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RemusShepherd
05-11-2010, 07:14 PM
I'm treading on thin ice here and probably shouldn't be in this forum at all, but I'd like some advice. Or at least consolation.

Let me put down the basic facts, first: My writing is sound. I am very good. There is nothing more I need to learn to reach publishable quality. (There is always more to learn, of course, but I'm good enough now.) I know that sounds like boasting, but I have ample evidence to support it. Let's just take it as fact for what follows.

Because now that I'm shopping novels around, I'm getting rejections from agents that say, "it seemed like such a perfect fit but I just couldn't fall in love with it", and "I'm just not enthusiastic enough about the premise of your story". Dozens of rejections along these lines.

Combine this with the opinion someone with authority gave me, that my writing is excellent but 'weird', and the problem is pretty clear.

It's me.

I am not being rejected for technical flaws in my writing, or for any mistakes that I can learn to avoid. I am being rejected because of my viewpoint, my voice, and the ideas that I bring to the table. They are not rejecting my writing. They are rejecting me.

I can learn to write better. I can swerve to try and catch the popular trends. But any part of me that gets into a story poisons it. People who know me share enough of my weirdness to rave over my books, but to the faceless publishing industry I'm too bizarre. In today's economy nobody wants to take a chance on a weirdo, no matter how well he writes.

I don't know how to fix this. I can't learn my way around it. Maybe I can write a mainstream-mimicking story with no voice and no ideas of my own, but I think it would bore me to tears.

One editor gave me advice, but I'm not sure it's good. He told me to own my weirdness, make it my brand, on the chance that tastes will change and the industry will want what I have to offer someday. This is cold comfort, and a hell of a long-term gamble.

I don't see many other alternatives, though. Any advice?

Shadow_Ferret
05-11-2010, 07:18 PM
Without having read any of your work I can't attest to your weirdness.

As far as anything else, I've always subscribed to Shakespeare's "to thine own self be true."

Ineti
05-11-2010, 07:25 PM
How do they know you're weird outside of whatever you write? Do you send them pictures of you dancing naked in lime Jello with a cat or something? Do you write weird non-writing related things in your cover letters? Do you talk with a weird voice on the phone?

Assuming your writing is sound and you're getting comments from agents, it's likely they're not rejecting you and just don't have a fit for what you write. Rejections happen all the time in this business, often not because of the quality of the writing.

Keep plugging away and submitting your stuff. If you believe in it, eventually someone somewhere will want to buy it.

Tasmin21
05-11-2010, 07:33 PM
Remember that one person's weird is another person's genius. I'm of a mind with the editor, you need to own this!

All those rejections are telling you is that you haven't gotten your work into the correct hands yet. And when you do, boom! You're going to stand out like a blazing beacon in a field of cookie-cutter copycats.

This is your voice, it is what makes you you. Don't give that up.

suki
05-11-2010, 07:45 PM
I'm of two minds on this. And they're sort of conflicting, but it's one of those on-one-hand...but-on-the-other things...

First, if you are confident it's your ideas and not your execution, then keep at it until you find the right fit between a publisher and one of your books. Then, if that book is successful your "weird" could be a marketable style/brand.

On the other hand, you might need to break in with a more mainstream book to get in the door. There is an ocean of distance between just-too-weird-to-sell and "chasing trends" or writing a "mainstream-mimicking story with no voice and no ideas of my own."

So, you can keep running full speed ahead and hope you find the right book to break in. or you can find a more marketable book for your break in book.

And I'm not saying you necessarily should change anything about your writing. I think it's certainly one possible path to say screw it, this is what I write and then just keep writing and trying.

But I'm also saying, as a counterpoint, there may be a slightly more marketable novel in you that could help you break in sooner, possibly.

It's true that because publishing is a business, writing well isn't enough. You also need a marketable plot and characters. Because no matter how well executed, if there's no market for it, there's no market. And I get that you might be thinking, "But how can they know there is no market unless they try to sell it?" And I get that, and on some level even agree, but people get fired for taking too big risks with other people's money.

A third option, of course, is smaller presses, who might be willing to take more chances. And after that, self-publishing. If you are supremely confident there is a market or know how to market yourself, using a reputable company to self-publish might be an option as well.

good luck.

~suki

RemusShepherd
05-11-2010, 08:37 PM
How do they know you're weird outside of whatever you write? Do you send them pictures of you dancing naked in lime Jello with a cat or something? Do you write weird non-writing related things in your cover letters? Do you talk with a weird voice on the phone?

No, none of that. :) True weirdness doesn't advertise. The truly weird camouflage.

No, they were saying my writing is weird. Convoluted plotlines that don't fit in any mold. Strange characters that are difficult to sympathize with. Bizarre themes.

In my last novel, the main character was a serial killer who was feeling remorse, and the plot was about her attempts to stop killing and regain her sanity. In my current WIP, the main character's goal is to commit suicide. The plot involves another character uncovering the Meaning of Life -- as a defensible thesis -- to save him. My stories are twisted. Good, but twisted. But those are the kind of stories and characters that I like!


Keep plugging away and submitting your stuff. If you believe in it, eventually someone somewhere will want to buy it.

I don't believe that's true. If one is too far out in the fringe, 'eventually' might take more than a lifetime. It's entirely possible that stuff can be too weird to ever sell. And it's possible I'm in that league.

cscarlet
05-11-2010, 08:46 PM
I'm going to have to go with suki on this one. Not having read your work, I have no idea what to suggest except perhaps take "the business side" into account when you start on your next book. By all means keep it true to yourself, but maybe tweak the plot just a tiny bit to make it something marketable.

(Unless of course you don't really care about publishing and all you want to do is write books. In which case, write whatever the hell you want ;))

RemusShepherd
05-11-2010, 08:51 PM
But I'm also saying, as a counterpoint, there may be a slightly more marketable novel in you that could help you break in sooner, possibly.

I keep thinking that, but then the problem becomes how I find that book. It's difficult to see the center when you're standing at the fringe. I have tried to tone my stories down and make them more normal but it doesn't seem to have worked. All the novels I've written (with one exception) has been aimed toward the mainstream, but I've missed the mark.


A third option, of course, is smaller presses, who might be willing to take more chances. And after that, self-publishing. If you are supremely confident there is a market or know how to market yourself, using a reputable company to self-publish might be an option as well.

I don't want to self-publish. I'm not comfortable around people; I have no skill nor inclination to market myself to them.

I haven't submitted to the smaller presses only because the larger presses take years before sending me a rejection. I have one manuscript that's been on an editor's desk for 20 months now. I'll get to the smaller presses eventually, it'll just take time.

No, right now it's the *agents* I'm worried about. Because they can reach the presses better and faster than I can, and they can do the marketing work I can't, or at least help me through it.

Jamesaritchie
05-11-2010, 08:58 PM
First, the only way you know you're any good is if agents take on your work, and/or publishers buy it. There is no evidence that you're really good enough except for this: someone buys your work, and then readers enjoy it.

The number of would-be writers in the slush pile who all swear they're more than good enough, who believe their writing is as good as any bestseller out there, would populate a large country. Almost none of them are.

I am being rejected because of my viewpoint, my voice, and the ideas that I bring to the table. They are not rejecting my writing. They are rejecting me.

Let's assume for a minute that this is absolutely true. It still means you aren't good enough. Would-be writers who can write extremely well, but who never write anything worth publishing are a dime a truck load. There are tens of thousands of them. Every MFA class in the country is filled with such writers. There are multitudes of writers who can make a grocery list read like a Shakespearean sonnet, but who will never be published because their words are empty. They don't know how to tell the story they want to tell in a way that makes agents want to take it on, and editors want to buy it.

It is not your weirdness that's causing rejections. It may be your voice, but if it is your voice, then you aren't writing well. Good voice never causes rejection. Bad voice does. And all bad voice means is that you're aren't writing well enough to get your ideas across in a way that makes people want to read whatever you write.

I don't care how weird or bizarre you are, writers who are weirder and more bizarre are getting published. Trust me on this, you are not special enough to be the weirdest more bizarre published writer out there. No one is. It isn't your ideas that are stopping you, and it isn't your weirdness. It's the way you express those ideas and that weirdness in story form.

Expressing an idea, expressing weirdness, expressing bizarreness, in story form isn't about how well you write, just about anyone can learn to write very well, it's about how you tell the story, how you build the characters,

Any story, any story, no matter how weird or how bizarre, can be told in a way that makes it publishable. Maybe you can learn to do this, maybe you can't, but it is on you to learn it because this is always the problem.

When you start believing it isn't, when you start believing it's something that can't be learned, you're dead. It can be learned, if you have the desire and the talent.

But this is, of course, the trick. Talent is not how well you write a sentence, it's how well you tell a story. Even an extremely weird, unbelievably bizarre story, can be told in a way that makes agents and editors fall in love with it.

It's almost a cliche, but it's true, no agent or editor ever rejects a writer, they reject stories because the writer hasn't learned how to tell a story in the right way.

Bubastes
05-11-2010, 09:13 PM
In my last novel, the main character was a serial killer who was feeling remorse, and the plot was about her attempts to stop killing and regain her sanity. In my current WIP, the main character's goal is to commit suicide. The plot involves another character uncovering the Meaning of Life -- as a defensible thesis -- to save him. My stories are twisted. Good, but twisted. But those are the kind of stories and characters that I like!


Maybe it's just me, but neither of these story ideas seem particularly twisted or weird. I'm inclined to go with JAR on this one.

RemusShepherd
05-11-2010, 09:40 PM
First, the only way you know you're any good is if agents take on your work, and/or publishers buy it. There is no evidence that you're really good enough except for this: someone buys your work, and then readers enjoy it.

I've had multiple Hugo award winners tell me I'm good enough. That's evidence enough for me. (But I have more.)


Trust me on this, you are not special enough to be the weirdest more bizarre published writer out there. No one is. It isn't your ideas that are stopping you, and it isn't your weirdness. It's the way you express those ideas and that weirdness in story form.

Expressing an idea, expressing weirdness, expressing bizarreness, in story form isn't about how well you write, just about anyone can learn to write very well, it's about how you tell the story, how you build the characters,

Any story, any story, no matter how weird or how bizarre, can be told in a way that makes it publishable. Maybe you can learn to do this, maybe you can't, but it is on you to learn it because this is always the problem.

I see what you're saying. Any character, any theme, any bizarre story can be told in an appealing way, but it might take a master of the craft to work those elements until they shine.

I'm not a master. Never said I was. I said I was good enough. The problem is that I am including story elements of master-level difficulty in my novels, when I have only a workman's level of skill.

But I don't know how to increase my skill to the level required. Feedback doesn't help; my crit group fawns over me. In order to improve from my current skill level, I would need feedback from my superiors, and that is difficult if not impossible to get. Professional authors have their own closed crit circles. I'm stuck with the hopeful amateurs.

The only other solution I can see is to spend years of trial and error until I luck onto the right combination of elements that are odd enough to interest me but that are within my skill level to write about. That's a depressing forecast.


when you start believing it's something that can't be learned, you're dead.

I think that overstates it a bit. I can't learn to be less weird than I am. I may not be able to learn how to handle the weirdness I've got. But that's not reason to quit; I have fans, so I know there is a market for my kind of stories. There's always hope that someone in the publishing industry might appreciate me.

backslashbaby
05-11-2010, 09:43 PM
If you keep at it, I bet you get published. It sounds like you have something that scares a lot of folks off. It sounds interesting to me. Submit hundreds of times, minimum.

If you think it might be weird enough to take a hundred years to see the genius, I could see that from history. Publish it for free, then and get another career for money. That's kind of starving-artist territory there, otherwise.

ETA: crosspost. Sorry!

Amarie
05-11-2010, 09:56 PM
But I don't know how to increase my skill to the level required. Feedback doesn't help; my crit group fawns over me. In order to improve from my current skill level, I would need feedback from my superiors, and that is difficult if not impossible to get. Professional authors have their own closed crit circles. I'm stuck with the hopeful amateurs.




Have you posted a few pages in SYW? I don't think you will find an excess of fawning there.

Amadan
05-11-2010, 10:04 PM
I've had multiple Hugo award winners tell me I'm good enough. That's evidence enough for me. (But I have more.)

Hugo award winners do not have the same skill sets as agents. Yes, good writers can usually (not always) recognize good writing in others, but you know, if all these great writers are saying you're publishable, why were they able to recognize your unappreciated genius and yet no agent can? Are they all "weird," too?

Look, just about anyone who reaches the point where they can put together technically competent prose has risen above 90% of what's on the slush pile, and will probably find a few folks in the industry or who are otherwise presumed to know what they're talking about who will tell them that they should be published. If you have some author buddies or join a writing circle with a Big Name in it, you may even get validation from them.

But if it's so empirically, undeniably true that you are "good enough" to be published, then there are agents who will recognize that. They are not a special subspecies who just can't recognize good writing, and when you go down the road of believing that and thinking that you're just too weird and special to be appreciated by the likes of them, you are heading in the same direction as this woman (http://rejectionqueen.blogspot.com/).

Maybe you really are weird and your stories are weird and your voice is weird. Like Jamesaritchie said, there's no such thing as "too weird" if it's actually good enough.

I mean, I'm sorry, but you're kind of sounding like a lot of Special Snowflakes who get discouraged when their manuscripts get rejected and then they start muttering, "Oh, fine, I guess if you don't want to write the next Twilight rip-off you just can't be published..."

Drachen Jager
05-11-2010, 10:12 PM
Amadan: Agents are not looking for good writing. Agents are looking for writing that they can easily sell.

Big difference. If you wrote the equivelent of Moby Dick today you'd have a hell of a time getting published. The writing is good but it only sells because it's a classic.

Drachen Jager
05-11-2010, 10:14 PM
Remus Shepherd:

Try Tor/Forge. Because they don't have to sell the book to a publisher they're more likely to accept off-beat material. They're the only big publishing house that takes queries that I know of.

RemusShepherd
05-11-2010, 10:18 PM
Remus Shepherd:

Try Tor/Forge. Because they don't have to sell the book to a publisher they're more likely to accept off-beat material. They're the only big publishing house that takes queries that I know of.

Novel #1 has been on an editor's desk at TOR for 20 months.

Novel #2 has been rejected by TOR and DAW, and is in the slush at Penguin/Ace.

TOR is always the first place I submit, despite their slow response, because I've met editors there.

Calla Lily
05-11-2010, 10:24 PM
RemusShepherd, if you're up to it, I'll look at your Q and first 5 pages. I've left SYW, but I have minor scary rep there.

The first book I wrote straddled genres, was way out-there, and was a poster child for near misses. I rewrote it 5 times (yes, five) and learned a LOT in the process. My second book, written after that uphill climb, landed and agent and sold.

I'm not nice, but I'm an unashamedly commercial writer and I'll give you an honest assessment. Let me know.

RemusShepherd
05-11-2010, 10:26 PM
Hugo award winners do not have the same skill sets as agents. Yes, good writers can usually (not always) recognize good writing in others, but you know, if all these great writers are saying you're publishable, why were they able to recognize your unappreciated genius and yet no agent can? Are they all "weird," too?

First, one of the Hugo winners was an editor, not a writer.

Second, they said I was good enough but weird. The agents are saying that my stuff is good but weird. It's the same. The rejection is due to the weirdness. The 'good' does not overcome the 'weird'...especially when money is on the line.

Please stop using the phrase 'unappreciated genius'. I've described my writing as 'solid' and 'good enough', nothing more. You're trying to make me into a stereotype, and I don't fit that mold.


I mean, I'm sorry, but you're kind of sounding like a lot of Special Snowflakes who get discouraged when their manuscripts get rejected and then they start muttering, "Oh, fine, I guess if you don't want to write the next Twilight rip-off you just can't be published..."

Ma'am, this ain't my first rodeo. :) Been doing this for more than ten years now. Rejections happen, and I don't get upset at the people rejecting me. I do, however, want it to stop, and I was hoping to get some advice here about making that happen.

RemusShepherd
05-11-2010, 10:30 PM
RemusShepherd, if you're up to it, I'll look at your Q and first 5 pages. I've left SYW, but I have minor scary rep there.

When I get home tonight I'll take you up on this. I just went through another set of revisions on Novel #1, hoping to punch up the beginning, and I'd like some opinions. I'll post it to SYW later tonight. Thank you!

Amadan
05-11-2010, 10:55 PM
When I get home tonight I'll take you up on this. I just went through another set of revisions on Novel #1, hoping to punch up the beginning, and I'd like some opinions. I'll post it to SYW later tonight. Thank you!

I'll comment in it, then. And I'll stop calling you an "underappreciated genius" if you stop calling me "ma'am." ;)

linfred4
05-11-2010, 10:58 PM
Hi, RemusShepherd

Well, all I have to say is we are all weird in one way other another. But you could always step back and look at your work and say I am doing fine or even great. But you could also let someone else read it like a friend or family member, sometimes they may see what you can't see. But other then that i am sure what ever you write is great. :)

ChaosTitan
05-11-2010, 11:12 PM
Rejections happen, and I don't get upset at the people rejecting me. I do, however, want it to stop, and I was hoping to get some advice here about making that happen.

My only advice, then, is write something at your skill level.

Upthread, you mentioned:


I'm not a master. Never said I was. I said I was good enough. The problem is that I am including story elements of master-level difficulty in my novels, when I have only a workman's level of skill.

But I don't know how to increase my skill to the level required. Feedback doesn't help; my crit group fawns over me. In order to improve from my current skill level, I would need feedback from my superiors, and that is difficult if not impossible to get.

Instead of trying to increase your skill level in order to write these "master-level" stories, try the reverse. Use the skills you already possess and write a workman-level story. You can't cook a gourmet meal with a box of Hamburger Helper, but you can feed yourself with it and leave the table satisfied.

It's the ability to utilize our present skills that allow us to grow and get better. But if you aren't properly using those skills you already possess, you'll never reach the skill level you desire.

RemusShepherd
05-11-2010, 11:16 PM
Instead of trying to increase your skill level in order to write these "master-level" stories, try the reverse. Use the skills you already possess and write a workman-level story. You can't cook a gourmet meal with a box of Hamburger Helper, but you can feed yourself with it and leave the table satisfied.

Yes, but I also mentioned above that if I don't include the crazy elements, it bores me to tears. I write weird because I like weird. Can I write something I don't like? One of these days I may have to find out.

ChaosTitan
05-11-2010, 11:22 PM
Yes, but I also mentioned above that if I don't include the crazy elements, it bores me to tears. I write weird because I like weird. Can I write something I don't like? One of these days I may have to find out.

Then my only other comment is this: make sure you're targeting the right publisher. Truly quirky, "weird" fiction tends to be easier to place with the smaller presses. You say you've submitted to Tor and DAW before. What have they published recently that's like your work, that makes you believe they're the right house for you? I'm genuinely curious here.

aadams73
05-11-2010, 11:32 PM
Hmmm, just looking at the most recent post in your blog you say:



Latest agent rejection: "I'm just not enthusiastic enough about the premise of your story to feel that I'd be the right agent for the project."

Which is fair, and it's pretty much what a dozen different agents have said to me.

I think this is a problem with Platinum Donkeys. The unsympathetic protagonist is a tough sell. And agents are not taking chances right now.

My writing skill is not the issue. I am being rejected for the ideas that I am bringing to the table.

Actually, what you're getting is a pretty common form rejection. It says nothing about your skills or your story except NO. So you're getting a dozen + form rejections, which says...well, maybe it is your writing (and maybe it's not; who knows?)

That many form rejections tends to tell me that they don't like what they're seeing enough to offer personal comments, whatever the reason. That's just how this business is. If you've been at it for ten years you probably know that by now.

Put it aside. Let it percolate a bit. Then take a good hard critical look and make another run at it. The problem could be a million different things unrelated to your "weird" ideas or your writing. Maybe you started in the wrong place. Maybe the POV isn't right for that particular story. Maybe you've got the wrong MC. Maybe you're just telling the wrong stories. Or maybe what you've written just isn't right for a first book. Maybe it'll make a killer second book or third.

People will tell you all kinds of things. But unless they're acquiring, their opinions don't amount to all that much beyond boosting your self esteem. Praise is nice, but it's even nicer when someone is waving a check in front of your nose.

Good luck. :)

Phaeal
05-12-2010, 01:15 AM
Hmm, none of your ideas, as stated, sounded that weird to me. I shall hie me to SYW and see where all this weirdness can lie. ;)

As for whether you're technically more than competent, prose-wise, your posts prove that.

RemusShepherd
05-12-2010, 01:53 AM
Actually, what you're getting is a pretty common form rejection. It says nothing about your skills or your story except NO.

No, I know what a form rejection looks like, and I do get plenty of them. This one focused on the premise as a showstopper; not very personalized, but more than anyone can reasonably expect.

RemusShepherd
05-12-2010, 02:20 AM
Then my only other comment is this: make sure you're targeting the right publisher. Truly quirky, "weird" fiction tends to be easier to place with the smaller presses. You say you've submitted to Tor and DAW before. What have they published recently that's like your work, that makes you believe they're the right house for you? I'm genuinely curious here.

I have not researched publishers as thoroughly as I've been researching agents. I send to Tor, again, because at least one (maybe two) editors there should recognize my name, and I try to put it on their desks rather than the slush. (Which is probably why it's been 20 months; I know what their desks are like.)

For novel #2 my second choice was Baen -- the story has themes of libertarianism and reactionary violence that I have heard Baen tends to like. (That and military SF, which I don't write.) But the Baen submission guidelines says that they prefer stories over 100k words. Novel #2 weighs only 87k. If Penguin passes on it I might pad the story and send it to Baen.

As for what markets to try...well, the list of publishers that accept unsolicited SF novels can be counted on one hand. Tor, Baen, DAW, Penguin/Ace. Del Rey and Bantam don't accept unsolicited subs. That's it, that's all there are that I'm aware of.

There are small publishing houses, but I would have to research them before submitting. In fact I know the owner of Sam's Dot publishing...but he's too small to actually get any books in bookstores, from what I hear. I could go that route just to see my name in print, but I think I'd rather trunk the novel and keep writing more of them to send to the big boys. (Then again, maybe a tiny pub would spark an agent's attention?)

In other news, I've posted the first five pages of my *least* weird novel to the SYW forum. Here's the link, if you're interested. (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=4946208#post4946208)

Thanks, all, this thread has given me -- if no clear answers -- at least a lot to think about.

Calla Lily
05-12-2010, 03:56 AM
My opinionated opinions are over there.

kaitie
05-12-2010, 07:34 AM
I just wanted to say that you should never take rejections as a rejection of you as a person. The story maybe, the way it's written, something quirky about that, but it's not you as a person. Now, if you had a situation where you were a crazy stalker showing up at their offices and they told you "We'll never publish you because you're insane," that's a personal rejection of you as a person. Writing isn't, and never is.

I'll check out the sample in a moment, but seriously just keep going. Even if you have good writing it might be that this particular story isn't right in terms of timing. There are plenty of weird and quirky stories out there, and most of my rejections sound the same as yours. Though I'm pretty sure I'm just not good enough yet (close though). :tongue

Lucy
05-31-2010, 12:56 AM
Forgive me if you've already thought of this, but there are quirky publishers out there you could appeal to directly. Soft Skull Press springs to mind, and there are others.

CACTUSWENDY
05-31-2010, 01:40 AM
There have been tons of weird writers of great renown published for years and years. Their personal life styles and unique ways of telling a story have caused many to stand out in the realms of literature.

IMHO I think you are taking the rejects too personal. Things can be well written and still not 'touch' the reader. I agree with many of the others here that you need to keep subbing your MS and not take the rejects as an attack on yourself. Some books click and some...not so much.

Theo81
06-01-2010, 07:27 PM
Hiya,

Whenever I read or hear somebody saying something to the effect of "I am/want to be wierd/interesting/different', I cringe. Nobody is wierd because they want to be. Nobody who is wierd understands that they are wierd - it's the rest of the world which makes no sense. There is no internationally recognised scale of wierdness. At a very basic level, all you are doing is serving to differentiate yourself from the people around you. You are not wierd, you just want to be an individual; it's okay - you already are.


In my last novel, the main character was a serial killer who was feeling remorse, and the plot was about her attempts to stop killing and regain her sanity. In my current WIP, the main character's goal is to commit suicide. The plot involves another character uncovering the Meaning of Life -- as a defensible thesis -- to save him. My stories are twisted. Good, but twisted. But those are the kind of stories and characters that I like!
Along with everybody else, I don't find these ideas wierd. A serial killer who wants to stop and regain their sanity? Try Thomas Harris' Red Dragon.
As for your second WIP, try Nick Hornby's Long Way Down. The first scene involves the 6 (I think there are six) main characters meeting when they individually converge on a roof intending to throw themselves off. The story takes off from that point. It's not the same as yours but my point is that there are a lot of novels with MC who want to kill themselves and the progress of the novel is how they are prevented from doing that. I'm sure I've come across this idea in other places as well; I vaguely recall a novel about an MC who becomes hailed as a hero because he saves somebodies life, but he was only in the right place at the right time because he'd gone there to kill himself but couldn't tell anybody.

It's also worth remembering that they are only twisted to you because of your everyday experience. There is a whole world of twisted out there; don't worry about trying to penetrate it.

As for your need to be told how to improve: Don't look to other people to tell you what is wrong. Learn how to recognise it yourself. Be utterly ruthless with your writing. As an experiment: go through it line by line, anything that is not entirely perfect or which is reliant on something else in the text, scratch it; see what you are left with.
If you can produce something that you objectively feel is perfect and which you are passionate about, you will find a way to get it represented.

Good Luck

Theo

HapiSofi
07-26-2010, 05:23 AM
Mr. Ritchie's advice was excellent. You should go back and read it again. "Your writing is good enough to be published" and "This is an appealing book with commercial potential" are very different statements.

You already know that your books haven't connected emotionally with agents and editors. This suggests that readers may not connect with them either. You should test that proposition. If you've tried, but you can't get any readers to volunteer, you may already have your answer.

What makes you think that your choice of material and how you handle it isn't learnable and can't be improved? I've seen it done. The most striking example was a nonfiction writer whose early work was too broad and diffuse. The minute he narrowed his focus, his tendency to make vapid overgeneralized statements disappeared, replaced by direct observations and sharply particular details. Huge improvement! He didn't change who he was; he just learned his correct focal distance.

Have you ever tried to read Conan Doyle's historical novels, Georgette Heyer's serious historical novels, or John le Carre's one mainstream romantic novel? Yeesh. If I were going to be indiscreet, I could tell you stories about several successful writers who've had a misconceived and basically unpublishable manuscript kicking around the industry for years. Did they change their personalities? They did not. Their appropriate subjects and handling are a matter of choice, and on those books they chose wrong. If they can do that, you can learn to choose right.

MsJudy
07-26-2010, 08:53 PM
Seems to me there's a lot of "weird" out there. So my only suggestion is: find other writers who are equally weird. Research who reps them and publishes them. Target those people.

And I agree with the editor who said you have to own your weirdness. trying to tone it down is likely to produce weak imitations of other people's stuff that they can probably do better than you can. All you can do it the best of what you love, and hope other people will, too.

djf881
07-26-2010, 09:55 PM
I'm treading on thin ice here and probably shouldn't be in this forum at all, but I'd like some advice. Or at least consolation.

Let me put down the basic facts, first: My writing is sound. I am very good. There is nothing more I need to learn to reach publishable quality. (There is always more to learn, of course, but I'm good enough now.) I know that sounds like boasting, but I have ample evidence to support it. Let's just take it as fact for what follows.

Because now that I'm shopping novels around, I'm getting rejections from agents that say, "it seemed like such a perfect fit but I just couldn't fall in love with it", and "I'm just not enthusiastic enough about the premise of your story". Dozens of rejections along these lines.


This is form rejection language. If you were very good, you'd at least be getting a lot of partial requests. Nobody with a well-written query packs in enough weird to get universally rejected, unless you are very candid about telling agents that it's highly experimental.

If your requested manuscripts are getting rejected, you probably have story/structure problems.



Combine this with the opinion someone with authority gave me, that my writing is excellent but 'weird', and the problem is pretty clear.


It's me.


What you're going to find is that when your material is shit, people will be very polite and complimentary, with a slightly discouraging subtext.

There are several reasons for this: 1) Actually helping you takes a lot more time than telling you that you are great. 2) You don't really want help, you want to be told you're great. So someone making the effort to provide real criticism will not be appreciated. 3) You might be a psycho, and nobody wants to piss off a psycho.



I am not being rejected for technical flaws in my writing, or for any mistakes that I can learn to avoid. I am being rejected because of my viewpoint, my voice, and the ideas that I bring to the table. They are not rejecting my writing. They are rejecting me.

I can learn to write better. I can swerve to try and catch the popular trends. But any part of me that gets into a story poisons it. People who know me share enough of my weirdness to rave over my books, but to the faceless publishing industry I'm too bizarre. In today's economy nobody wants to take a chance on a weirdo, no matter how well he writes.


Unless your weird ideas are racist, include graphic acts of sexual violence, or are otherwise politically or morally offensive to almost everyone, it's not the ideas that are the problem. If something is unusual and very good, some agent will be willing to try to find a publisher for it.

Following trends is safe money, but it's the books that do something unusual (very well) that break big. There are a lot of weird books getting published.

There is limited tolerance for weirdness that is structural. If your novel doesn't conform to the basic form of a story with a beginning, middle and end, and plot movement/momentum, then it is likely unpublishable.



I don't know how to fix this. I can't learn my way around it. Maybe I can write a mainstream-mimicking story with no voice and no ideas of my own, but I think it would bore me to tears.

One editor gave me advice, but I'm not sure it's good. He told me to own my weirdness, make it my brand, on the chance that tastes will change and the industry will want what I have to offer someday. This is cold comfort, and a hell of a long-term gamble.

I don't see many other alternatives, though. Any advice?

Nobody is in the market for boring, and if an agent connects with your work, chances are there is a market segment that will as well, so they will take it on. There are lots of legitimate independent presses that can launch a writer whose work is outside mainstream tastes, and the big houses have room to go edgy because books don't need to appeal to everyone the way network TV shows and movies do. If there is a niche that a reliable market is passionate about, mainstream presses will have an imprint that serves that niche.

RemusShepherd
07-26-2010, 10:04 PM
Sigh. I was afraid that my mouthing off on the Novels forum might cause someone to resurrect this thread. It probably should be left to die.


Mr. Ritchie's advice was excellent. You should go back and read it again. "Your writing is good enough to be published" and "This is an appealing book with commercial potential" are very different statements.

Yep. From all indications I have the writing skill, but am lacking in appeal.


You already know that your books haven't connected emotionally with agents and editors. This suggests that readers may not connect with them either. You should test that proposition. If you've tried, but you can't get any readers to volunteer, you may already have your answer.

I'm not sure what kind of test you're suggesting.

If you mean that I should get readers and judge their reactions, that's both easy and difficult to do. I've done the easy part -- I've distributed my first two novels to my friends and sent them through my crit group. The problem is, they all love what I write and have little to offer. I can't improve without more vicious and knowledgeable critics.

That's the hard part -- finding critics who are authorities in what makes a book appealing, and who will tell me the truth without hesitation. I have no idea where to find people like this. I might try the Beta Readers forum on AW, but that will connect me to strangers whose qualifications I know nothing about. I also fear the quid pro quo -- I don't have a lot of time to critique others' novels.


What makes you think that your choice of material and how you handle it isn't learnable and can't be improved? I've seen it done. The most striking example was a nonfiction writer whose early work was too broad and diffuse. The minute he narrowed his focus, his tendency to make vapid overgeneralized statements disappeared, replaced by direct observations and sharply particular details. Huge improvement! He didn't change who he was; he just learned his correct focal distance.

What is holding me back is not technique but theme. My YA story delves into slavery and cannibalism. My adult novel has a serial killer protagonist. These are the kinds of stories that interest me; stories that create a sense of wonder about what human beings are capable of, whether for good or for evil. I glorify monsters. Because I am one, and that's the kind of story I like to see.

Can I learn write the kind of stories that I don't like? Would I want to?

I *am* trying to tone it down, I really am. I've taken so much of myself out of my recent writing that it hurts. I'm currently writing a story about a sociopathic detective with flat affect. Is it 'normal' enough? I won't know until it's finished and gets sent out. Because my friends -- who already love the monster and know that he is redeemed -- are not helping me swerve toward the mainstream.

djf881
07-26-2010, 10:10 PM
In my last novel, the main character was a serial killer who was feeling remorse, and the plot was about her attempts to stop killing and regain her sanity.


That's pretty much "Dexter." There's a lot of serial killer fiction out there and a fair number of serial-killer antiheroes. It's not weird at all; it's really pretty mainstream.



In my current WIP, the main character's goal is to commit suicide. The plot involves another character uncovering the Meaning of Life -- as a defensible thesis -- to save him. My stories are twisted. Good, but twisted. But those are the kind of stories and characters that I like!


Your characters' motivation may be fuzzy and unconvincing. You write a lot about mental illness, but do you really know much about it or how to make these characters act plausibly?

Wanting to seriously commit suicide is different from telling everybody you want to commit suicide.

Also, this sounds allegorical. If you want to do straight allegory, it's very hard to get audiences to accept it. There's Ayn Rand and nothing else in that space. I think you'd probably need a very beautiful literary prose style to make this premise work.

I don't believe that's true. If one is too far out in the fringe, 'eventually' might take more than a lifetime. It's entirely possible that stuff can be too weird to ever sell. And it's possible I'm in that league.[/QUOTE]

RemusShepherd
07-26-2010, 10:16 PM
This is form rejection language. If you were very good, you'd at least be getting a lot of partial requests. Nobody with a well-written query packs in enough weird to get universally rejected, unless you are very candid about telling agents that it's highly experimental.

I think they bail on the query as soon as they see 'serial killer protagonist', or any permutation of that.


What you're going to find is that when your material is shit, people will be very polite and complimentary, with a slightly discouraging subtext.

I trust that professional writers and editors who are being paid to give me the honest truth will, indeed, give me the honest truth.

Sorry, but you're not going to shake my confidence in my writing ability. I know it seems strange, as most authors have low self-confidence. But I have reams of evidence that my writing is sound. Just look at the excerpt I linked to above -- aside from one criticism (which I took to heart; I moved Chapter 2), the unanimous opinion was that it was a solid opening for a novel.

Note that I'm not saying I'm fantastic! I'm not saying that I'm the greatest writer ever. I am saying that my technical skills are good enough that my writing should be publishable, and I have plenty of objective evidence for that.

I would love to get more critical opinions of my writing, but I don't know where to get it from people whose opinions I can trust.


Unless your weird ideas are racist, include graphic acts of sexual violence, or are otherwise politically or morally offensive to almost everyone, it's not the ideas that are the problem.

Emphasis mine. Oh, well.

Bubastes
07-26-2010, 10:24 PM
I think they bail on the query as soon as they see 'serial killer protagonist', or any permutation of that.


American Psycho.

Or, more recently, Hello Kitty Must Die.

blacbird
07-26-2010, 10:40 PM
I've had multiple Hugo award winners tell me I'm good enough.

Stop thinking in terms of "you" being good enough. Work on making your story good enough.

scarletpeaches
07-26-2010, 10:42 PM
Stop thinking in terms of "you" being good enough. Work on making your story good enough.OH MY GOD IT'S YOU, YOU NEGATIVE-THINKING CUTEY-PIE!!!!!1111!one!!!eleventy!

NEVER LEAVE ME AGAIN!

eqb
07-26-2010, 11:17 PM
I would love to get more critical opinions of my writing, but I don't know where to get it from people whose opinions I can trust.

I don't believe you.

I do believe you went to Viable Paradise and failed to absorb the feedback you received there. I also believe that it's easier for you to believe it's your "quirky" personality or your "edgy" subject that gets you rejections, rather than the query and/or writing itself.

Which is sad, because from what I've seen in SYW, you aren't a terrible writer. You just don't quite have that spark yet. Overcoming that can take months or years

But, y'know, what you do with feedback is your call.

One thing: stop giving out bogus advice about publishing elsewhere on AW. I also attended VP, a few years before you did, so I know what advice they hand out. And it's not what you say.

Amadan
07-26-2010, 11:30 PM
I think they bail on the query as soon as they see 'serial killer protagonist', or any permutation of that.

You're kidding, right? Dude, serial killers, cannibalism, and slavery are not automatic turn-offs in a query. Have you seriously never read any science fiction or fantasy that featured those things?


I trust that professional writers and editors who are being paid to give me the honest truth will, indeed, give me the honest truth.

No, they'll give you a polite version of the truth. They're not invested in you, they're not being paid to critique your work except to the extent they need to to know whether they want to represent/publish it.


Note that I'm not saying I'm fantastic! I'm not saying that I'm the greatest writer ever. I am saying that my technical skills are good enough that my writing should be publishable, and I have plenty of objective evidence for that.

A lot of people are technically good enough. A lot of people get rave reviews from their friends and workshops.

No one's trying to shake your confidence, but the point is that sometimes there's a big gap between "solid and technically proficient" (which is good enough to put you above 90% of the slushpile) and "good enough to be published."



I would love to get more critical opinions of my writing, but I don't know where to get it from people whose opinions I can trust.


Try http://www.critters.org. They specialize in SFF, and the requirements are modest -- you only need to critique one piece a week.

eqb
07-26-2010, 11:39 PM
Try http://www.critters.org. They specialize in SFF, and the requirements are modest -- you only need to critique one piece a week.

He tried Critters and OWW. The crits didn't work for him, according to his posts.

He tried Viable Paradise, too, which includes instructors such as Uncle Jim, the Nielsen Haydens, and other pro authors. Apparently that didn't work for him either.

Pat/Remus has reached the stage where he needs to honestly process the feedback he's received from colleagues and pros. This doesn't mean he need to *agree* with everything he's been told, but he needs to stop discounting *all* the feedback he receives. It's a hard stage, especially when the writing isn't bad, but it lacks a spark, a vividness, that would make his work stand out from the rest.

RemusShepherd
07-27-2010, 12:05 AM
I don't believe you.

I do believe you went to Viable Paradise and failed to absorb the feedback you received there. I also believe that it's easier for you to believe it's your "quirky" personality or your "edgy" subject that gets you rejections, rather than the query and/or writing itself.

Which is sad, because from what I've seen in SYW, you aren't a terrible writer. You just don't quite have that spark yet. Overcoming that can take months or years

But, y'know, what you do with feedback is your call.

I AM NOT GETTING ANY USEFUL FEEDBACK.

I don't know how to impress this on you. If this forum allowed me to carve those words in stone and set them on fire, I would.

When I get feedback, I use it, I love it, I overcompensate for it. But for years now I haven't gotten any.

My crit groups catch typos and otherwise have little critical to say. My beta readers love my work. I've been on Critters and I don't find it useful -- I get a dozen critiques, all from strangers whose qualifications I know nothing about. Most of the critiques are superficial and glowing, and a few that say there are problems contradict each other. I've been on OWW and had the same experience. Where can I get informed, harsh critique?

You brought up Viable Paradise. Fine. I shouldn't have started this thread in the first place, I might as well be banned for it. VP is the root cause of my concern. Of the four professionals who looked at my work at VP, two of them returned my manuscript unmarked, saying there was no errors worth commenting on! Patrick Nielsen Haydn, Stephen Gould, and Laura Mixon all said that I was good enough -- that what I had submitted could have been published. Elizabeth Bear -- bless her heart -- had some critiques which I took to heart and have been obsessed with ever since. (The thrust of her critique? Make my main character more sympathetic. You see where the obsession comes from.)

But those professionals also said that I was weird -- that the themes I chose to write about were difficult to sell to a mainstream audience. I'm writing novels now because Patrick said it's easier to sell weird novels than it is to sell weird shorts.

I am taking any and all suggestions. I've hit a wall, though. You're yelling at me for not taking advice, but I've taken all that I've gotten, and I don't know what to do anymore.


One thing: stop giving out bogus advice about publishing elsewhere on AW. I also attended VP, a few years before you did, so I know what advice they hand out. And it's not what you say.

It's not my intention to give out bad advice. If I give out advice, it's because it's what I remember. I have that piece of advice scribbled in my little blue book, so I got it from somewhere. Maybe I misheard. If so, I apologize for making a mistake. But until I have a chance to verify that advice with the source I heard it from, as far as I'm concerned it's the word of freakin' god. :)

Maybe I should just not give out advice. But that's not a recipe for becoming a part of a community. I would rather make mistakes and accept responsibility for them, than to not interact for fear of making mistakes.

But I *am* interested in hearing opinions. Do you think I am so loathsome and misguided that I should just shut up?

djf881
07-27-2010, 12:11 AM
American Psycho.

Or, more recently, Hello Kitty Must Die.

Or Dexter. Or Hannibal.

aadams73
07-27-2010, 12:20 AM
I AM NOT GETTING ANY USEFUL FEEDBACK.

When I get feedback, I use it, I love it, I overcompensate for it. But for years now I haven't gotten any.


Sometimes a piece can be well-written but lacking in magic. The reader reads it, knows something is off, but can't pinpoint any solid reason why it doesn't work for them. At that point, there's very little feedback they can give beyond suggesting you move a comma.

If that spark is missing, I really don't know what you can do besides write something else. Or rewrite what you've got. I don't believe simple editing works. Magic starts at the roots of the piece so you've got to go back to basics--at least in my experience; that may not hold true for you. Tell the same story, but differently. What do you have to lose?

There are many proficient writers. Some have that spark, some don't and might get it in time, and some might never have it no matter how hard they try. That's just reality.

So here's some feedback for you: right now your writing is missing that magic. What you do about that is up to you.



But I *am* interested in hearing opinions. Do you think I am so loathsome and misguided that I should just shut up?Don't be so melodramatic, this isn't the end of the world. Go write something. Or go and read a dozen good books then write something.

Amadan
07-27-2010, 12:22 AM
I AM NOT GETTING ANY USEFUL FEEDBACK.

I'm... really having a hard time believing that in all the workshops and online critique groups you have sampled, you've never got anything but praise, a few contradictory nitpicks, and Elizabeth Bear telling you your character isn't sympathetic enough.

I mean, I remember the piece you posted here in SYW. I critted it. Several other people did, too. Our comments were, I think, quite substantive. You may or may not think they were useful, and obviously you don't think any of us are "qualified" to critique you, but I remember thinking that your work was decent but definitely not so polished that it couldn't stand improvement, nor was it so "weird" that we couldn't wrap our wee heads around it. And that's pretty much what everyone else said, too.

So, no, not buying that you're just too weird and quirky and edgy and no one can give you useful advice on how to improve your writing. Nobody is that good. A bestselling author can find people able to pick at things that can be improved.

HapiSofi
07-27-2010, 12:42 AM
Remus, you're getting feedback that should be useful. What I'm seeing out of you is a frustration response. I am therefore not going to try to explain to you what you should do, because someone who's in a state of high frustration is not going to take in new information. What you need to do is take it easy and stop battering your head against the problem until the frustration passes. Once your neurological weather changes, you'll be in much better condition to take in new learning and new strategies.

Take care of yourself. Kick back. Relax. Go do fun stuff that doesn't involve writing. Keep it up until you stop having that stiff painful feeling in your chest whenever the subject of writing comes up. At that point, but not before, you can decide what you want to do.

eqb
07-27-2010, 12:53 AM
I AM NOT GETTING ANY USEFUL FEEDBACK. I don't know how to impress this on you. If this forum allowed me to carve those words in stone and set them on fire, I would.

I believe you believe that.

But just because you believe it, doesn't mean it's true.

You got feedback on SYW that said your story was nowhere close to weird. That it was ordinary SF.

Also, HapiSofi pointed out that "okay" did not mean marketable. So have others. (Note: I would listen to Hapi, if I were you.)

My own analysis, as a published SFF writer: Your subjects are not too edgy. Your writing is fine, but nothing special. You can make the leap to standout, but it's an internal adjustment that can't be taught. You have to practice, listen (for ghod's sake), and practice some more.


It's not my intention to give out bad advice. If I give out advice, it's because it's what I remember.

Your memory is wrong. I say this because I saw your posts about adverbs on RASFC, and those were off the mark, too. My advice in this case is to stop making excuses, and maybe just listen for a while. Really listen.

And this might sound harsh, but when you think you've understood something, you might want to check with a friend to see if what you heard is what was actually said.

Polenth
07-27-2010, 01:46 AM
I've had stuff rejected for being too weird (that's literally what the rejections said... not an assumption) and it did worry me at first. Even if I tried to write something un-weird, I ended up making it odd in another way.

Then the weird stuff started selling. It wasn't any less weird, but it was better written. Most of that stuff wasn't seen by anyone else or critiqued. I just sat down with the writing, looked at other people's stories, and figured out what mine was missing.

It doesn't sound like you want to believe it could be the writing, but it's very likely it is. Weird doesn't matter so much to readers if they're involved in the story.


But those professionals also said that I was weird -- that the themes I chose to write about were difficult to sell to a mainstream audience. I'm writing novels now because Patrick said it's easier to sell weird novels than it is to sell weird shorts.

There are plenty of SFF short markets which take weird stuff.

Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld and Fantasy Magazine all like weird stuff. Nature's Futures tends to be quirky hard science fiction (their guidelines simply say hard SF, but when you read them, quirky is common). Asimov's sometimes takes odd stuff.

Many of the semi-pros like weird stuff too (Ideomancer, Abyss and Apex, Weird Tales, Shimmer, Electric Velocipede, Brain Harvest...).

(That's not to say Patrick is wrong, because novels are generally easier to sell than shorts... but shorts take less time to write, so you get more shots at the barrel).

RemusShepherd
07-27-2010, 01:52 AM
Folks, could you do me a favor and not use my real name on these forums? I protect myself with the 'Remus' psuedonym for a reason. Thanks.

RemusShepherd
07-27-2010, 01:56 AM
Pat, you're getting feedback that should be useful. What I'm seeing out of you is a frustration response. I am therefore not going to try to explain to you what you should do, because someone who's in a state of high frustration is not going to take in new information. What you need to do is take it easy and stop battering your head against the problem until the frustration passes. Once your neurological weather changes, you'll be in much better condition to take in new learning and new strategies.

Take care of yourself. Kick back. Relax. Go do fun stuff that doesn't involve writing. Keep it up until you stop having that stiff painful feeling in your chest whenever the subject of writing comes up. At that point, but not before, you can decide what you want to do.

You are a master diagnostician. Right down to the chest pains. :)

Yes, I live in a constant state of frustration. But I've been in this state for years. There's got to be a way out of it. That's what I posted here hoping to find. 'Stop writing for a while' isn't helpful, I'm afraid. I can't not create.

Thank you, this was a clear-headed and objective view and I needed that.

RemusShepherd
07-27-2010, 02:04 AM
I mean, I remember the piece you posted here in SYW. I critted it. Several other people did, too. Our comments were, I think, quite substantive. You may or may not think they were useful, and obviously you don't think any of us are "qualified" to critique you, but I remember thinking that your work was decent but definitely not so polished that it couldn't stand improvement, nor was it so "weird" that we couldn't wrap our wee heads around it. And that's pretty much what everyone else said, too.

It may take some time, but I think I'd like to address that in that thread. I certainly think you're all qualified to critique me, and I made several changes to the piece based on your opinions. But I don't think those small flaws were the central problem that makes the piece unpublishable.

I don't know what the central problem is. In the absence of feedback that tells me my writing is poor, I'm forced to conclude the problem is in the themes. I'm forced to conclude that the problem is me.

In any case, if my writing is lacking, that will hopefully improve with time (even if I don't get proper feedback). What scares me is that the problem with me is insolvable, and all the time I spend writing is being wasted.

RemusShepherd
07-27-2010, 02:15 AM
I believe you believe that.

But just because you believe it, doesn't mean it's true.

Okay. Okay, I'll have to reevaluate my assumptions, then.


You got feedback on SYW that said your story was nowhere close to weird. That it was ordinary SF.

I stated a few times that this was my most normal story, and all the parts in it that are weird are much later.


My own analysis, as a published SFF writer: Your subjects are not too edgy. Your writing is fine, but nothing special. You can make the leap to standout, but it's an internal adjustment that can't be taught. You have to practice, listen (for ghod's sake), and practice some more.

Fair enough, but there is a catch 22 here. Moshe Feder told me that in the absence of feedback, practice can make someone worse. Your bad habits become ingrained, and you discover new, more complicated ways to screw up.

I have been writing, and writing, and writing, and I'm not getting any better. I only hope that I'm not getting worse.


Your memory is wrong. I say this because I saw your posts about adverbs on RASFC, and those were off the mark, too.

Okay. The only ethical thing to do, if I can't trust my own experiences, is to stop giving advice. I'll do that.


And this might sound harsh, but when you think you've understood something, you might want to check with a friend to see if what you heard is what was actually said.

Not harsh at all. I don't know much about how to interact with friends. I don't consider my VP mates friends, they're professional associates. They don't really know me; if they did, like everyone else they'd consider me a monster. But I'll try to lean on them more for writing expertise.

aadams73
07-27-2010, 02:22 AM
What scares me is that the problem with me is insolvable, and all the time I spend writing is being wasted.

That's a possibility every single one of us faces when we sit down to write.



I don't know what the central problem is. In the absence of feedback that tells me my writing is poor, I'm forced to conclude the problem is in the themes. I'm forced to conclude that the problem is me.


Your central problem is that you currently lack magic, oomph, spark, polish, whatever-you-want-to-call-it.

Do you have Asperger's? I ask because you're exhibiting a number of traits common to other Aspie posters. Not just here, but in other threads.

Amadan
07-27-2010, 02:23 AM
It may take some time, but I think I'd like to address that in that thread. I certainly think you're all qualified to critique me, and I made several changes to the piece based on your opinions. But I don't think those small flaws were the central problem that makes the piece unpublishable.

I don't know what the central problem is. In the absence of feedback that tells me my writing is poor, I'm forced to conclude the problem is in the themes. I'm forced to conclude that the problem is me.


That boldfaced part is where you are going off the rails. See, you got a bunch of specific comments about what didn't work, what we didn't like, etc., and you've concluded that since no one told you that it outright sucked (and it didn't), that therefore it was publishable, suffering only from a few "small flaws."

I won't say it absolutely wasn't publishable, because as you and others have noted many times, your writing is technically sound, and gods know there's worse writing that has been published. But I will say that I was not impressed, I did not think it was really professional-quality writing, and I would not have bought the book if I was browsing in a store. It wasn't terrible, it wasn't even bad -- it just wasn't that good. And no, it wasn't the "themes," and it wasn't that it was "weird" -- it just didn't interest me. The writing was okay, the character was kind of interesting but not extraordinarily so, and the plot (from what I can remember) was confusing and nothing that grabbed me and made me want to know what happened next.

This is what you're not getting, even though it seems many people have told you this in many different ways. Your writing is okay. You need to step up your game to make it publishable. Nobody can point at this word and that word and this piece of dialog and that character and tell you, "This is what you need to change to make it sing." We can just point at those things, and in the process of changing them, maybe something will click and your writing will pick up what it's missing.

Right now, though, I think it's easier to believe you're just cursed by some intrinsic fatal flaw than to believe that you actually have more work to do to become the writer you need to be.

dclary
07-27-2010, 03:26 AM
I'm treading on thin ice here and probably shouldn't be in this forum at all, but I'd like some advice. Or at least consolation.

Let me put down the basic facts, first: My writing is sound. I am very good. There is nothing more I need to learn to reach publishable quality. (There is always more to learn, of course, but I'm good enough now.) I know that sounds like boasting, but I have ample evidence to support it. Let's just take it as fact for what follows.

Because now that I'm shopping novels around, I'm getting rejections from agents that say, "it seemed like such a perfect fit but I just couldn't fall in love with it", and "I'm just not enthusiastic enough about the premise of your story". Dozens of rejections along these lines.

Combine this with the opinion someone with authority gave me, that my writing is excellent but 'weird', and the problem is pretty clear.

It's me.

I am not being rejected for technical flaws in my writing, or for any mistakes that I can learn to avoid. I am being rejected because of my viewpoint, my voice, and the ideas that I bring to the table. They are not rejecting my writing. They are rejecting me.

I can learn to write better. I can swerve to try and catch the popular trends. But any part of me that gets into a story poisons it. People who know me share enough of my weirdness to rave over my books, but to the faceless publishing industry I'm too bizarre. In today's economy nobody wants to take a chance on a weirdo, no matter how well he writes.

I don't know how to fix this. I can't learn my way around it. Maybe I can write a mainstream-mimicking story with no voice and no ideas of my own, but I think it would bore me to tears.

One editor gave me advice, but I'm not sure it's good. He told me to own my weirdness, make it my brand, on the chance that tastes will change and the industry will want what I have to offer someday. This is cold comfort, and a hell of a long-term gamble.

I don't see many other alternatives, though. Any advice?


I know exactly what you are feeling -- and the first thing you should do is be glad that you know your abilities and your limitations so well. Most people never even get that far, submitting and getting rejected year after year without a clue or a chance.

One thing I would consider -- once all standard publishing routes have been exhausted, is the self-publishing route. Not necessarily vanity-wise, but if you have a niche that you think people will fill, you need to get your book out there where they specifically can see it.

RemusShepherd
07-27-2010, 04:05 AM
Your central problem is that you currently lack magic, oomph, spark, polish, whatever-you-want-to-call-it.

Yet my beta readers -- all friends -- seem to think I have that, from their responses. Could it be that the 'magic' in my writing requires implicit knowledge and/or acceptance of the underlying themes? In that case, I'm too fringe for the mainstream and I may always be.

But let me break away from that morbid rationalization and try to focus on another possibility. What I'm hearing is that there is a huge gulf between 'Too good for useful critiques' and 'Good enough to be published'. That's a gulf I can bridge, if I only knew how. I don't see any way to do it, especially in the absence of feedback (not that feedback would help, in this case.) But I'll persevere.


Do you have Asperger's? I ask because you're exhibiting a number of traits common to other Aspie posters. Not just here, but in other threads.

Never diagnosed nor even suggested, but I suppose it's possible. I do have mental problems that arise from upbringing, not brain chemical imbalances. Look again at those traits you've noticed and see if they match PTSD or abused borderline disorder. But again, never diagnosed, at least by anyone other than myself. I am not inclined to speak to psychologists; they'll lock me up, and what good would that do? :)

Bubastes
07-27-2010, 04:14 AM
Yet my beta readers -- all friends -- seem to think I have that, from their responses. Could it be that the 'magic' in my writing requires implicit knowledge and/or acceptance of the underlying themes? In that case, I'm too fringe for the mainstream and I may always be.

NO. It means you have to give the reader a reason to keep reading. Pique their curiosity, build some tension, leave questions unanswered, surprise them, make readers yearn to know what happens next.

Donald Maass calls this "tension on every page." Medievalist calls it "narrative lust in the reader." The concept is the same -- make the reader want to turn the page. In my opinion, this narrative lust is the core of good storytelling. Technically perfect writing won't save a flat story.

Of course, if it makes you feel better to tell yourself that you're too "fringe," you can believe that too. It won't get you closer to your publication goals, but at least it's less work that way.

WendyNYC
07-27-2010, 04:34 AM
I agree with Polenth that you should give short stories a try. Lit mags are generally weird-friendly, even the biggies. McSweeneys, Tin House, The MO Review, and Glimmer Train have published some WEIRD ones. Subbing to them might give you a better idea of what's working and what's not.

Amadan
07-27-2010, 04:54 AM
But let me break away from that morbid rationalization and try to focus on another possibility. What I'm hearing is that there is a huge gulf between 'Too good for useful critiques' and 'Good enough to be published'.

No. That is not what you're hearing. (Or rather, it may be what you're hearing, but it's not what anyone is saying.)

No one is "too good for useful critiques." Seriously, play that back in your head a few more times and until you realize how arrogant it sounds. Why do you think many professional authors still take part in writing circles? Usually small private ones, as opposed to posting them on a public board, but publishability does not mean "too good for critiques."

I seriously think there is a disconnect between what people tell you and what you hear, and I wouldn't be surprised if this explains why you think none of your past critique experiences have been helpful.

Paul
07-27-2010, 05:07 AM
:nothing

aadams73
07-27-2010, 05:42 AM
Yet my beta readers -- all friends -- seem to think I have that, from their responses. Could it be that the 'magic' in my writing requires implicit knowledge and/or acceptance of the underlying themes? In that case, I'm too fringe for the mainstream and I may always be.


There are successful writers out there wa-a-a-a-y further out on the fringes than you.

I'd add some new betas readers to your arsenal. Ones who aren't friends. Friends will see magic where there is none, or they'll tell you they do because, hey, they're friends!




What I'm hearing is that there is a huge gulf between 'Too good for useful critiques' and 'Good enough to be published'.
What you're hearing is not even close to what is being said. As Amadan wrote, there's some serious disconnect between what you hear/read and how you're interpreting that information. Or maybe you're twisting it around until it suits your needs.

I don't know. I think this might be one of those head-meet-brick wall threads, therefore I really have nothing else to add.




Look again at those traits you've noticed and see if they match PTSD or abused borderline disorder.No, not even close.

RemusShepherd
07-27-2010, 08:18 AM
There are successful writers out there wa-a-a-a-y further out on the fringes than you.

In their writing, sure. I'm holding back in what I write. I doubt many have personal lives as screwed up as mine.


I'd add some new betas readers to your arsenal. Ones who aren't friends.

Easily said. I don't know how to do it.


What you're hearing is not even close to what is being said. As Amadan wrote, there's some serious disconnect between what you hear/read and how you're interpreting that information. Or maybe you're twisting it around until it suits your needs.

I swear I'm not doing it intentionally.

Are you saying that there's a mystic spark in good writing that compels readers to keep reading, and either my friends are all lying to me, or I can create that spark for them but not for mainstream readers? Because that seriously dulls Occam's Razor.

These are the possible explanations I'm seeing here:

A) I'm not good enough. (And many people have lied to me.)
B) I'm in a netherworld between 'good' and 'publishable'.
C) My technical skills are good enough but I lack a spark. (My friends are lying to me.)
D) I'm good enough but my themes repulse agents and editors. (Which agrees with what two Hugo winners told me.)
E) Something else that I -- a scientist and a writer -- are psychologically blocked from understanding, even when multiple people explain it to me.
D) Writers become successful only by luck, that luck comes into play when the story is first envisioned, and I just haven't had the right vision yet.

I'm tired. I'm not sure I care which is true anymore. I'll just keep writing, and I'll take the advice given here as best I can.


I don't know. I think this might be one of those head-meet-brick wall threads, therefore I really have nothing else to add.

Well, I appreciate that you gave it an effort. Thank you, all of you.

Jodie_writes_what?
07-27-2010, 08:24 AM
I believe Sherilyn Kenyon (a popular romance author) had submitted her groundbreaking series that opened the market to paranormal romance and was rejected. A LOT. it took her a long time, but she kept true to herself and got there. Hang in there.

Polenth
07-27-2010, 01:09 PM
What I'm hearing is that there is a huge gulf between 'Too good for useful critiques' and 'Good enough to be published'. That's a gulf I can bridge, if I only knew how. I don't see any way to do it, especially in the absence of feedback (not that feedback would help, in this case.) But I'll persevere.

What I told you is that weirdness wouldn't stop you publishing and to give short stories a try. You chose not to hear it, but it's what I said.

Short stories are a good way to find that voice/spark/magic pixie dust that'll make things sell. You also don't need to hold back with shorts, because if a story that took a couple of days to write is too out there... doesn't matter. You'll have another one done by the end of the week.

For many of the mags I listed, the more out there it is, the better. They don't want you to hold back on the weird.

Amadan
07-27-2010, 02:58 PM
In their writing, sure. I'm holding back in what I write. I doubt many have personal lives as screwed up as mine.

Probably many don't, but I'll bet a few do. One thing I notice is that you're obsessed with how "weird" and very very uniquely specially incomprehensibly different you are. You're not, really. No matter how twisted, tragic, screwed up, and unbelievable your personal life may be, other people have been through worse and weirder. I'm sure it does impact you and your reactions and your writing, but you need to get over the idea that you're some sort of monster whose brain just doesn't work like everyone else's and that's why your stories don't sell.



These are the possible explanations I'm seeing here:

A) I'm not good enough. (And many people have lied to me.)


Why do you assume they're lying to you? Nobody, not even a published author, can tell you for certain you are good enough. If that were so, authors would be agents (or publishers). You've been told many, many times that friends are not unbiased critics.

(I'm not saying you're not good enough, just that the fact that people you know and some people at workshops tell you you are doesn't mean it's true.)



B) I'm in a netherworld between 'good' and 'publishable'.


Quite possible. This netherworld is not some place where critiques will not help you.



C) My technical skills are good enough but I lack a spark. (My friends are lying to me.)


See above. Your friends don't have to be lying to you to see something that non-friends don't.



D) I'm good enough but my themes repulse agents and editors. (Which agrees with what two Hugo winners told me.)


The two Hugo winners are capable of telling you what every agent and editor in the world is willing to publish and what they're not? I doubt it. But let's say your themes are just so twisted and sick and screamingly eye-bleedingly perverse that normal people will throw down your manuscript in shock and horror (doubt it). Would it really be a violation of your inner self and a crime against your ego to work on something a little less "repulsive"? If you can't even conceive of something a teeny, tiny bit more marketable that also doesn't offend your sensibilities, then you're not a writer with a bizarre outlook on life, you're just a wanker.



E) Something else that I -- a scientist and a writer -- are psychologically blocked from understanding, even when multiple people explain it to me.


I think there may be a psychological block here, but it's not something your brain just can't process, I think you're just being wall-bangingly stubborn.



D) Writers become successful only by luck, that luck comes into play when the story is first envisioned, and I just haven't had the right vision yet.


I hope you don't think that deserves a response.

RemusShepherd
07-27-2010, 09:36 PM
I think (and hope) that this thread is done, but I feel that one tiny element here needs to be clarified.


But let's say your themes are just so twisted and sick and screamingly eye-bleedingly perverse that normal people will throw down your manuscript in shock and horror (doubt it). Would it really be a violation of your inner self and a crime against your ego to work on something a little less "repulsive"? If you can't even conceive of something a teeny, tiny bit more marketable that also doesn't offend your sensibilities, then you're not a writer with a bizarre outlook on life, you're just a wanker.

I do not put repulsive things in my stories if I can help it. I am making every effort to be mainstream. When I say that the themes that appeal to me are not appealing to readers, I mean there is a disconnect between my brain and the brain of other people.

As an example, let's look at the piece I put up for you to look at. It opens with a young thief who walks on walls in an oppressive society -- and then the aliens land. That trips *my* buttons. The themes of casual antigravity, youthful rebellion against authority, and alien invasion set up a character, a situation, and a setting that makes *me* want to read further. But it didn't do the same for you.

This points to a lack of knowledge on my part on how to grab and keep a reader's attention. I am writing for me and for my closest friends, so I am putting in the themes that appeal to that small group. Our tastes are sadly not universal.

(There's an additional level of connection required when we try to get an agent or editor's attention, because the entire work is laid out for them in either the query or synopsis. I have to connect them to the themes of the entire work. For readers, I just need to grab them at the start.)

And just because theme is what grabs *me* in a story, maybe that isn't true of every reader. Maybe it's the beauty of the prose or the level of sympathy with the characters or something else that I'm not doing right. What, at the start of a story, grabs a reader's attention? That's a question for me to take back to the Novel forum. Hopefully it'll spark a good discussion there. Although I'll search first -- I'm sure the question has come up before.

I think I've got a handle on this now. Thanks, again, for your patient explanations.

eqb
07-27-2010, 09:59 PM
As an example, let's look at the piece I put up for you to look at. It opens with a young thief who walks on walls in an oppressive society -- and then the aliens land. That trips *my* buttons. The themes of casual antigravity, youthful rebellion against authority, and alien invasion set up a character, a situation, and a setting that makes *me* want to read further. But it didn't do the same for you.

Lots of readers love those themes. I know I do.

But the theme is only the starting point. You need to write the story well enough to draw those readers in. Yes, some people like how you write right now, but clearly not enough, or you'd get more than form rejections from agents and editors.

Now, the choice is yours. You can continue to discount any criticism. You can continue to tell yourself that agents are rejecting you, not your query or your writing. Or you can take your fingers out of your ears, stop chanting la-la-la, and examine your writing with honesty.

That doesn't mean you rewrite your novel to committee. It does mean that, in private, you set your ego aside and do justice to the stories inside you. Don't settle for okay, or good enough. Aim for wow.

Amadan
07-27-2010, 10:17 PM
As an example, let's look at the piece I put up for you to look at. It opens with a young thief who walks on walls in an oppressive society -- and then the aliens land. That trips *my* buttons. The themes of casual antigravity, youthful rebellion against authority, and alien invasion set up a character, a situation, and a setting that makes *me* want to read further. But it didn't do the same for you.

What makes you think I'm not interested in antigravity, youthful rebellion, or alien invasions? The problem was not that your themes were too weird or unappealing to me.



And just because theme is what grabs *me* in a story, maybe that isn't true of every reader. Maybe it's the beauty of the prose or the level of sympathy with the characters or something else that I'm not doing right. What, at the start of a story, grabs a reader's attention?

For most people, it's all of those things. Theme alone will hook very few readers.

RemusShepherd
07-27-2010, 10:39 PM
Now, the choice is yours. You can continue to discount any criticism. You can continue to tell yourself that agents are rejecting you, not your query or your writing. Or you can take your fingers out of your ears, stop chanting la-la-la, and examine your writing with honesty.

I wish I could convince that I'm not ignoring criticism nor blocking out reality like you describe. You have an impression of me that is not factual, and I hope that I can prove myself to you someday. I would hope that the effort I'm putting into learning should tell you something about how much I want to improve.


Don't settle for okay, or good enough. Aim for wow.

Ah, and there's the rub. My stories wow me, and they wow my alpha reader. I have been aiming for wow, and as best as I can judge I am hitting it consistently. But what wows me is not universal enough. I need to find what wows mainstream readers, and recalibrate my instincts to their expectations instead of my own.

DeleyanLee
07-27-2010, 10:47 PM
I need to find what wows mainstream readers, and recalibrate my instincts to their expectations instead of my own.

That's not hard to do.

Pick up the bestselling books--whatever list you'd like to get onto--and read them. Analyze them. See if you can figure out what they might have in common that gets people excited. Write that.

Can't stand what's on the bestsellers' list? Then accept the fact that you're a niche writer and that bestselling dream isn't going to be yours unless you make some drastic adjustments within your own view of story. Not saying that you can do it, I'm not sure everyone can, but if that's what you really, truly want out of your writing, then you're right: you're the one that's got to change.

Personally, I've been a lot happier since I accepted that I might never get published beyond the level I have been. Maybe never again, since I'm not writing what I did before. I'm good with that. I have a friend who discovered that she's a niche writer and she's seriously NOT happy with it, so she's slogging through murky Hell with 500 lb weights tied to each limb for the last three years, trying to figure out how to change how she looks at story and how to get excited by stories that will gain her dream of megastardom.

The choice is yours.

MsJudy
07-27-2010, 11:07 PM
Not long ago I read an interview with Ira Shulevitz, award-winning children's author/illustrator. The interviewer asked, what's next? Shulevitz answered, not working on a new project right now, so I'm practicing drawing. Because you can never draw well enough.

*ahem*

To repeat:
Celebrated author of 40+ books: There is always more to learn. We are never good enough.
You: Except me, I'm good enough.

DeleyanLee
07-27-2010, 11:33 PM
These are the possible explanations I'm seeing here:

A) I'm not good enough. (And many people have lied to me.)

I'm still not sure what "I'm not good enough" really means. You claim you have the skill sets necessary--but do you have the right skill sets to tell the stories you want to tell or do you have the homogenized sets that any writer can pick up in the HTW aisle of the bookstore?

Is it that you have your vision for the story, when you read the words that you see the story in those words, but you somehow didn't actually put the story into those words for someone who doesn't know you to find?

Both of those are totally fixable and have nothing to do with you as a person.

However, you immediately jump to "I suck", which I just don't understand. Sometimes a writer is attracted to stories that aren't popular and won't sell, and that's the way it is. That's still not you as a person, that's something of your choice in what stories you choose to pursue. Choices can suck, but the chooser only sucks if they don't learn from mistakes.


B) I'm in a netherworld between 'good' and 'publishable'.

Not an uncommon place to be.


C) My technical skills are good enough but I lack a spark. (My friends are lying to me.)

I offer that they might not be lying to you, but that simply might not know what the "publishable spark" is to guide you to it. It might surprise you to know that the vast majority of people don't.


D) I'm good enough but my themes repulse agents and editors. (Which agrees with what two Hugo winners told me.)

I have friends who've won Hugos and John Campbells. Doesn't mean they know the market from a hole in the ground. It means they had friends with some influence in the fannish community that decided to pull for them so they won--unless you're friends with the likes of CJ Cherryh. Fact. Awards don't always mean they know anything, as much as we unpublished would like to believe it.


E) Something else that I -- a scientist and a writer -- are psychologically blocked from understanding, even when multiple people explain it to me.

Always a possibility. Someone mentioned Asperger's upthread. I have it. There are topics that you can explain to me in the simplest of terms, that most children will understand, that I am simply not wired to make those connections. Can't do it. That's life. There are many kinds of conditions, prejudices, life experiences and the like that will rewrite a mind so it's unable to process information. Maybe you have something along that line. If so, then you need to figure out what it is and then figure out how to function around it, making whatever adjustments necessary. Not fun, but life is much happier afterward.


D) Writers become successful only by luck, that luck comes into play when the story is first envisioned, and I just haven't had the right vision yet.

Luck is a factor, I'm sure. Whether or not that dates back to the entire idea stage sounds unlikely to me. I think it has more to having the right product finished at the right time as far as luck is concerned--Luck in sending the book to the right editor/agent at the right time for them to be interested in buying it.

Theo81
07-28-2010, 02:33 PM
Remus, I know you said you hoped this thread would be done with, but I'm going to wade in anyway.



Look again at those traits you've noticed and see if they match PTSD or abused borderline disorder. But again, never diagnosed, at least by anyone other than myself. I am not inclined to speak to psychologists; they'll lock me up, and what good would that do?


Do not diagnose yourself; a) You will get the answer wrong and b) You will end up in the situation of using your answer as the reason why things haven't gone the way you hoped they would.
Secondly, you will only be "locked up" if you are considered to be a danger to yourself or others. It is very, very difficult to get commited unless one is actively suicidal or homicidal. Even then, it's difficult. If you were to go to a doctor and they wanted you to be given residential care, it would be worth listening to them on that matter. The fact that you are able to sit up and write a coherant sentence suggests to me that you are a very long way from getting commited, but only you know how you feel.
Whatever you feel is wrong with your mental health, however screwed up you feel your personal life is, you are not alone in it. Nobody has your unique set of circumstances, but please, don't allow yourself to get trapped in the idea of them being something beyond the comprehension of all those "normal" people you see in your everyday life; please, don't allow yourself to believe that you can't be helped, or feel worried about seeking help.
You are not alone. You are not the only person to feel these things or have these things happen to you. I don't need to know your circumstances to know this. All mental illnesses are hugely isolating and Depression especially destroys perspective more effectively than anything else in this universe or the next.
If I can help at all, or you just want a friendly ear, my pm box is at your disposal.


With regards for your novel and the unpublishability of it:
As I have said before and as many others have agreed, you are not as weird as you keep telling us you are. From what you have said, it seems there is something lacking in your MS; some spark and this makes it difficult.
Try sitting down and taking a hard academic look at it. How long does it take for me to want to carry on reading no matter what? I've lost count of the number of books I've read which didn't kick in and grab me until a good half-way through. As aspiring writers, we need to present an agent with something which is brilliant in the first 500 words: one page. We need it to continue to be good for the next couple of thousand. It then needs to get better. If we haven't got the agent by the end of the first page, it's a no. If an agent has to read to the end in order to decide whether they are going to represent you, the answer will be a no. Try asking your Beta's at what point they decided they actively wanted to carry on reading. Realistically, is an agent going to get that far into the MS?

The second thought is that maybe it is a pitch problem. What is there about your MS which makes it special and different? Why would somebody want to read YOUR novel? Sometimes the troubles lies not in the work, but in the way it is represented. Maybe you have not managed to adequately convey what is good about it and why it definitely needs publishing. Why does the world need this novel in their life? Be specific: adjectives are not reasons.

T

MsJudy
07-28-2010, 09:09 PM
BTW, if you really do want this thread to die, you can PM a mod and ask them to close it for you. then no one will continue to post on it.