Monday, September 12, 2011

Out of touch with reality

One of the blogs that I read is written by Anne R. Allen. It's a big blog, and she has this lady named Ruth Harris who comes from an editing position with one of the Big Six Publishers.  Anyway, it like a hundred thousand other blogs out there--it seeks to pass on writing advice. In other words, they tell you how to write so that you can get agented and published with the Big Six.  I assume that, in a perfect world, if you supposedly followed exactly what was said verbatim, you would find yourself with a product that would get 1) agent and 2) book deal and 3) some sales before your career was over.

Why do I say #3 with snark?

The specific piece that Ms. Harris talked about was the things that you shouldn't do to introduce your protagonist to the world.  Another of these was to excise the prologue.  Now, I many cases, a prologue is unnecessary.  I agonized over mine and decided to get rid of it in the end.  It is now a short story that may help me market my book in a year.  But I made this decision on my own, and not because I took "professional" advice.

I have some strong opinions about the industry professionals snobs (those that pull-down more than $250,000 a year and have education equivalent to that provided by Ivy League schools--Stanford and Berkely and U.C. Irvine are examples of "Ivy League" equivalents).  But more importantly...those that are snobs because of their attitude.  And yes...I'm using the word SNOB.  You may know some in your life.

I think industry professional snobs are out of touch with dung--with crap.  I define "crap" as being anything that isn't a Pulitzer prize winning/ Nebula award winning/ Hugo garnering (you get the picture) piece of written fiction.  I (for example) write crap.  So does Stephanie Meyer and so, for that matter, does George R.R. Martin who by my definition, lost his Hugo to J.K. Rowling (who obviously doesn't write crap because she won an award). 

Okay... so industry professional snobs are out of touch with crap.  Maybe that's because it smells bad and they want to represent future Nobel Prize winners.  They also want these award-winning novelists to make them a lot of money.  But you very rarely get both.

CRAP, quite frankly, sells rather well.

And I think that industry professionals are ashamed that crap sells well.  I think that it makes them mad.  And they want people to stop writing crap so that they don't have to represent it and that maybe...just maybe...someday better books will be published and the crap will all be cleaned up and flushed away.

But this won't happen.  And, they shouldn't be providing advice on how to win a pulitzer with your prose anyway.  Why try for an "A" when stuff that gets a "C" gets published and makes more money?  They shouldn't be providing advice on how to be the next J.M. Coetzee.  Industry snobs sound a lot like college professors (and I know some) who sit back and speak of things that they think is true...but the high school dropout that has three kids at Wal-Mart who buys romance novels knows nothing about.  And I'm talking LEGIONS OF THESE PEOPLE who smoke pot and have sex for a six-pack of Keystone and draw down welfare like it's nobody's business.  These people BUY books.

In the blog post I linked above, an industry professional has "testimonies" from other industry professionals pointing out how a prologue is bad.  Maybe it is.  But here's something that I find VERY was only this year that even Nathan Bransford decided to read the Harry Potter books. Don't believe me? Go check out his blog. And he's a middle-grade writer.  How could you not read the work of the best-selling writer in your genre until after you started to work on your second book?

My point is that the industry professionals are late in the game when it comes to buying books...yet they have all of this advice on how to write one for the masses so that it will sell?  J.K. Rowling's career by the time Nathan Bransford even bothered to look at it was bigger than Jupiter.  In other words...he only read it because EVERYONE ELSE in the world had read the books.  How come no one ever has testimonies from Joe Martin...the bum on the street corner that has a copy of James Patterson's latest published 'fiction-factory' CRAP?  Ask him..." you read prologues?"

I could ask my friend Melissa...she has a high school education and works in a call center and reads vampire books.  She reads everything in the book...EVERYTHING.  That means she reads the prologue, the epilogue and the author's notes in the back.  I do too.  I read all fifty pages of Neil Gaiman's epilogue and I read every single one of George R.R. Martin's prologues.

Was I asked if I read a prologue? Nope.  But if I had been asked I'd say "Yes I do!"  But they like to quote things like, "No one reads a prologue." Hmmm...I must be a no one then.

But industry professionals were asked, and their opinions solicited.  My question is why?  THEY ARE NOT REPRESENTATIVE OF THE MASSES.  The only star on their resume is that they are in control.  But being in control does not make you a sample of the general population.  President Barack Obama is in control of the United States.  But is his lifestyle the same as yours? As mine?  I'm thinking he probably lives a lot better, has better healthcare, has some...I dunno...RESOURCES and probably doesn't have to worry about trying to afford medicated shampoo for dermatitis.  It's like having a black person on trial and then selecting a jury of all white people and saying "THESE ARE YOUR PEERS" to the black person.  Like WTF?! Really?!
Listen here, Vick!  We dogs are your peers. We know WHAT
WE ARE THE PROFESSIONALS and make a living doing
this so you'd better darn listen to us or you'll be sorry.
So yeah...publishing is a catch-22.  Crap sells.  But if you write crap that people won't make it past the gatekeeper who is ashamed of your BAG OF DUNG.  So, somehow in all of the stuff that you've got to keep need to slip past the gatekeeper with your crap by making it good enough for the snobs, yet have it still be appealing enough to those that buy the crap enmasse.  I wonder how many vampire manuscripts are being turned down simply because the agent "Is tired of seeing vampire stories" when in fact, my girl Melissa wants more and more and there are tons of girls just like her out there wanting more.  They want hot, sexy vampires with perfect bodies willing to sink their teeth into them.  But yeah...there are some "industry professionals" that are turning this down because supposedly "the trend is over".  WHATEVER.  They just want it to be over and are hoping that because they are in control, that they can influence mass opinion and prove themselves right.

Interesting AND a headache.  I have just five words for all of that advice:



  1. This is a great post, Michael! Hilarious, and also true! All those experts sneering at commercial fiction, when they make their living off it the same as the writers. Oh, but is it ART? Who the hell cares as long as people enjoy it? More people eat baked beans than caviar.

  2. Very good post and most relevant with what is happening in the industry right now. I've heard so many people still want to read vampire stories as well, and I don't see it dying from a reader's perspective...

  3. I love prologues. I'm thinking of putting two of them in my fantasy novel!

  4. When Tolkine writes closing statements that are longer than the book, that is when you KNOW that you read epilogues.

  5. So true! Great post! And for all these reasons... I decided to go on the self-pub route. More and more - even traditionally published authors are switching teams. We, as a society, have been fighting against the red tape. All self-pub has done is make readers sift through the garbage to get to the CRAP we all enjoy.

  6. I find myself more open minded about writing crap these days. It's just a matter of finding the time.

  7. One record company in England turned down a demo tape by the Beatles because "Guitar groups are on their way out."
    That company represented the "professionals," too -- the guardians of music industry standards of the time. The Beatles were working-class nobodies, and the professionals weren't interested in them. Everybody else was, though, and I think we all know the rest of that story.

  8. These people never practice what they preach though. They say not to have prologues, but then they put out books like George RR Martin that have prologues. They say vampires are "over" and then put out 20 more vampire books.

    Like a couple days ago someone (I don't think she was an editor though that's probably where she got it from) said you can't have characters smile or use any facial expressions at all because it's "cliche". So then I pick up my ARC of the latest Richard Matheson book and, yup, at least three smiles in 40 pages. Throw another "rule" out the window!

  9. I can think of a few prize-winning literary 'geniuses' I don't read - because they bore the heck out of me!
    And for the record, my first book had a prologue, and it was at the request of my publisher.

  10. I have no qualms about telling you that my goal is to write good commercial fiction. I also have a manuscript with a prologue that critiquers have advised me to pull. It is still there. :)

  11. Amen, brother. You said it perfectly. Why do the agents get to decide what I write and whether or not peeps will buy it? The publishers too. I mean, I guess their sales are examples of what's hot and what's not, but still. I'm always surprised at what peeps want to read and what the pros are telling us. I write fantasy and keep hearing how no one wants high fantasy stories, yet there are die-hard fans of high fantasy EVERYWHERE. It's just not what the pros want.
    And as for all those writing rules, they are made to be broken when the times is right. Nothing in this biz is set in stone. There will always be some writer who threw caution to the wind and told the story that needed to be told regardless.

  12. Prologue reader, here!

    Your post reminds me of something I've been thinking about lately. I might just have to share my two cents on the matter. Loved reading your post. I'm not out there to win awards or rake in loads of cash. Writing stories that my market likes and a decent living is fine by me.

  13. I love following rules. It makes my fellow rule followers nod in appreciation.

  14. If I like a book, I want as much of it as possible. I have no problem with The Fellowship of the Ring taking well over a 100 pages to get going. I LOVE that shit.

  15. Oh Michael, how I love thee so! It is so true that the industry has its own ideas about what's hot and what's not. If only they did take polls of what REAL people are reading. I think they'd find a lot are reading romances. LOL!

  16. I've got to agree with you here. I stopped reading most agent blogs awhile ago because they just seemed so out of touch with reality. I have an unpublished vamp novel with a prologue so I'm pretty much out of luck! lol :)

  17. I just want to say I agree and love your post.

  18. Oh, Michael. <3 (Heart this post)

    I unsubscribed to all the agent and advice-spewing blogs. If they really knew what it took, the MAGIC FORMULA, they could take any Eliza Doolittle with some writing skills, pump in some instructions and high concept ideas, then sit back and profit. I think that Frey guy is doing that right now. We'll see how well that works out ...

  19. See, you've just listed off a good many of the reasons why I chose self-publishing. I figure I'm old enough not to have to deal with that kind of stupidity. Really, I've always hated that kind of stupidity, but I used to be more willing to deal with it. Also, I hate hoops. I don't like jumping through them, and I don't like making them go in circles around me.

    By the way, I'm tagging you in the post I'm writing, right now. Hopefully, it will be up a little bit later today.

  20. I read prologues!

    I subscribe to a couple blogs by "industry professionals", but the majority of the advice I pay attention to is written by writers and bloggers (like you) who are actually reading and writing.

  21. Interesting. This whole issue of professional snobbery reminds me of Orson Scott Card's cricisms of literary fiction and what he termed the "literati." It may well be that with the changes in publishing, those agents, editors, etc who survive the changes with their jobs intact will form their own elitist tribe and merge with the literati. If that's the case, it gives me one more reason to continue along the indie publishing path.

  22. I read prologues too, even long-winded ones like George Martin's. Speaking of which, you may be one of the only people I've ever "met" who has read and is as passionate about Song of Ice and Fire as I am. I feel like we need to have a discussion. Somehow.

    Back on topic, I write crap too, and am totally okay with that. :)

  23. Every book I've read from the big six [recent books] breaks those rules. Most have prologues.

    They sell to some mass market. The rest of us will sell to real markets. That's how I see it.

  24. That's why I liked Micheal Stackpole's podcast; he acknowledged that we're just writing entertainment, and not trying to change the world.

  25. Hi, Michael,

    I just dropped in to say hi. Interesting subject. I also read EVERYTHING in a book. SO I guess there are a lot of us "No ones" out there.

    I also wanted to make sure you got my list of favorites for the Campaign ... Let me know.

  26. 'Nother "nobody" who reads prologues here. I am totally and utterly disgusted that these snobs get to tell people what they do and don't like as opposed to actually - gee, I dunno... LISTENING to the reading masses. It's like you said - they are completely out of touch with reality. Soooo frustrating!

  27. I think this is why it's necessary for writers to learn the craft before venturing out into the big old world of publishing.

    There are a lot of articles out there that say what you can and can't do. There's also the advice to learn the rules before your break them.

    I'm firmly in that camp. A lot of stuff I was told I couldn't do somehow got past several editors and I haven't been told to get rid of those bits.

    Personally, I like Prologues. Even managed to slip one into a novel and got to keep it. At this point, I take advice from the editor at the publishing house. If he/she asks questions or explains why something doesn't work, then I'm all for change. Truthfully, I couldn't wait to get published so I could break the rules.

    Remember how we were told sentence fragments were a no-no. I'm a big fan of those too.

    I think I'll stop with the essay.