How many times have you been told that to get published today, you need to think outside the box? Being creative will get you noticed. Oh yes, it’s nice if you can write a lovely sentence too. I hear this refrain in writing classes, critique groups, and at writing conferences. One agent at a recent conference said that by making her vampires sparkle, Stephanie Meyer made her series unique. Excuse me? Twilight succeeded despite its dreadful writing because it used the classic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl plot. The author was ahead of he curve by using vampires and werewolves as her teenage protagonists, but let’s be honest, vampire stories have been around for quite some time. As for the dreadful Fifty Shades of Gray (or as my children call it (“Mommy Porn”), anal beads and nipple clamps a best seller do make as long as romance is involved.
These two books are neither amazing nor well written. They’re awful, but stirred enough prurient interest to make them into best sellers, and lets face it folks, that’s what the publishing industry is really looking for.
You can’t blame them really. Publishers are running scared with so many distractions on the internet, they want sure bets when they put a book to press. But let’s stop the pretense that if you write like James Joyce or F. Scott Fitzgerald and come up with the newest and most outrageous plot in the world, you’re a sure bet to get either an agent or publishing contract. Who knows if either of those literary giants could get published today? After all, they had fabulous editors who recognized their considerable talents and helped form their books.
That aside, with few exceptions (and I’m talking the top literary writers here), we mortals need to line up and prepare to grind it out.
Lest you think, I’m just a grumpy old coot, I do wish every single writer out there the best of luck. It’s a slog, my friends, but you learn a lot in the process. You may not get the six figure advance, but you will learn so much the more you keep at it. Network, go to conferences, talk to people, join writers groups. Don’t sit in front of your computers and contemplate how you can write the great American novel. Think about how you can write the best novel you can, then write. Once you’re done. Revise. Write some more. Have people read your stuff. Most of you know this, but I’m always surprised by how many writers are so intimidated by showing their work.
Start with your family because they’ll always give you uncritical praise (unless your family happens to be a writing family like mine in which case you’ll find out fast what isn’t working). Then move out to a small critique group. Trust me everyone’s nervous. If one group doesn’t work, you can always change to another.
Most importantly don’t give up. If you feel you have to write, then do it. Writing is a calling. You either follow it or you don’t. When you feel like your plot is a little mundane or ordinary, remember there are only five plots. (I’m not naming them because if you’re writers, you should know them.) They’ve all been used. You don’t need sparkly vampires or anal beads. But well honed words and a few plot twists couldn’t hurt.
One last thing, as writers, we all need to support each other. Author Jonathan Maberry has made it a mantra that “Writers should support writers.” He’s a best selling author who still makes time to talk to working authors, give advice, and is a genuine good guy. We should all keep that in mind.