1. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    Everyman to a writer

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Hwaigon, Jul 18, 2013.

    How do you explain there are novellists who, for an extended period of their lives, did not write at all and then came up
    with a (best-selling) novel ? Usually, such fact is stressed on the cover of their book. Sounds like a fairytale many of
    us would love to experience.
     
  2. sanco
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    sanco Contributing Member

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    There isn't one explanation that answers all but I do think the "rags-to-riches" story is a good selling point. You're always trying to sell yourself when you're pitching to publishers and agents and they'd like a good story to market.
     
  3. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Much time was probably spent thinking - and thinking is work too. And sometimes stories are an accumulation of your life's experiences, which cannot be rushed.
     
  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some people decide to write a book when they are young, others, like me, prefer to do it after some years, and a lot of real world experience. In any case, it certainly isn't a fairy-tale. A lot of famous writers (not all) have other professions, such as doctors, lawyers, journalists, teachers etc.
     
  5. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've always thought that there were an awful lot of people out there with one really good book in them. For me, the true test of how good an author is, is really their second book -- did they have something beyond that one book. Of course, for some people, one good book is really all that's needed (Harper Lee).

    My take is that the smash debut novels are usually that one or first really good book. Some people may get that book out and discover they have many more ideas and are able to write, etc., and go on to write more. But that first book has likely been simmering in that author's head for years. Something happens that makes the author finally decide they are going to sit down and write it, and it turns out well. Also, it may take years of work after they've written it to edit and polish it. Just because it's new and unknown to the marketplace doesn't mean there hasn't been a huge amount of blood, sweat and tears poured into it. So, it's probably not quite the fairy tale that it may seem, although it sure is a nice fantasy.
     
  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree it's more than likely not the fairy tale - similar to those overnight successes in acting where the 'overnight' consisted of 10 or 15 years. I doubt there are any writers out there who never wrote a thing and "suddenly" came up with a bestseller. It makes for good promos but if you read interviews with such authors later, you find that they were, indeed, writing for many years previous - they just never tried to get published.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto all of the above... each 'overnight success' has its own different story...
     
  8. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    Exactly. I loved creative writing in school, and tried to write in my 20s. But nothing ever came together. I neither had the life experience nor the emotional development to write the kind of story I wanted to read, or really figure out what I wanted to say.

    Ten years on I do, but there was a long period of reflection leading up to it.
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think many novice writers overlook the need to acquire real life experience as a platform from which to write. And there is no way to tell in advance what directions that real life experience will take you, or how many years it will consume. Family, career, commitments - all take time, energy and emotion. OTOH, all are grist for your experience mill and ultimately feed your writing.
     
  10. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    That comes hand in glove with the (specific) experience such writers have. Somehow, their profession may be connected
    to what they write. What I had in mind was a person whose occupation is, say, average, with no special training required.
     
  11. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    Speaking of myself, quite on the contrary: what I feel is that the lack of experience is so huge to tackle the concepts that I like
    and find of importance that the knowledge of the lack of experience ihhibits me. I find myself in the opposite extreme to what you said, namely that I think
    that I can't write simply because any writing is a reference (to some degree) to real life. Finding myself not really experienced does not make me
    self-convinced enough to write. It rather sabotages many of my attempts.
     
  12. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Then you are already well on your way. Seeing that need should make you a more keen observer of human behavior and the human condition. You can now read, observe, discuss and keep journals, all with an eye toward what you eventually want to write. This does not mean that you will or should only want to write what you have experienced, but rather that the more you experience, the wider the platform from which you write becomes.

    I first decided in my mid-twenties on what I considered my ideal writing project - a historical about a particular area. I started doing research in my spare time, of which there was little - I was newly married and in grad school at the time, going for an MS in Political Science, as my goal was to teach on the college level. We bought a house and I started my PhD. A year in, I decided to apply (with my department chair's help and support) for an adjunct teaching position at my alma mater (although a different campus). I had already tried at other schools (in one case, I received a mimeographed rejection letter). I was told that they were looking for someone who already had their doctorate...and had published...and had 5 years of teaching experience. After a long heart-to-heart with my wife (we had already started talking seriously about having children), I decided to ditch the doctorate and teaching and go back for my MBA in accounting. That was another 5 years (since I had no business undergraduate credits). I eventually earned my CPA, but by then we had two children, both with developmental disabilities. As I pursued my career, I had a second one as well - advocate for people with special needs. This was in the mid-90s, when New York City and State were waging war against this costly population. My wife and I helped stop them. Lots of letter to the editor, op-ed pieces, and one appearance on the front page of the old New York Newsday.

    Meanwhile, my dream of the historical novel never died, but I had no time for research. I did, however, have two characters - Kate and Joe - who had just kind of welled up out of nowhere. High school kids in the late '30s. I started to think about them a lot. I conjured up specific circumstances for them, specific personalities. She was well-read, opinionated, and something of an outcast at school. He was dirt poor, his father had died, he had to work to help support his family through the Depression, and was an outcast at school. I started to write. More ideas came, based on the modern history I already knew pretty well. I decided Joe joined the Marines in the late '30s, and when a business trip took me to Washington, I went a day early and spent it at the Marines museum to help fill in some blanks. A year or so later, I took a week off from work to write. Eventually, my "segment" grew into my first novel (all 400,000+ words of it!).

    You don't have to experience everything you write. As I said, research and observation can fill a lot of holes. In my own writing, I find that the writing tends to be a little stronger when I write on something with which I have personal experience, but it can also be a little too strong, and sometimes the detachment that comes from having learned through means other than experience is helpful, too.

    BTW, I've written three more novels since that 400,000 word behemoth, and am currently working on a new project for about a year. It's a historical - not the one I conjured up back in my twenties, but a different one. The big one will have to wait until I retire, which should be two years from now.

    You don't have to wait until you retire. Write. Read. Observe. Write. Engage. Listen. Write. Experience. Write.
     
  13. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Robert Galbraith had great overnight success by leaking "he's" really JK Rowling...

    (amazing story - half million copies sold in the day it was leaked and a follow-up announced. I wonder who the leak was, publishers weren't happy...)
     
  14. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    Thank you very much for your personal story and encouraging words of advice. Much appreciated. I'm very glad that in the midst of the hardships you managed
    to write four novels... and that your characters made it to the reader.
     
  15. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I mean, more than the book itself (haven't read it), it's the fact about the writer's identity that attracted the readers. Blowing your
    cover after so short a time seems funny to me. From now on, Rowling will always be read--she's one of the fairy-tale-writer, to whom
    writing is hobby and job.
     
  16. TheLeonard112
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    TheLeonard112 Sūpākūru Senpai

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    If there was no extreme prior thought into the book at hand, there are a few different possibilities. Maybe there was a certain idea that stuck them at complete random. It is possible that they found something to inspire there. Or maybe they were just an extremely good writer, whose talents had yet to be seen.
     
  17. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's something of a heated discussion on another writing forum about Rowling's "biography."

    It reads as follows:
    After several years with the Royal Military Police, Robert Galbraith was attached to the SIB (Special Investigative Branch), the plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since then in the civilian security industry. The idea for Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who returned to the civilian world. 'Robert Galbraith' is a pseudonym.


    Many folks are upset that she claims this particular military experience. Some feel it is disrespectful to the military. Others feel that it is improper, insofar as it claims experience and expertise that she doesn't apparently have. I feel it's improper because of this -- it lends a credence to the setting that she (as far as I know) doesn't have. It was part of the marketing, and I think it's misleading. (Apparently the MC was a solider in Afghanistan.)

    Others, however, see absolutely nothing wrong with it. They feel that it's fiction, and it's a fictional bio.
     
  18. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    [MENTION=38553]chicagoliz[/MENTION]: I think what they did with the bio isn't illegal but it's a bad start. You don't lie to your readers, not when they are paying for your work. I think it was a bad idea to do it. Although, I'm one of those sad people that bought it when the news broke. It's next in my Kindle, I hope it's good.
     
  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I must agree with you, Liz. Legalities aside, I think it's disingenuous to extend the "meta-fiction" out to the real world marketing of the book. What a door that opens! "But I didn't use my real name on the book, why can't I claim what I want? No, I wasn't serving Buzz Aldrin tea in the LEM, but this is all just a fiction anyway, right?"
     
  20. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess I haven't paid enough attention to author biographies. I mean, what's the convention for biographies when using a pseudonym? Using a male name when you're female certainly makes complications - can't really be truthful in the bio then, right?

    And just a note, according to NPR (http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/07/19/203548818/book-news-j-k-rowling-very-angry-that-law-firm-leaked-her-name) it was a member of Rowling's law firm that spilled the beans initially, and then it spread. Rowling only confirmed after it was leaked - and she's not very happy about it.
     
  21. Steve Day
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    Steve Day Senior Member

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    Remember, everyone is out for Number One.
    While that may sound a bit cynical, altruism is in short supply these days.

    In the pub.biz. the norm is one book per year per writer. (unless you are the James Patterson writing team-13 books last year!) Hence pen names.
    A fellow named Salvatore Lombino wrote a book called Blackboard Jungle using the name Evan Hunter. In the 1950's he published dozens of genre novels under different names. As Ed McBain he wrote the 87th Precinct series for decades.

    He advised authors to "find their voice, for it is the most important thing in any novel."
     
  22. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Apparently her bank manager is fuming too...
     
  23. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    She's crying all the way to the bank. I'm not going to be breaking out my violin for her. She got essentially what she wanted - to see how well accepted a book would be without her name, and apparently it did okay enough for a debut novel.

    I have no problem whatsoever with her using a pen name -- even a male pen name. However, she could still put truthful pieces in the bio blurb. Or if she really didn't want to do that, she could make up stuff that was not at all related to the story, like he lives in X town in England with his wife and his dog. In his spare time he likes to collect stamps and has always been fascinated by the people who served in Afghanistan. Or whatever.

    I'm not really interested in the legalities of it -- I'm sure it is legal. The only claim I could see would be some kind of consumer fraud but that would be a stretch. There are a whole lot of things people do that are legal but are nevertheless improper or morally or ethically questionable.
     
  24. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not all that concerned about author's biographies to begin with. Who cares? I only know a couple basic facts even about my favorite authors. What I'm interested in is the book.
     
  25. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree to an extent. The exception is where the author is claiming some experience in some milieu that I don't have, and most people don't have. If someone is writing a novel about a surgeon and his work, and for some reason, the surgeries are important to the story, I want the setting to be accurate, to give me a sense of what it is like to be part of a team in an OR performing surgery. Similarly, if a book is a courtroom drama, I want the details to be realistic (this is actually why I am skeptical of a lot of courtroom dramas, especially on television and can't bear to watch most of them. It is also why a lot of these types of books are written by lawyers, particularly prosecutors and former prosecutors). It is very possible, and common, to learn about some other setting through a novel. So if someone claims to have direct experience in that world, I expect that the depiction will be fairly accurate, even if the story itself is fictional. (It is also possible to do this through extensive research, although often if this is the case, that is noted.)

    If I know that the author has zero experience in the setting he's writing about, and the book says nothing about any research related to discovering that setting and making it accurate, I don't have the same sort of expectation.

    Most of what's in an authors' biography is irrelevant, or at least secondary. But very frequently, the author has a lot of things in common with the MC, and it's not surprising to read that after the fact. But if the bio is relevant to the story, then I think it matters. If it has no connection to the story, then sure, I don't much care, although it can be interesting to see if the author lives anyplace where I have lived, etc.
     

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