Saturday, December 5, 2009

Trial by Fire - Forging Better Writers?

This book has been a goldmine (SK is brilliant!) but what I want to share with you is something author Peter Straub said 1n 1979 when he was co-interviewed with Stephen King. I think it has HUGE bearing on the state of publishing today (the bold text is my addition):

But I have another little theory - which I've just invented - that the whole fiction market, the whole publishing world, changed a couple of years ago when the price of paper went so high. Publishers started turning down books that they normally would have accepted. It got much harder to be a first novelist. It was much harder to be a first novelist in 1977 than it was in 1973, when I was a first novelist. There was a certain handwriting on the wall, and I think one by-product of this is that many younger writers read the writing on the wall and wanted to exercise their talent in some form that would be acceptable to publishers. If you're very, very good - if you're really good - there's always a place for you: you're always going to be read, and you're always going to be published.
I can think of two mega-bestselling authors who have emerged in the last decade whose books were so poorly written they are intolerable reading for anyone who knows anything about writing. At the urging of my husband, I picked one up. He was sure the story would hook me even if the writing (adverbs galore!) did not. At page 50 I threw the book across the room, I was so disgusted.

Now, agents are asking for rounds of revisions from authors they would have signed without hesitation two years ago. Agents are submitting near-perfect manuscripts to publishers but are not having nearly the sales they did before. Newly published books are coming under harsh scrutiny for their "lack of editing." Hard times for all involved.


Could this be the best possible state for literature as a whole? Will this trial by fire "purify" what's being published, resulting in stronger books in the future?

Thank you Girl With One Eye for the Honest Scrap Award! I hereby pass this award along to any soul brave enough to comment on this post.



Nisa said...

I don't really know enough about the publishing world yet to make an astounding comment, but I do believe in trials by fire. They do make people stronger and I think that would run off into any industry as well.

Do adverbs really make you want to throw a book across the room? Man, I guess I'm just really easy going.

L.T. Elliot said...

I find it interesting that this same phenomena happened in 1977. I'm hoping that it means better books for everyone to read. Of course, it's that much harder to break into the biz.

Suzette Saxton said...

Ooooo, great thoughts!

Adverbs were just the tip of the iceberg, Nisa. The book was supposed to be taking place on an alternate planet/universe, yet the characters were eating very American food. The writing was weak throughout. I could go on and on. ;)

Too true, LT. That's why I'm torn about this being a good thing. The writer in me says "oh no!" while the lover of literature in me rejoices!

Nisa said...

Ah! I probably would have tossed the book across the room then, too!

Suzette Saxton said...

Want me to tell you which book it was? *waggles eyebrows* I could PM you over on Facebook. ;)

Anonymous said...

Suzy -- I'm so happy to have found QT and the blog! Thank you for stopping by, too, and it's great to meet another kidlit author -- !

(! -- represents happiness in this case!)

Adrienne aka VB

Suzette Saxton said...

I'm happy to have found you, Adrienne!!!!!!! (lots of happiness!!!) Would love to know more about what you write.


Carolyn V. said...

Yeah, I would have chucked the book too. =) I hope books never go out of style.

Bethany Wiggins said...

I can read crappy writing if the story is fantastic (that's one place where Suzette and I differ) but if I pick up a book and the story line is pathetic, I don't finish it. And then I think to myself... How'd this person get an agent? An editor? I could do so much better than this! (We'll see about that last statement, won't we!)

Tabitha Bird said...

I like the idea of trials and fire. Better books can be the only outcome. And I also think that there is always a place for amazing!

Diana Paz said...

Like everyone else, I hope I can be one of the lucky few that breaks through the ring of purifying fire. Yipes!

Like Bethany, I can tolerate bad writing with a good story, but I CAN NOT read excellent writing with a poor imo story line. Naturally, my faves are a brilliant combination of both. :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

My issue is with bestselling authors who don't try to improve their craft or challenge themselves and end up writing crap. Unfortunately their ego gets in the way and their editor don't have the guts to tell them the truth. You just have to get lazy once, and you can lose your wonderful following. There's one author whose book was so boring and confusing (way too many characters and POVs and no real characterization to differentiate them all) that I ended up abandoning the book a quarter of a way through (it was a very looooong book). Oh and then there's the case of a book in which the author wanted to show how bored her characters were, that she made the reader bored reading about it. You know what, some times telling really isn't a bad thing. Okay, I feel better now after getting that of my flat chest. :D

Lisa and Laura said...

I think there's always going to be good books and not so good books. There's no accounting for taste, right?

It's a little scary that publishers are being so incredibly picky right now, but I think it's forcing all of us to become better writers as a result. At least that's what I hope it's doing...

storyqueen said...

My concern is this: Will the trial by fire lead to better writing, or simply writing that will sell better (sometimes these are not the same thing....)


Shannon O'Donnell said...

I want to read The Bare Bones now! Also, I think storyqueen makes a good point!

Suzette Saxton said...

Bare Bones is great, Shannon. It's interesting to get a peek at SK early on in his career. If you want a book that will make you approach writing in a whole new way you should give Stephen King On Writing a try. WOW, what a book! I ordered a copy on for $3 with free shipping... and was surprised when it arrived because it was a book on cassette. Neat to hear it in SK's own voice.

Storyqueen, you have a very, very good point. My agent told me that in movies only brand name stuff (like Transformers etc.) is selling because of the economy. It's a shame.

LisaLaura has a good point too... different tastes do account for different books.

I think the best we can all strive for is being the best writers we possibly can, committed to growth throughout our careers, whether we become bestsellers or not. (Yeah, Stina!!! I hate that too!)

So DianaPaz, here's to us... all of us... making it through the ring of fire as better, published writers.

And CarolynV, let's make a pact: if a book doesn't hook us by page 50, let's chuck it!!!

Cheers to all!!!

Mandy said...

GREAT post Suzy! I have to agree with you one hundred percent. I've seen blog posts, twitter posts, etc. from literary agents echoing these sentiments. This tough game, is even tougher.

But we shouldn't let that get us down. Keep writing, keep perfecting your craft until you've found the magic combination of great story and exceptional writing.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Suzette - you're right about On Writing. I read it several years ago and always take it with me when I do teacher training in-services. It's one of my favorites to recommend. That's why I'm so eager to read Bare Bones! :)

ElanaJ said...

Great post! I think the whole publishing business is based on something that is inherantly flawed: personal preference. Someone who loves one thing will be the exact same thing someone else throws across the room. Even "bad writing" can be viewed through the personal preference lens. (I know some people who don't see a problem with the writing in some books that make my eyeballs bleed and my red pen hand twitch.)

It's the same with movies, music, art, agent, editors, and restaurants. That's why there's so many different choices. There's something for everyone. What you deem "good," "bad," and "in between" is all based on what YOU think/feel/taste/etc.

It's all based upon personal preference--and there's no rules for that. And that's what makes publishing hard to break into.

At least that's what I think.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I've got to say that can whiz over bad writing with the exception of head hopping IF the story is great! But I think you're right, the amount of editing and revising needed now has exponentiated as of late.

Shelli said...

its so tough right now!

Danyelle said...

Awesome post, Suzette. To be honest, I don't know. It seems that, in large part, that what we hear our MS needs to be like, and what readers (who drive the market) want, aren't always the same. I will say that I'm glad there is a greater selection now than there was when I was younger. :D

Suzette Saxton said...

Beautiful sentiment, Amanda.

Shannon, I'd be happy to mail Bare Bones to you when I am done with it... send me an email if you'd like that.

True, Elana, but let's hope good writing plays a part in it. ;)

Eileen, yes, much more editing - which is a good thing, right?

Shelli, it is tough right now. Thank goodness for blogs like yours that help writers with the marketing side of things.

There is a greater selection, Danyelle, you are right... especially in YA! And there may even be a new genre breaking out, written specifically for the early-twenties set.