Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Secret is the McDonald's Cheeseburger

DISCLAIMER:  I AM NOT an industry professional. I am not an agent nor a publisher. I'm some dude with a middle-class salary that sits around and throws his opinions out to the world on a blog. Some of them, like this one, will be controversial.  I read A LOT into books, into what people say, and into what people do not say (that I think is the most interesting).  So read my latest interpretation of what I'm saying about the Big Six publishing industry below knowing that I'm just some guy with an opinion and every person has them.  I just happen to write them down.  And thanks for the shoutout at The Quintessential Query Experiment :)

Yesterday I came across a post written by fellow writer and blogger L.G. Smith.  She attended a workshop held by Sara Megibow, an agent for Nelson Literary Agency, and what was talked about just confirmed what I've been saying all along.  Here...I'm going to cut and paste it:
"Not knowing your genre and NOT writing to a formula. Sara (who represents highly commercial fiction) needs to be able to immediately identify within the first thirty pages which genre the submission falls under. Each genre has a formula or certain expectations that must be met. For example, a Young Adult novel can only be told from the perspective of someone between the ages of fourteen and nineteen, must be a coming of age story, and cannot ever show the point-of-view of an adult. Adhering to word count standards is also part of following the formula. Most adult novels should come in around 100K, while Young Adult should be between 65K-85K. Veering from these standards will result in a rejection, because she isn't looking for the exception to the rule."
So there you have it.  Getting published traditionally by the Big Six means you are writing to a formula (not my words but an authentic agent that has the cahones to come out and say it). It's why all the books that are coming out all sound the same. Stop kidding yourself if you have an agent and write YA and think that your work is not formulaic.  For those of you that desire to have the literary agent, fame, fortune, and snobbery rights to look down on those who are not represented, here is your toolbox:
  • White-wash your story. Blacks, gays, lesbians, hispanics can only be put into the book if they die or are there to come in second-place to the white people.
  • Female point-of-view, first-person, present-tense. Look at the Hunger Games for a really good example of this. 
  • Love triangle. You gotta have two hot guys and they gotta really want to bone your protagonist. But the actual boning can never happen.
  • Powers: vampires, mermaids, x-men, angels, demons, undead, magic, and if all else fails, go for the autistic savant that melts brains when he counts toothpicks.  People will be like OMG...that's so original!
  • There must be tension between the guys to the point that the girl is always throwing up her hands saying, "Enough!"
  • A setting.  If you don't want to make one up roll the dice on the following chart (grab a six-sided die):
  1. Future apocalyptic. The world has gone to shit for one of the following reasons: a) overpopulation b) natural disaster c) global warming d) nuclear fallout e) a Jerry Springer virus made all the people in the world into white trash and they killed each other over child support.
  2. Underwater.  People live underwater because living on land is so 2008.  And being underwater means everyone has a swimmer's body.
  3. Sky.  People live in the sky because living on land is so 2007.
  4. Underground. People live under the ground because Sn00ki got a disease called tanmonsteritis from UV rays and they turned her into a monster that started eating people by the truckload but she cannot go underground because UV rays now power her life force.
  5. Space.  People live in space because the planet is overcrowded and space is where no one can hear you scream (blatantly stolen from Alien--like that matters since ideas from the eighties are getting recycled anyway).
  6. Modern high school.  This only works if there are bullies.  Bullying is so 2010. The bully should also be a stupid jock because there are no smart jocks and if they were smart they wouldn't be bullies.
I have to say that knowing this and being validated by hearing it from an agent even though I suspected it to be true...puts a slightly bad taste in my mouth.  This brings up a matter of respect.  As authors, we tend to look up to the writers who are Big Six published.  We put them on a pedestal.  Is this all misplaced when we realize that the reason they got picked up and published in 2011 is because they followed a formula...whether it be accidental or intentional?  Here's an analogy for you.
The McDonald's Cheeseburger is made the same no matter where you go.
It's one of their most successful formulas and is a constant seller. Just like
in writing, you can change it up a bit. Hold the mustard, no pickles, no ketchup.
But all-in-all it remains the same.  It's kinda like Dystopian YA fiction, right?

I don't know about you, but I don't respect the McDonald's cheeseburger. It tastes the same no matter what city I happen to be in.  Even though I occasionally eat them, I'd rather have a bacon, garlic burger covered in sauteed mushrooms and made from prime meat that I can get at a greasy spoon any day.  But no one can dispute the selling power of McDonald's, right?  Do you aspire to be McDonald's or do you aspire to be the chef that makes an individual burger that is unforgettable? And if so, how do you get the world to know about it when McDonald's has a vested interest in keeping your unique creation unknown to protect their business model?


  1. Man, you are so right. And, as someone who does NOT want to write to a formula, as someone who wants to be unique? This is juuuuust a bit depressing.

  2. Hi, Michael. I'm a follower of Matt on his "TQQQE" blog, and I stopped by your blog on his suggestion.

    My biggest fear is aspiring to be the unforgettable chef but accidentally opening another Burger King.

  3. I write Romance novels. I see "formula" in a completely different way.

  4. I'm popping over from Matt's blog today. I've also attended a Sara Megibow webinar where she said the same thing, BUT she made it very clear that the formula she meant was not what you listed above, where everything is the same. It is more along the lines of "If you write YA, you protag better be YA." and following the formuala of the genre. For example, if your MC is a vampire, but most the book focuses on his relationship with his GF, then you're writing a Paranormal Romance and not horror.
    Examples of YA books that don't follow your above formula are Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker, James Dasherner's Maze Runner trilogy and Andrew Smith's Marbury Lens, all of which break most, if not all, of your points listed above and all of which were huge hits in the YA market.
    Also you mention white washing, but in the next point mention Hunger Games which is far from white washed.

  5. Yeah, that wasn't quite my take away from the word "formula." It was more about following reader expectations for each genre rather than writing a cookie cutter novel that's been written a dozen times already.

    just meant if you write romance don't kill the protagonist a the end. If you write YA don't tell the story from the POV of the dad. If you write mystery, there better be a dead body by chapter three. And if you turn in a manuscript that runs 200K words, you will probably be rejected. All those things are part of the formula of writing a genre specific book.

  6. Has anyone invented software yet that automatically creates stories based on these formulas? Then the Big Six wouldn't need to worry about authors at all!

    Honestly I can't remember the last time I ate a McDonald's cheeseburger. Probably one night when McDonald's was the nearest thing still open. I like their breakfast but the rest of their menu is a last resort. Burger King or Wendy's are much better.

    But would I want to be McDonald's? Hell yeah! Life is short, make lots of money so you can enjoy it.

  7. Formula fiction gets you published in my opinion. You guys can try and defend what's getting published but the books on the shelf from debut authors all contain first person, present-tense, female protag, and a love triangle. That's YA. That's a formula. James Frey even points out that YA has a formula and when he told it to a bunch of students at an Ivy League school it made some of them sick. I think that if you're not seeing it, and try to break the formula in any way, you won't get published. That's just my opinion. Go ahead and write third-person with a guy protag. It'll just end up in your drawer.

  8. Your post makes me angry...really angry. I hope to NOT be a formulaic writer, but I suppose that if I want to ever succeed - I'll have to be formulaic; and that makes me really sad too. Perhaps there is the one in a million shot that a writer can break the mold and start a new formula, but if they won't even give it a chance??? UUUGH! Not encouraging at all, but I appreciate you sharing the honest knowledge.

  9. Hey, I like McDonalds cheeseburgers! And their fries! Yum!

    In all seriousness, the honest truth is that ALL writing follows a formula. Even experimental writing has its familiarities. So the formula part doesn't bug me so much - there are a lot of different genres, and my feeling is that my story will follow the "formula" for at least one of them. And I'm not trying for YA so that's all good.

    What I think there is NO excuse for is lack of diversity representation. It's disgusting, in my opinion. Disgusting. I'm disgusted.

  10. Heather: Honestly, my post today should make anyone that considers themselves to be a true writer...angry. Because Rogue Mutt is right on the money in his comment--why doesn't someone design a computer program to churn this stuff out? I could hear the questions the computer program would ask: Name of female protagonists boyfriends: [insert name here] Do they have special powers, if so what: [insert power here and have drop down menu], what setting will you use: [drop down menu], etc. etc.

  11. Books written to a formula can get published, sure. Same with movies. Why do you think Avatar was so successful when it was just dances with wolves or ferngully in space?

    "books on the shelf from debut authors all contain first person, present-tense, female protag, and a love triangle. That's YA",

    This is not true at all. Even just thinking about some of the debut novels i read this year i can poke holes in your list.

    Paranormalcy - no love triangle, written in past tense
    Divergent - No love triangle
    XVI - no love triangle, written in past tense
    Across the Universe - no love triangle, written alternating POV between Male and Female MCs
    Possession - written in past tense
    Hourglass - no love triangle, written in past tense
    Wildefire - no love triangle, past tense
    Madapple - no love triangle, past tense
    Matched - past tense
    The Liar Society - no love triangle. Past tense

    And those are just the debuts i can think of off the top of my head and i'm not even that well read in YA. I've only read 16 YA books this year. That's less than 50% of my year to date books read

    I don't know, i think your "formula" is what based on a few YA books (Hunger Games and twilight included in there) and you're extrapolating that to include all of YA.

    I know of quite a few agents who state on their webpages that they don't want love triangles and they are looking for male MCs

    Hell, i queried my novel for three weeks this spring before i decided to make a change in the MS. My novel is past tense, 3rd POV, Male MC and i got 9 full requests in those three weeks. I still have fulls out with some of those agents. My experience alone shows your theory, based on your assumptions off another blog post (because you haven't actually spoken to Sara Megibow about this) doesn't hold much weight.

  12. Sarah: So you're saying I'm wrong. That's fine. I don't think I'm wrong. But just like in a cheeseburger you can change out the pickles, hold the onions, I can see from your example that writers are holding the love triangle.

    Also, you're absolutely correct. I haven't spoken to Sara Megibow. But I did quote from another blog because it got me thinking. Are you saying that I'm not allowed to draw opinions based off of what I read on other people's blogs? That's what a blog is for, right? I'm not an industry professional. These are just my opinions and it's what I think. So if they don't hold any weight with you...that's fine. Best of luck with your manuscript. It sounds like you're getting a lot of action and I truly wish you great success on your journey.

  13. No i'm not saying you're wrong. There's definitely room in the YA market for formulaic plots. I'm just saying i think you're misunderstanding Sara Megibow's point, in that, her formula does not equal your formula.

    She stated, what she (an agent) looks for in clients are people who follow the formula of the genre (ie, romance leads can't die, YA protags have to be YA)

    What you stated in your blog post is that the big 6 publishers only go for people who follow a market formula.

    It's like comparing a,b,c to d,e,f. They just didn't mesh for me.

    That's the only issue i had with the post.

    And thank you for the well wishes. I added your book to my "to buy" list because it sounds totally badass and just the kind of book i like to read

  14. Hi, Michael. Stopping by because of Matt from "TQQQE".

    I write stories that I would like to read. If it means that I won't ever be published by the big 6, then I'm ok with that.

  15. I would rather write non-formulaic books that don't sell, than formulaic books that do.
    But I am not a martyr, if I knew I could write one slam dunk formulaic book that would sell millions, I would do so if only to get readers interested in my non-formulaic offerings.
    Please keep up the lively posts Michael.

  16. Why did you have to go with McDonald's? Their food is so gross. KFC is a better analogy because it involves the Colonel & Cartman.

    Genre = Formula. That formula is why people like a certain genre. When I pick up a fantasy I want big characters, massive landscape and potentially written third person. Is every fantasy 3rd person? No.

    So yes there is a formula but good authors make it work for them, not the other way around.

  17. That's just...sad. I hate McDonald's with the fire of a thousand suns, and I don't want my work to be reduced to one of their nasty grease-coated cheeseburgers. I guess I'll just keep plugging away and hope that someone picks me out of the slush pile anyway. I mean, I have formula to my work. It's YA. I have to conform to some things. But I'm so over the love triangle crap, and I will never write a dystopian. No McDonald's!

  18. Michael, you're right -- but it's nothing to be sad about.

    An apt comparison to all the people who argue that there's no formula, or that they don't want to write to a formula, is to ask whether, if you invent a SuperBurger, you could convince McDonald's to sell your SuperBurger?

    Probably not. Maybe so. But it won't replace the cheesburger, ever, and you're going to generally speaking throw up your hands and yell "Arrrgggh, these stupid people keep ordering cheeseburgers when my SuperBurger is so much better!"

    Almost every BIG book is written to the formula: Why? Because what makes books big is advertising. And publishers will not hype a book that they don't think will sell. As Michael said, nobody wants to find the exception to the rule; they all want to find the copycat to the exception to the rule and hype the crap out of that.

    So if you want to sell your book and have a reasonable chance of success, you've got to sell it to publishers, who are looking for what they already know. You may have a really good YA book that completely breaks the mold: It's told by an old lady! She's Hispanic and bisexual! And it takes place in present day Guatemala! And so on. And maybe your book is brilliant.

    But McDonald's knows that people want the cheeseburger, and publishers know that people want Twilight. Maybe they could convince someone to read "Love In The Time Of Teenage Cholera," but that's a maybe; they KNOW they can convince people to read "Twilight, only with witches."

    So is that a bad thing? No. Right now, people all over the world are listening to, essentially, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga. If you want to be a millionaire musician, you have to sound like Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga. If you go into a record company, and say "I sound like something that's not Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga" they'll toss you out on your heels.

    But bands still make music that's not Lady Gaga, and a lot of the music that sounds like Lady Gaga is okay anyway.

    Genre/formula movies and books and songs don't have to be crap, anymore than anything made with hamburger has to be a McDonald's cheeseburger. You can write a GOOD YA novel with the formula.

    And those of us who say they don't want to write to the formula? Great; don't. Be the band that's not Lady Gaga and the SuperBurger inventor, but be ready to struggle to get people to read your stuff.

    I sell about a book a week, on average.

    And, if you complain about writing to a formula (or moviemaking to a formula, or etc.) ask yourself this: Are you feeding the beast? Do you go see indie movies? Buy indie bands' records? Buy indie authors? Did you buy Twilight? Did you read "The Da Vinci Code" or "That Dragon Tattoo Thing" or whatever? If you did, you read to the formula.

    I, for one, eat at McDonald's ALL THE TIME. I love their cheeseburgers. But I read off-the-beaten-path books and get my music choices from Pandora and indie music blogs and will read any book by an author who indie publishes that book, so I balance out my destroying creativity by loving McDonald's cheeseburgers by urging on indies in other zones.

    The short answer is: It's not the FORMULA that destroys writing. It's the WRITING that destroys writing. And if nobody bought crappy books, nobody would publish crappy books. But nobody buys good, thinking, indie books -- that's why "Up In The Air" didn't sell until it got made into a George Clooney movie, and that's why that guy who wrote "Revolutionary Road" died in obscurity. When it comes down to it, we all want to see giant robots beating things up.

  19. I think all genre fiction is formulaic to some extent, although you can have a varied level of quality within that. Look at pulp fiction, we remember Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett but there were plenty of other guys who are forgotten.

    You can totally create new and exciting stories within the form, but you also have to follow certain conventions. Of course, you don't have to write genre fiction.

    Interesting post. I guess in the end it's a business and the big 6 are just trying to make money, in their own cack-handed way. I don't think you can blame them, although I'll be happy to see them all crumble into the dust.


  20. This is why I'm rather nervous about my manuscript. Technically, it could fall under YA (19 year old protagonist, female, first person) but there are a lot of things going on it that aren't YA friendly that people don't know about yet and that I won't change. It's rather nerve wracking.

    I think though, I'd rather be published by a smaller agency than the Big 6 just so that I could have more freedom with what I write. there's time later to write a formula. I want to write what I wand to write now.

  21. I like Rogue's idea - wonder if that would work?
    I guess my first book had a bit of formula to it, but it wasn't a formula popular at the time, which is why I ended up with a smaller publisher. But I'm happy with that!

  22. This made me laugh so hard. Sn00ki monster that eats people! I may cry.

    This is another reason I'm going the self pub route. My novel has YA characters, but I also have adult POV characters. I already broke too many rules to get published traditionally.

    Then I combine scifi and fantasy. I have wormholes, genetics, nano-tech, dragons, elves, and magic.

    I think I'll call mine extra bacon with asiago cheese, grilled onions, and zesty ranch spread.

  23. Hi, Michael, I stopped by from the QQQE blog. I hate to burst your formula, but my book defies every single ingredient AND it's being published by one of the Big Six.

    It's told in first person present tense of two sixteen-year-old boys.

    No love triangle.

    No one has powers.

    One of the MCs is a bully but he is anything but a jock. He actually has quite a backstory of pain himself.

    I think the main point is that the Big Six don't dictate what gets published - they publish what people are reading (and buying) at the moment. Vampires became the rage not because a publisher insisted on a formula, but because it's what readers were voracious for. Same goes for dystopian, magic focused and space setting books. It's what the readers are buying.

    Bottom line: write what you love and write about what fuels you as a human being, and if the writing is spectacular it will get published. Maybe even by one of the Big Six. It's always about the writing. Always.

  24. K.M. Perhaps your post here restores my faith in publishing? Congratulations on your success.

  25. Ooooh! Your response is making me smile. Seriously.

  26. Sara used to be my agent. I highly doubt she's saying people should write to a formula in the manner of, say, a Harlequin romance. She's probably saying that there exist certain expectations within each genre and that if those expectations aren't met, the book will be a more difficult sell. So, let's say you write a YA in a distant third person past from the perspective of a teen's dog...is that an impossible sell? Not if the writing rocks. But it will take more persuasion and EVEN BETTER writing to get it over the hurdles of publication. As if there aren't enough hurdles already.

  27. Well, I love this post. I find it both accurate and thought provoking.

    I tend to be in alignment of thought with Briane on this topic, but all of the feedback and comments are SO interesting.

    We are a freedom of choice society but as a society, we seem to be encouraging the most homogenized, mediocre version of everything - from literature to music, from news (really now mere sound bites) to what we eat (I loathe everything about McDonald's "food" except their french fries. Those simply cannot be deinied).

    I'm not going to say I've never read "chick lit". I have and do. It's perfect for a stress free, minimal thinking day at the beach. But I've also read all the works of Thomas Hardy. In life in general, people gravitate to that with which they are familiar - this includes books, which is why "formulas" work well. And by "work well", I mean sell well. And selling books is the objective of the publishing industry.

    Hopefully "formulas" do not entirely preclude the publishing possibilities and success of work that falls outside of those parameters.

    Thanks for this great, great post.


  28. My recent YA book got some interest from agents, but ultimately they keep turning it down because it is not gimmicky enough. The recent one said specifically that it's the main character who isn't "special" enough to be a heroine. Now, this is a contemporary/realistic novel, and she's not saving the world, so I thought of her more as a protagonist than a "heroine", so that gave me a real WTF moment.

    Also, I've been hearing that my novel is "so close but not quite" and I have to wonder ... if it's so close, why don't they take me on and help me to make those fixes? You know, if they KNOW what's selling and how it's supposed to be, can't they Eliza Doolittle me into a superstar? Maybe they're just being kind, and I'm not so close. Hey, maybe I suck after all. I don't have an MFA or a New York address, so how would I know?

    I'm going to say something very inflammatory now. I've been reading a lot of popular YA. I don't love it. I don't go on my blog and go "SQUEE OMG OMG THE NEW YA BOOK SQUEE DRESSES! STUFF!"

    I think a lot of it is terrible. Should I be trying harder to write more like that? Or should I maybe try writing for a different market entirely? I think I may self-release my books as simply "books" and not YA.

    Maybe I'm just jaded and I've become such a harsh editor that I'll not like anything I read. Who knows. But seriously, have you read some recent contemporary YA? It's all "Boohoo, I have a tragedy in my past, I push people away from me and I'm such a loner. Oh look, a cute boy or two I'll pretend to not notice liking me. Oh nobody understands me and my parents are like SO weird. Once something interesting happened--flashback! Oh wait, it's the end of the book. I'm feeling much better! I think I can love!"

    Sorry I sound so bitter today. One of our kitties is sick, so getting angry about publishing is a good distraction. :-)

  29. I wish agents would just be honest about what they don't accept. It would save everyone (including themselves) a lot of time.

    Also...they base their decisions on what is selling and going outside of that box is usually a risk they don't want to take. If formula works for them, it's just going to encourage them to keep using it.

  30. Tamara: Get it off your chest girl!

    That goes for anyone else too. Say what you want to say. Nothing is too inflammatory for my blog. It's not like industry professionals will ever read it. I'm too unimportant.

  31. Michael...first off I'm from your dystopian campaign group! What's up:)

    As for the post, love it! Way to get things spicy around here.

    My opinion, because don't all us writers have one, is that I pretty much agree.

    I haven't actually read Sara's post nor do I know her personally, but when I think of YA I think of formula because it sells and it sells because that is what the youth like right now. Just like when SM's vamp book got big, vampires were the rave for a time because that's what sold. It changes as the demand does.
    Right now the youth are loving a mainly female perspective (not that they all are...Beautiful Creatures pops in my mind as a male pov YA book) and in my opinion it's simply because more female youth as well as adults women seem to be reading these YA types of books. Not that boys don't read them(Michael you would know better than I about young boys reading preferences), but I think they veer more toward the sci-fi which has its own formula (I'm thinking Orson Scott Card and Terry Brooks because that is what my husband read when he was young).

    Also I think what is selling for the youth is the love angsty thing, so be it a love triangle or a huge obstacle getting in their way it sells. I don't know if that will ever change because being a female I love the angsty love stuff. I did when I was young too because, who are we kidding, hormones tend to rule a teenage girls life. So it sells.

    I think the odd twist, be it paranormal, dystopian or any other crazy, abnormal thing is added into the formula because who wants to read a story that mirrors their life completely. We need to relate at the same time we are yanked out of mundane-central. So yea, I think a formula for YA is needed so the YA's will want to read them.
    Of course I don't think all YA's stick to this formula and that is why ebooks and self pubbing are so huge. But for the most part, they want it.

    I do think it is sad that race and religion still hinder the publishing world, but change breaks through all the time. I think it is the readers who can change it. If they demand it, then the formula will change.

    Your comparison between a Mcdonalds burger and the YA formula is spot on if you ask me.
    I am a huge fan of the gormet burger and have grown to love them even more the older I get, but in my youth, there was nothing like a greesy double cheeseburger straight from Mc Dees:) And every once in awhile I want one today.
    What can I say, the darn formula works and in a way nothing else does.

    Keep the cool posts coming Michael! Thrilled you are in my group:)

  32. Nothing's *that* private, with google. S'okay, I don't name names. And I do think there's a ton of talent and a lot of amazing books coming out, I'm not one of those "everything is crap" people. I just do what I think all aspiring authors do, which is hold up the bad ones and yell, "This? Seriously. This?"

  33. Great post Michael. I guess making cheeseburgers at home on the barbecue is like self-publishing?

  34. Wow, quite the discussion. I think you struck a nerve.

    Forumlas. I mean, everything has a formula of some sort. I remember in band back in the day being told that music was just 12 notes and 8 rhythms (or was it 7 rhythms?). It was all built on that.

    Books are built on 26 letters. (In English.) These must be combined to form words, which must be combined in specific ways to form sentences. Grammar is a kind of formula in and of itself.

    And speaking of cheeseburgers... A cheeseburger is a formula, whether or not it's from McDonald's or a gourmet chef at come fancy restaurant.

    I don't like the idea of dumbing down to lowest common denominator just to find success, but that's another point entirely (art vs commerce, what's popular isn't always what's best, etc). Gee, I don't know what my point is.

    I just write what I like. I'll worry more when I've got something finished.

  35. As a YA, and as one who buys and reads YA (I own 507 books, most of which are YA), I must partially agree with you. There is a whole shelf on one of my bookcases that I have dedicated entirely to vampire books and the like (starting with Twilight) and half a shelf for dystopian (and you know, for being so popular you think people would know what it is). But, I also have books like Redwall and Thirteen Reasons Why and Lessons from a Dead Girl (I've been getting more into contemporary lately).

    Also, the formulas of today are not the formulas of tomorrow, so hence, someone somewhere is going to take a chance eventually. For example, in my ninth grade English class we are reading Frankenstein. Me? I'm loving it and the old language. But I'm a 'nerd', especially an English one. No one else understands the book, whether it be because of the setup, plot, characters, or the words (I've had to tell people who the narrator is who knows how many times) and so they don't like it. But Frankenstein and similar books are classics for a reason. People used to like them.

    PS. Finally read I Am Number Four and you were so right about that book. The love interest is flat and there is no conflict in their relationship and everyone accepts the fact that he's an alien way to easily. With Sam, I could sort of see that, but with Sarah? Plus half of his thoughts are clique and. there. are. typos. It's going straight to the used bookstore to be traded in.

    PPS. I admire your ability to inspire novel length comments.

  36. I just want to make a few quick points:

    First of all, I MAY have had something to do with this "controversy." Not that I'm the only one who sends traffic to Mike, but I did mention both him and Sarah today, and I hate to see my friends arguing.

    On the other hand, I love to see people agree to disagree. Intelligent conversation is rare in the publishing blogosphere, and I think that differing opinions are part of human nature.

    I do want to clarify, I don't necessarily always agree with Mike, but I love his honesty because it always sparks some conversation. As to this post, I'd have to check the sources, but they could never be responded to in a single blog comment.

    I'll have to leave that to tomorrow. If I can remember.

  37. I'll take The Counter any day over McDonalds: the "Build Your Own Burger" vs. the "Big Mac". That's where my analogy ends.

  38. This is very discouraging. We have to do something before every one gives up on writing. Would you believe that I saw R.R.Martin in a dollar store? Dollar Tree to be exact. My poor cousins who love his work. They will be so sorry.

  39. I don't mind guidelines - they're usually there for a good reason - they work. But I can't say I'd like to write to a formula :)

    I popped over from Matt's - nice to meet you!

  40. I'm going to put it like this:
    We don't eat fast food. (It's very, very rare at any rate.) We just don't buy hamburgers at restaurants, because they're just not as good as what I make at home. The one exception to that is that -sometimes- we go to this place called SuperBurger. They make good burgers. Kind of like I make at home. They're close enough. We go there if we really want burgers, and we didn't prepare to do them ourselves. But SuperBurger is expensive, so, really, we don't go there more often than every few months.

    That being said, I'm pretty sure my book doesn't fit the formula. Actually, I'm sure of it. I don't consider it a YA book (or MG) even if it is about kids. It's a modern fantasy as far as I'm concerned, but it doesn't follow those conventions, either.

    And, just to say it, I pretty much agree with your perspective on the publishing industry.

  41. Oh my God, you basically just summed up every modern teen novel in existence. Kudos.
    Anyways, Matthew MacNish told me to come here. It's not that I wouldn't have wanted to, anyway (because I do love to hear opinions, especially if they're true {Or at least so untrue that you can argue it out, for God's sake}).
    Good times.

  42. So funny! I think that's why many are going the self-publishing route. Very sad that no one can write an original novel.

  43. I got sad a while back and then got over it after I realized that my coming of age novel wasn't likely to be published by anybody but myself. The MC is 100% human and has no superpowers and is too young to be in a love triangle.

    Sure, other writers on my network have read it and still remark on the MC years later, but the truth is, it isn't what's selling right now, nor is it likely to be.

    Interesting posts with too many truths to ignore as the ranting of a crazed writer. :)

  44. Dammit - of all the times to be late catching up with a post. All I really have to add is a couple of things.

    1) I've kinda sorta been wondering if first time authors are like pop metal bands were in the 80's. When these acts first got signed to their record labels all their first albums sounding more or less the same, it wasn't until they had some success that they were afforded a taste of artistic freedom, some acts quickly became far less commercial, some got heavier, some more folksy... some kept churning out the same stuff. I don't want to judge any of the quality there, but note that they must have forced themselves into a mold to please the powers that be before they were able to make the music they really wanted to.

    2) Neal Stephenson, a pretty original writer, or at least one that messes with formula so much it feels original to me. His early disappointments getting published led him to (literally) tear apart some thriller novels that sold well and piece together a novel that hit all the beats he felt a novel has to hit in order to sell.

    It was a commercial turd and he decided to just write whatever the hell he wanted to, figuring that if he was going to fail, he might as well fail doing what he wanted. He stuck to his guns and found a way to make it happen. So, good for him.

  45. I thought you were okay with writing crap? In fact I am sitting here looking at your post from the day before which says "crap sells. period." Does it matter if it's formulaic? Crap that is formulaic is still putting money in your pocket. Personally, my own writing goals are to be a chef but if I find a publisher it will be an Indie publisher, I'll have three little books on the shelf at BnN and noone will buy it because no one will be able to find it. But it will be good stuff (that sits in boxes in my basement). I'd rather have that though than be Stephanie Meyers. I'd rather write what I write than produce a Steven King novel. But I'm dumb that way and I don't get 44 (make that 45!) comments on my blog posts either! So we can see who has the populist touch! (and it's not me!)

  46. @Rusty: Speaking of bands, if you look at U2, they started out with a pretty original sound, but they wanted a number 1 song, and they worked hard to get it. Once they passed through Rattle and Hum, Bono said they had the freedom to experiment and do things they'd always wanted to do. That, of course, led to their least successful albums (although they have some great songs on them, and I own them). Basically, money gives you the freedom to fail. Or it causes you to conform. The risk U2 took after Rattle & Hum, although initially unsuccessful lead to their current work which is just incredible. They never would have arrived at that by just conforming and continuing to produce what they always had before. That leads to stagnation and boredom from the audience. What I'm getting at here is that U2 is the longest running, most successful band ever. They're the biggest band the world has ever seen, and they stay there not by sticking to formula but by growth and change.

  47. Thanks for sharing this Michael...and thanks to everyone who commented...I learned a lot. I'm just a newbie writer and it is good to learn about the big, bad world out there. :)


    Join me at the Rule of Three Writers' Blogfest!

  48. You forgot trolls.

    I have to agree with most of the post. I haven't read much YA, but to me they all sound like Twilight rip-offs with substituted magical/mythical creatures.

    I don't plan to ever query my writing, but I am tempted to start writing on this formula. Why? Because it gets you readers, fast. It sells. That's why agents want it. Take Amanda Hocking, for example. She sold tons of copies self-publishing on Amazon. While I haven't read any of her writing, and I might be wrong, but her books sound pretty formulaic to me. And it weren't agents or editors that chose her writing, but readers. I believe the problem today is not in agents and publishers, but in readers, whose standards have sunk to the levels of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, and who are celebrating mediocrity as the new masterpieces. Maybe kids these days just don't know any better.