Good. Evil. Bratwurst.

Oh My

Posted on by arlen

Teresa Nielsen Hayden points to an EBay auction that is almost heart-rending.

Somebody who obviously has some trouble with self-editing is selling a manuscript, hoping to hit the Big Time financially. So far it appears he wants $150K(US), and the best offer he’s received as of the writing of this is a negative $698US (IOW, instead of buying the manuscript they want him to pay the costs of publication). I’ll give him this: it’s an interesting stunt to pull publicity towards it and himself. I haven’t read the manuscript, but I have read the sample paragraph, and I flashed back to the Star Wars kid. Be careful of the attention you draw, it may find you wanting.

“Oh, if only I had a Name, then I could sell millions of copies of my book!” In some ways, this unspoken claim is true. Some books do get sold to a publisher by Name Only. But not many. And if the first doesn’t merit it, the second won’t be sold that way, barring a very few exceptions. (Please don’t mention Jeffrey Archer in this context.) Likewise with the audience. Yes, I think Stephen King’s name on it could put the Portland, Maine, telephone directory on the bestseller list for a short while, but no longer than that. And it would greatly damage sales of his next few books, as the audience continued to hold a grudge against him for tricking them this time round.

As one who has a modicum of experience in this field, let me say that good writing is Hard Work. It’s not as easy as it looks, children. I can’t pass on the quality of the whole manuscript, but from the looks of the sample paragraph (and extrapolating from the assumption that the sample is what the author considered if not the best writing in the book, at least representative of the writing in it) there’s a lot of work to do on this. Find any currently selling novel with something resembling the final sentence in that paragraph, I dare you. Calling it purple would be an insult to purple prose. Words must be cut and polished, like gemstones, before they will shine.

“I’ve spoken the language all my life, it’s not very hard to write it,” is an attitude I’ve encountered too many times along my journey. It’s Not True. Reality Check? To say someone “speaks like a novel” or “sounds like a novel” is a criticism of their speech patterns. Spoken word and written word are different beasts. While the written word contains within it pieces which pretend to be spoken (next time you and your friends have a conversation, imagine what it would read like if every word, every sound, were transcribed, and you’ll see what I mean by “pretend”) it’s more than that. And it’s the more that causes the problem.

To write, read. Don’t read for ideas, but read for the sound of the language used. Read until the rhythm and sounds of the language become ingrained. I don’t care what the subject is, but you should. You should be reading the kind of book you’re trying to write. I don’t mean this too specifically; you don’t need to read books similar in plot to what you’re wanting to write. But read the genre. If you’re going to try for a bestseller, read bestsellers. You will write like what you read, at least at first, so be careful what you put in your mental hopper. Don’t settle for poor quality. The computer maxim, “Garbage In, Garbage Out,” applies here as well. To write like the best, read the best.

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September 2004
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