Or do I?
I read in an earlier version of a publishing trade magazine this month that an industry professional I’m not going to identify could not figure out why a certain hugely successful author (I’m also not going to identify) hit it big when this certain hugely successful author had not gone through all the hoops that (according to the industry professional) all other authors had gone through: years of practice, rejection letters, critique groups, and editing.
In a very real way this bothered me.
Here’s someone in the publishing industry who cannot seem to figure out how someone hit it big…because they trashed the traditional paradigm? That’s what bothered me. In a previous post I’d discussed that I’d thought there really is no secret to writing, but here was someone who professed to “know things” because this person was a professional who trafficked in authors. Had “answers.” Presented at conferences and made money off his/her knowledge.
My problem is with the industry professional’s mindset—and I’m bettin, like in my previously posted blog—this is the exact same mindset used most everywhere else in the publishing world these days: rigidity. And it’s not just symptomatic of publishing, it’s in many other areas of life. Individuals seem to get so wrapped up in the mechanics and structure of whatever it is they’re doing and forget to let the creativity of the act take them along. This heavily applies to the craft of writing. Many of my writer friends (many also published) seem to intensely focus on the “craft” of writing. They beat it into the ground. Teach classes on it. Write articles about it. Talk about it at parties. And, again, as mentioned in a previous post, I mean absolutely no disrespect to any one of them—including the industry professional in the abovementioned article. In my humblest of opinions, I feel some of the intense focus is, indeed, deserved…but I feel this also hints that perhaps all of the laser-like focus is because this is one area that humans can control, especially in the world of writing. Learning about verbs and sentence structure. Story structure. Following rules. And when some young upstart like the author cited in the mentioned article comes along and blasts that all to hell…well, it’s upsetting to “this way of thinking.” I understand that. But to go on and profess an utter disbelief and stymied mentality as to why our mentioned author became so successful without any real “schooling” in all-things writing baffles the hell out of me. I have read many a published book that absolutely stunk, in, again, my humblest of opinions. I have read many books (again, IMHO) that I truly felt stunk yet others felt were absolutely great. I have read many a book (some of which stunk, and some of which did not) where I was editing as I read, even correcting grammar, and I’m not anywhere near a expert grammaratististist….
My point is, is this industry professional just making a point…that he really does understand that there are factors and variables out there that just overtake all so-called rational and knowledgeable “rules,” or is he really in the dark? Good lord, I hope it’s the former.
But I’m not convinced.
And I think this has a lot to do with what is killing the success for many authors. In my previous post I’d mentioned that it’s the industry professionals that are making such a “big deal” about what a piece of writing must or must not be to succeed, and I really think this to be true…I think at times some of this reasoning, as I’d already explained, is valid…but to base all publishing decisions on it I feel is faulty (but, hey, I’m not a publishing professional, just a guy on the outside looking in…nose pressed up against the glass…). In the old days (I was told by those who were there), editors ran the shows. They found authors they could grow…cultivate. Nowadays (again I’m told, since I’m still fighting my way into this rarified bunch), it’s all about instant success. Nobody, it seems, has the money to put towards “growing” anything. Budgets are dwindling, profits not (or never) what they need to be. And I even understand that.
But along came this upstart author. A person who beat the traditional business model and utterly trounced the competition. Frigging de-stroyed it. This shows that “it” can still happen. That an unknown can take the world by storm and surprise (a real, no-shit “shock and awe”). Readers just want a good read. They’ll accept a few off-words and errors in a book (and may not even really notice), but they just want to get lost in a story. It’s good that industry professionals are there to make sure that the best possible product gets put out on the streets…but I just ask that we all not get so lost in the forest for the trees, and try to insert a little more mystique back into the process. To think outside the boxes and spreadsheets and rigidity. Accept that there is not any one (or three) path(s) to success. Authors can focus as much as they want on the craft, but there’s also the heart. The creativity of a story. I’ve read extremely well-crafted prose that didn’t take me anywhere.
To everyone out there in the publishing business (yeah, reading my little post!)…please, keep an open mind. Don’t just talk-the-talk about wanting “new” and “fresh,” and “different…walk-the-walk. Take the time to cultivate authors. Sure, a business has to make money, but why not also put a little heart and creativity back into a business that is supposedly requiring this of the very products they deliver.