Monday, August 08, 2022

Calling Your Baby Ugly

 By Thomas Kies

When I teach my Creative Writing course at the college, I’ll bring out some of Stephen King’s tidbits of advice for writers.  One of them is to have a thick skin.  

When first starting out and looking for both an agent and a publisher, unless you’re very talented and very, very lucky, at best you’ll be getting rejections.  At worst, you’ll be ignored.  

There are some agents, publishers, and editors who will send you a rejection that simply says, “This isn’t a fit for us at this time.”  Or something to that effect.  

Once in a great while, you may get an actual reason why they’re not accepting your work.  But most often, you don’t hear anything at all. 

An interesting sidenote, I sent query letters and chapters of RANDOM ROAD out to agents in 2015.  I was lucky enough to get requests from four agents for the entire manuscript and did eventually sign a contract with my agent, Kimberley Cameron, whom I adore.  The book was published in 2017 and the second book in the series, DARKNESS ROAD, was published in 2018.

After the second book was published, I received a rejection from an agent in New York for RANDOM ROAD, nearly three years after I’d sent her a query letter.  Better late than never, I guess.

So, even if you get published, be prepared for criticism, both good and bad.  My latest book, WHISPER ROOM received this from Publishers Weekly, “Readers will hope to see a lot more of the down-to-earth Geneva… Sara Paretsky fans will find much to like.”


Now, overwhelmingly on Goodreads and Netgalley, I’ve been lucky enough to receive glowing reviews.  However, I also got these:

“Unfortunately, I could not finish.  I’m not interested in reading about alcoholic characters and the story was very clunky and disjointed.”

My main character is a reformed alcoholic and never drinks at all in the book.  Just sayin’.

In another review, the reader
said that she liked the book, but only gave it one star because I used the “Lord’s name in vain”.  Yeah, it was in dialogue…I write how people talk, damn it. 

But overwhelmingly, the other reviews have been outstanding, so nothing to gripe about.  

But sooner or later, we all have our “babies called ugly.”  Take a look at some famous writers and their reviews:

The Guardian talking about J. K. Rowling’s HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE back in 1997, said that its “…pedestrian, ungrammatical prose style, which has left me with a headache and a sense of wasted opportunity.”  It also said, “Her characters, unlike life’s, are all black-and-white.  Her story lines are predictable, the suspense minimal, the sentimentality cloying every page.”

Once again, in the Guardian, they talk about Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES, “I found it predictable, dull, unoriginal, and riddled with errors. Unfortunately, I cannot think of a single reason to recommend it.” 

About Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE, The New York Times said that the book is, “powerless to scare.” It said that it’s “ordinary” and “unpardonable”.  Time Magazine said that it “lacks the direct, chilling plausibility of ‘Nineteen Eighty-four’ and ‘Brave New World’.”

The point is, not everyone is going to like your work.  It’s part of the territory.  But if you’re lucky, many more people will love what you write and that’s what makes it all worthwhile. 

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