Friday, April 16, 2010

78 reasons why your book may never be published

…and 14 reasons why it just might: a review

Why is it so hard?
Because it is supposed to be. Being a novelist is the best job in the world, so it is – rightfully – the hardest job to get.*

I’d heard about this book before, but the numbers in the title intrigued me, possibly because they don’t give whole numbers when divided by 5.

That, and Pat Walsh, the author, clearly didn’t mind the possibility that some writers might be discouraged by the many reasons why their book wouldn’t be published. On the other hand, Mr Walsh is an editor, so he’s familiar with discouragement on both sides of the desk. 78 Reasons turned out to be an entertaining and mostly helpful read.

This book debunks a lot of myths, such as the idea that you need to have connections to be published. Much of the advice is great for writers who are starting out, and the section on finances, which explains managed risks and profit-and-loss statements, would be useful to anyone.

Mr Walsh is also blunt but clear on matters which won’t earn him popularity votes, such as certain topics just not being currently hot in publishing even if they are very important to writers (e.g. cancer). He stresses that all writers are not great at their craft and that no one has the right to be published.

That may reduce the book’s audience a little, but I enjoyed the direct style and especially the anecdotes on life in publishing. For instance, there was the writer who could have had a manuscript endorsed by a Pulitzer prizewinner, but spent so much time first editing and poring over the manuscript that the Pulitzer prizewinner died.

Not to mention the manuscript with many strange references which (the writer explained) were in-jokes about Samuel Johnson, who had nothing to do with the story. No, I couldn’t figure that one out either.

Great writers... know that biting criticism can hurt, but misguided praise can harm.

The advice is divided into sections based on writing skill (e.g. “You Have a Tin Ear for Dialogue”), publishers, agents and just plain bad luck. Finally, though, there are the 14 reasons to keep trying. Not for the overly optimistic or for anyone who prefers the easy validation of vanity publishing, this book is a good addition to a writer’s library.

*Then again, no cool-sounding job ever lives up to expectations. I once met someone who told me she worked for the circus. I asked, wide-eyed and eager, What is that like?

There is a lot of paperwork, she said.

Hey, it’s just like writing!


Update on the giveaway : The winners of the giveaway for Glorious are Ebon Star and BookMarc Blogpants. Thanks to everyone who participated!

Update on promotion: Day 10 (April 15): Submitted an application to the Red Room.


Maria Zannini said...

Ref: Great writers... know that biting criticism can hurt, but misguided praise can harm.

This is something I learned early on with my crit partners. I had one CP who literally wouldn't talk to you if you didn't heap praise on her work. I had to let her go. She was just too insecure to face facts.

The woman has been trying to get published for DECADES--and she still hasn't figured out why it hasn't happened.

She's a good writer, but she'll never get anywhere because she insists on surrounding herself with cheerleaders instead of people who can help her get to the next level.

Marian Perera said...

Heh - I learned the hard way that criticism, no matter how tough, can't kill you.

When I was 18 and greener than a cucumber, I sent a short story to Marion Zimmer Bradley, who returned it with a really blistering rejection attached. I was crushed for a while.

Then I started writing again and sending my work out again.

Who was it said that "Those who can be discouraged, should be discouraged"?

Anonymous said...

Years ago an editor told me in no uncertain terms that I "Could't write". I took a good long hard look at myself and realised he was correct. Then I set about changing that. It was the best lesson I've had from any editor. Without it I'd probably still be unpublished.

writtenwyrdd said...

thanks for the heads up on what sounds like a good book.

How could someone have a sense of entitlement re getting published? But I guess it happens. Writing's a business: you have to have a good product that can sell, both to publishers and by publishers. It's common sense.

Barbara Ann Wright said...

I saw your post on How Publishing Really Works. It was very eye opening. I used to think that once a writer got an agent, they were pretty much done.

Marian Perera said...

Lee - good example! There's one thing worse than being rejected, and that's being accepted before you're good enough.

Because usually, the places which will print you before you're good enough aren't the kind which have book quality and sales uppermost in mind.

Writtenwyrdd - Oh, they'd have a sense of entitlement for several reasons.

They may have put a great deal of time or effort or money into their books, so they feel that publication is the only appropriate end of the road. Or the book is about a subject that's very significant to them. Or it's a case of "if they publish stuff like Twilight, they should publish my book".

Barbara - It depends on the agent. If you get a good one, you can go far. That's assuming the book is as good, of course, because the best agent can't do much with a product that isn't up to scratch.

But if you end up with a marginal agent, or even one who's personally/professionally wrong for you (we're not even getting into scammers here), well, that can be a different story.

Thanks for commenting!

Mary Witzl said...

I love that quote about harming and hurting too, and what you say about writing being such a cool job that it ought to be hard really does make sense. Any job that is this much fun and that lets you work in your PJs shouldn't be something that any idiot can just fall into. I'll remind myself that the next rejection letter I get, which shouldn't be too long from now.

I learn the most useful things on your blog. When I get back home, I will definitely buy this book.

Marian Perera said...

Thanks, Mary!

Rejection letters sting, there's no doubt about it. But the lack of response is worse, IMO. I'm never sure whether they didn't like it or whether the query just didn't get there.

It frustrated me no end during my last agent search. I'm bracing myself for the next one.