

Well known people are always asked to write books. For some time it was fashionable for Sentators to write mysteries. John Kennedy didn't exactly write Profiles in Courage despite the Pulitzer he got for it but there was a reason he got it published and little of it had to do with the quality of writing (which is actually pretty good, thanks to Ted Sorenson).

All of that is true.

None of it has any relevance to you.

You are not a famous televangelist, nor are you Joe Kennedy's son, nor I presume are you James Patterson or Barbara Cartland. You are the NGA who is sending me a query letter to see if Im going to invest in your future.

To that end when I say "it's about the writing" what I mean is that it's not about the font, or the pagination or that you send the thing in express mail envelopes. Those things annoy me but if you write well enough, I'll send KY over to lick the envelopes himself.

What I intend to convey with "it's about the writing" is that I want you to obsess about the writing. I want you bleed on the page, I want your dictionary in shreds, your thesaurus begging for mercy and your prose to shine as though Grandmother Snark's parlour maid rubbed it like it was a lamp with a genie.

"It's all about the writing" is true for 83.7% of the books that are published. Do not confuse this with "it has to be good writing" cause bad writing sells, and sells well. I have no idea how that works cause I don't handle any of it. And lest you all tut tut that I sound like a snob, no no. I don't handle bad writing cause I can't tell the difference between marketable and unmarketable bad writing. Some people can. I offer up the entire career of Danielle Steele as evidence to support that statement.

We may disagree about what constitutes marketable/unmarketable, good or bad, but when we do we are talking about the writing.

There are exceptions to the rule but you aren't it.

16 comments:

RKF said...

"I don't handle bad writing cause I can't tell the difference between marketable and unmarketable bad writing."

It's good to know your limitations.

As always, thanks.

Anonymous said...

"I want to challenge the notion that getting published is “all about the writing”


True, there are enough non-fiction guides to wines, yoga, and cheese that were put together with fairly pedestrian writing. There are famous people, like Pamela Anderson, whose network or production company hired a ghostwriter to write a book that would simultaneously come out at the same time as her TV sitcom. And there are famous-by-association people who write tell alls about celebrities they have slept with.

But it begs the question. You want to write. You're a mere mortal with an okay-life. Whether or not it's fiction or non-fiction, your chances of getting published are slim (even more slim if it's not crafted well). So why would you want your name associated with anything but your very best effort?

Dave said...

Back in the late 80's I belonged to a discussion club at Borders that specialized in literary fiction (it wasn't sci-fi, mystery or romance). I read good books for that group and discussed them with a group but the books never reached a broad audience or became best sellers.

There was no rhyme or reason to what was successful.

Chumplet said...

When I was young, I read everything - I mean EVERYTHING. King, Atwood, Camus, Shakespeare, Herriott, you name it. I even dabbled in a bit of Danielle. Memory must dull with age, because I picked up a Danielle Steele from the bargain table recently and I was astounded. It was bad, and the ending was unsatisfactory.

I picked up another one from a 'bestselling author' because it had a nice cover and it was about Greece. The prose was so stilted that I had to struggle to finish it.

I don't know, I just have to finish a book, no matter how bad it is. I want to give the author a chance.

It's frustrating to see this stuff in print. Hopefully, I'll change my tune when (not if) I sell something.

randomsome1 said...

I don't handle bad writing cause I can't tell the difference between marketable and unmarketable bad writing. Some people can. I offer up the entire career of Danielle Steele as evidence to support that statement.


I ♥ you so bad right now. *offers a case of Bombay Sapphire*

Simon Haynes said...

I want your dictionery in shreds, your thesaurus begging for mercy and your prose to shine

My dictionary is begging for mercy right now ;-) (You can delete this comment, just sending a snark about the typo.)

heidi said...

NGA?

I know what a BNA is and an MLA. What's an NGA?

I don't know if I should trust my twisted little mind to speculate on my own.

jude calvert-toulmin said...

> I want you bleed on the page

Yeah I like the way you've expressed that.

> I don't handle bad writing cause I can't tell the difference between marketable and unmarketable bad writing. Some people can. I offer up the entire career of Danielle Steele as evidence to support that statement.

Excellent, yes. I can totally understand this.

Anonymous said...

Snarkedoodle:
This was the best. A universal observation about a univeral situation that creates a universal problem in the writers' universe.

Thanks much.

Your adoring servant.

B. Dagger Lee said...

My Dear Miss Snark:

And yet, to an extent, I suggest you do know the difference.

The Da Vinci Code is crudely written, full of stale language and stereotypical descriptions, but what it offered up is what people like: SUSPENSE and CONSPIRACY.

And your crapometer comments were all about pushing the suspense quotient up, up, up!

I think the surprising thing about that book--and what put it on the bestsellers list--was that people ate up the proposition that organized religion has rewritten history to conceal and or erase women and their contributions to Christianity.

The hunger for that special ingredient is what I don't think can be predetermined except by some kind of gifted zeitgeist fortuneteller.

But maybe you do know somewhat of that special ingredient too, because you were talking about cross-genre works, being hot, right? Maybe that's what you were getting at? I mean the Da Vinci Code is a thriller, and also a conspiracy theorizer at the same time as being weirdly feminist. Who knew all that thrown together would be the dish that America craved?

But if I were an agent, I wouldn't want to bank on a poorly written possible best-seller containing the secret special sauce (i.e. the Big Mac); I would bet my money over and over again on something tastier-- better writing.

yrs, B. Dagger Lee

Eric said...

"There are exceptions to the rule but you aren't it."

So this is what it sounds like when doves cry.

S. W. Vaughn said...

I second randomsome1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the example. Someone out there in publishing knows The Truth About Danielle Steel.

I heart you.

susan said...

It's okay, Heidi. NGA is merely "Next Great Author", which Miss Snark's correspondent, with Hamletian ambivalence, claims both to be and not to be.

Aussiemouse said...

Heidi,

My guess is that NGA is the Next Great Author.

Xopher said...

No, no, it's clearly "Non-Governmental Agency." See, the government can pub any ish it wants, and it doesn't have to be well-written, to put it mildly. And NGAs can do that too.

You can't.

(And yes, I'm joking.)

Pennyoz said...

They sell hamburgers don't they?

It's call marketing.

You can do it too. It's so easy to get published!

Just get famous.

This advice has been free. However if you wish to donate to my Brooklyn Bridge Purchase Plan...