Archive for February, 2013

How’d THAT Get Published?

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

I've been hearing a fair number of wannabe authors lately all asking variations on the question, "How'd that get published?" The typical scenario goes something like this:

  • Author spends an entire day forging breathtaking prose out of white-hot metaphors.
  • Tired, yet satisfied over an honest day's toil, Author decides to take a trip to the bookstore for a hot cup of coffee and a peek at the latest Garfield calendar.
  • A wall in the color of, oh, let's just call it "more than four dozen shades of a color not quite black nor white" smacks Author in the face.
  • Not without a wince, Author picks up one copy, slowly peels it to a random page and reads, "The muscles inside the deepest, darkest part of me clench in the most delicious fashion."
  • In utter despair, Author returns home and burns manuscript-in-progress.

It makes sense, of course. After all, if badly written books can not only get published but become — gasp — popular, what hope does someone like Author have?

This sense of frustration is normal. For in spite of piles and piles of evidence to the contrary, we all still believe life is supposed to be "fair." And it's patently NOT fair that someone who only but recently learned how to hold a pen now receives daily FedEx trucks full of money while we — we who type until our fingers bleed, perfecting each loving sentence whilst passion for the written word visibly drips from our under-appreciated pores — can't get the time of day from even the most hard up, entry-level employee in Acquisitions.

What we seemingly forget, in spite of piles and piles of evidence to the contrary, is that there is absolutely no correlation between "level of artistic merit" and "commercial success." None whatsoever. I'm sorry about that, but it's true. Highly related: we also forget that the publishing industry does not solely exist to ensure that only the finest quality writing ever reaches the hallowed shelves of Barnes & Noble. No, the publishing industry is a business, and that isn't a bad thing. It is not run by ignorant, malevolent, money-grubbing primates with nothing but disdain for the fine arts. It is run by people who are responsible for running a responsible business. This means creating products, shipping products, marketing products, and selling products. If they accomplish this monumental task successfully, then they get to pay the tens of thousands of people who make up this supply chain. Plus, as an added bonus, they're allowed to remain in business one more year.

Deep down Author knows this. Yet she remains despondent that crappy books contribute to this business model and can't understand why fine work (such as her own) never sees the light of day. It's easy to forget that fine work does get published. And, yes, it's very easy to forget that for every unexpected hit like Twilight, one hundred thousand equally crappy manuscripts are turned away. It's not as if only crappy books are published.

Author also forgets that "it takes all kinds." These books sell for one and only one reason: because a market exists for them. And it honestly doesn't matter if you personally disagree with the tastes of this market. I'm sure there are aficionados of classical music who simply cannot figure out why anyone would listen to jazz. The jazz devotees cannot figure out why anyone would listen to pop music. The Top Forty fans don't appreciate country music. Country music fans will never, ever figure out heavy metal. And the headbangers can't for the life of them understand why anybody would listen to anything as mind-numbingly boring as classical music.

So what's Author supposed to do? Quit writing? Give up? Chuck her manuscript into the river and never write again? To that I respond with a most emphatic yes. Because that just means MY crappy manuscript has one fewer author to compete against.

Posted in Musings |