Saturday, October 27, 2012

Nobody knows nothing

That's one of my favorite quotes. It's attributed to William Goldman (novelist, playwright, and Academy Award-winning screenwriter). He offered that statement to explain that no one knows what it takes to make a hit movie.

I feel the same way about what it takes to make a bestseller novel. Name recognition helps. If I wrote under Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, or J.K. Rowling, then it's a pretty good bet that my book would shoot to the top of the lists.

But what about the rest of us?

I think I know a little more than the layman about writing fiction and getting published, and with five published novels to my credit, I presume that I have the credentials to teach long fiction. While I can sift from the "needs work" to the "pretty good," beyond that, I'm shooting from the hip. Once you get above the "pretty good," it's really a matter of style. I've read a manuscript that didn't do much for me and it went on to be a huge seller and garner a movie deal. And there are books that strike me as outstanding and yet they limp along practically forgotten in mid-list Purgatory.

At writing conferences I feel that the wanna-be's think I hold a secret key that will unlock the doors into the publishing world; that there's some formula that A + B + C = Publishing Deal. If that formula exists, I wish I knew it, because I'd use the hell out of it.

Writers get a lot of bad advice, and the present turmoil in the publishing industry, vis-à-vis ebooks and social media, really churns the mud. I've attended more than a few writing workshops with no actual book authors on the faculty. And there seem to be a plethora of panels with titles like: "How to Twitter (FaceBook, Instagram, etc.,) your way to a million dollars in ebook sales." Which makes me want to ask, "If it's so easy, then why aren't you stinking-ass rich?"

Plus there are experts who give you a list of "thou shall naughts and ye must do" for your writing. Among them: no backstory in the first twenty pages (I surveyed an armload of novels and every one of them violated that rule, regardless of genre.); never use omniscient POV; the inciting incident must be in the first chapter (or the second, the third, whatever); the first sentence must introduce the story question; never switch POV without waving a "I'm switching POV flag" to the reader; never use big words; never use info dumps. All these admonitions fill your head with barbed wire.

So what to tell you?

One. No one cares about your writing but you. If you give up, then you'll never get published.

Two. Read and write. Read and write. Read and write.

Three. Keep the faith. There is so much in this business that is out of your hands. If you get a chance, read the Foreword in Rex Pickett's hardback edition of Sideways. The man suffered the trials of Job, and Fate seemed determined to screw him at every turn...yet he prevailed because he didn't give up on himself.

So while nobody knows nothing in this business, you should know enough to keep writing.


Shannon Baker said...

In the words of Dori, from Finding Nemo, "Just keep swimming." Thanks for the words of encouragement.

Mario Acevedo said...

Just don't swim backwards!

Hannah Dennison said...

All so true! I say "focus on the work" and the rest is in the lap of the gods.

Charlotte Hinger said...

The best advice I ever got was "write what you really want to write. There is so little money in this business it's stupid to do it for any other reason."

Sue Whittaker said...

Most so accurate! I have faith that "focus around the work" and the rest is within the lap in the gods. Just words and phrases regarding support.

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