It’s been a strange couple of weeks, and not the kind of strange that makes you think “what next?” but the kind of strange that makes you wonder “is it time to quit this business?” In recent weeks I’ve finalized a novel and several stories that I think are among the best works I’ve ever done. The question now rises: is it a good story that people want anymore?
Rejections don’t bother me, they’re a natural part of this business. Decline to contract is a polite way to say “reject” and that’s still fine by me. However, what makes me wonder nowadays is the reasons I’ve been cited. They sound like dodgy excuses, not valid reasoning in a business I once respected, and now have growing doubts about.
According to a publisher I’ve been with over six years, readers no longer want description and scene setting, they want to jump right into the action. If you attempt to introduce readers to your characters by setting the stage for your story, you are going to lose them, even when the action begins by page three. I find this hard to believe, but what do I know? Maybe I’m an old style reader, but I still like to feel like I’m entering a new world when I start a book, not being flung into it while I try to figure out who the players are and why they’re doing what they’re doing. (Maybe I’m just getting old, too, who knows?)
I’ve had editors tell me to dumb it down, to sex it up, and to cut description to bare minimum. When I do what one asks, the next one wants me to put back in what was taken out. Can you tell how crazy this is making me? Over the past year and a half, for the first time in my “career” I’ve turned to learning craft with real intent to learn. I was always flying on instinct, but I’ve learned, and learned, and honed… I’m a better writer now than I’ve ever been. Attention to detail, to sentence structure, to choosing just the right word. All of this has made a difference I can see myself–and all of a sudden, I’m being told the writing is too smart, or too… whatever.
I know there is something wrong, some integral step is out of time when readers respond in gushing enthusiasm to a posted chapter of a book, then a submissions editor tells me it’s all wrong. What the hell happens in that gap between reader and editor? All the words stay the same–so just what happens in that electronic trip through cyberspace to the editor’s inbox? Damned if I know!!
I don’t believe my readers are stupid, and I refuse to listen to phrases that include the words “dumb it down” or “lowest common denominator” when reasons are being given for rewrites. I’ve heard them both, more recently than ever before. I still believe an author’s job is to craft the best story they can write, an intelligent, emotionally engaging story that will make those who read it care about the characters they’re reading about–and smile when they close the book. If that doesn’t happen, the book is a failure. In MY opinion, at least. If I’m wrong about this, and writing out the core of a book is what it takes to win that elusive contract, I have to be honest, I will soon be retired, for real.
I’d really love to know what you all think and have to say, readers and fellow authors alike.
Writer's Desk image is from Google Images, no copyright infringement is intended.