Chameleon Submissions

The number one thing an emerging writer needs to do is finish the book before they could even think about putting it out for sale. And when I mean finish, I mean the book needs to be the best it can be. Definitely NOT first draft, but all the plot holes worked out, characters real, breathing and transformed at the end, conflict apparent and resolved, and a satisfying conclusion. After that, the book needs to be edited and proofread (edited means all those items I just mentioned worked out, whereas proofread means no grammatical, spelling, or formatting errors). Then and only than can you think about submitting it to an agent or an editor for publication. Sounds logical, right? But there are some authors out there that take that concept and think in the inverse. And that, my dears, is never going to get you what you want.

There are some new writers that troll such sites as Manuscript Wish List or MSWL to see what agents or editors are looking for. Or toss an idea out there to Twitter pitch parties like #PitMad without even having started the manuscript. Often when writers do this they’re testing the waters, looking to see what agents and/or editors are looking for, then writing a book to those specifications. Bad idea! Because then you’re not writing in a genre or sub-genre you’re adept at and interested in –you’re writing to the market. And when you’re good at writing gritty adult detective fiction and write  dystopian middle-grade instead well…you just may come out with the literary equivalent of finger painting–a hopelessly amateur attempt.

Now, I’m not saying a writer can’t change genres. Some authors write in several. But writing a different genre to branch out and expand your skills and scope is quite different than simply writing to what you hope will sell.  You’re not looking at writing as a craft to be honed and polished. You’re looking at the book you produce as product.  Reminds me of an author talk I was at once where they referred to their novels as units. Writing like that is only going to make you one thing — mediocre.

Look, we all want to sell, be a New York Times bestseller reaping accolades and royalties we need a Brinks truck to drive home from the bank. But writing to market is not the way to do it. You do it by writing the best book you can. If you do, the accolades–and the royalty checks–will have to run to catch up with you.

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One head at a time is enough thank you

I recently read a New York Time bestseller that was all the rage for a time.  It was reviewed by all the best reviewers, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist (starred review), all the major newspapers. Even Oprah got a word in. They made a major motion picture about it, and for awhile, it was a darling of all the book discussion groups–which is where I read it. I must admit it had a great premise, and the first part 50 pages of the book had me riveted. Then the author did something I found well, unforgivable— and I’m a pretty forgiving person. The author started out with one character internally reacting to the other character’s actions. Then in the next paragraph, the other character also reacted internally. Ohhhh… I felt that internally myself, because what this author’s characters’ did was what’s unaffectionately referred to as head-hopping, otherwise known as switching points-of-view in a middle of a scene. And to me that is simply unforgivable.

To some people this is no big deal. They like being in everyone’s head at once. But to me head-hopping is almost as bad as inserting the phrase, Little did Carl know but he was just about to… Yeah, that kind of omniscient stuff. Call me a prose snob. I DON’T CARE. It’s just lazy-writing. It’s much easier to let your readers know at every minute what your characters are thinking, feeling, wanting, desiring, lusting than to actually postpone that understanding by having them deduce subtle reaction cues. Actually I could probably cut a 300 page book down to 150 pages if I do enough hopping. But there’s a certain magic in letting your readers come to their deductions, to allow one character’s time in the spotlight, to hold back some information to let it drop like a bomb later.

Part of the joy of reading–and writing–is the build up of suspense, to have that pay-off after we get to know our characters, get acquainted with their milieu, become invested. If you know everything all the time, every tic, quirk, and innermost feeling, we lesson the thrill of discovery, and in turn, write–and read–a less satisfying story. So it’s okay in writing to hold back, dispense info on a need-to-know basis, maybe even create an unreliable narrator. If the payoff is big enough, your readers will thank you for it later. And your writing rep will remain intact.