1. tuttle300
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    tuttle300 New Member

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    How come the rules of submission bend so much?

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by tuttle300, Aug 29, 2010.

    Hey, I was reading a popular author recently who sells millions of copies and I'd rather not mention his name

    But....I noticed that it took him over 50 pages to catch my interest.

    And that took me out of the book as it struck me.... if I were submitting to an agent, he or she wouldn't give me such a luxury.

    I would have less then five pages to get to the "Ah ha- this guy is pretty good!" moment.

    If not--- my manuscript gets stuffed back into the SASE and sent back to me. No matter how important I thought the first few pages were vital to the story. I would have to grab that agent's attention within 5 pages or less or forget it.
    Now I'm curious....
    Why is it that countless other writers (even first timers) can get published by breaking that golden rule of catching the readers attention in the first few pages and yet, many, many other writers in many, many different genres get published while breaking those same rules?
    Isn't that kind of a double standard?

    I am fully prepared to get slapped down on this and I'll take all comments and thoughts

    What do you think?
    Yes, you, the one with 34 rejection slips who keeps reading other authors and notices that many of THEM can ramble on and on and on beofre getting to the point of the story.

    Come on, don't be shy. (grin)
     
  2. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    The key there could be that it's your interest. Someone else might have a completely different response and opinion to those first few pages.

    But aside from that, popular and established writers do get an easier time of it, yes, because their popularity will ensure that people will be willing to wait longer and give it more of a chance. For a new writer finding a publisher, it's an investment on the publisher's part. There's no guarantee that it will sell, as might be afforded by a household name, and thus the book needs to grab people from the off, simply because the readers won't afford it the same benefit of the doubt as they might for, say, Stephen King.
     
  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally I am much more likely to forgive an author who has entertained me well for many hours than I am one who hasn't. Bare Bones didn't put me off trying the next Kathy Reichs because I had read several other of her books that I loved. Arthur Hailey I always forgive the rubbish boring middle because the beginning and end of his books are worth plowing through it.

    If a new to me author bores the backside off me and has no good will I am not going to read them again. I haven't touched Lord of the Rings because I hated the Hobbit. I only read the Subtle Knife of the Dark Material Trilogy because I didn't like it.

    If you produce a bad piece of work to start off with your readers have not got anything to forgive you for.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    when you get to that rung on the ladder you can take too long to hook your readers, too!...

    people buy popular authors' books because of the author's name, more than the contents... and publishers publish them pretty much as submitted for that reason...

    so, till you're rich and world-famous, you'd better hook your readers right off the bat!

    as far as double standards go, that's the standard for all things in the human world, in case you hadn't noticed... ;-(
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The King of slow starts is a certain horror writer who lives in Maine.

    His name suffices to sell his books, to the point no publisher would ever dare tell him to pick up the pace or to eliminate the fluff.

    An unknown writer has to impress the publisher with a tight, high quality manuscript.
     
  6. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    A reader who purchases a famous writer's books probably has read previous ones and believes there will be a payoff for reading--even if the hook isn't in the first few pages. If you get to the point where you're selling millions of copies, you've already hooked your audience.

    With a new author--no track record to speak of with respect to readers. With so much out there, people are more likely to spend their money on a relatively known quantity for entertainment than an unknown one. A new writer is an unknown one and reader who picks up the new writer's book while browsing in a book store, or looking at the first few preview chapters online, will have to be 'hooked' early or they'll move on to something else.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think Banzai is correct. Just because it took 50 pages to catch your interest doesn't mean it can't have caught an editor or agent's interest in a lot less than that.
     
  8. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    If an author regularly sells millions of copies, it's likely the author's writing is "good" where by "good" I mean "Many people find his / her work entertaining."

    Stephanie Meyer's writing bores me, but I have many friends who like her style. Stephen King is much poked at on WritingForums, but I can rely on his work to have many true-to-life details and interesting characters, so I'll read his stuff. Jim Butcher doesn't have wonderful storylines, but his characters and his magic systems are brilliant and also funny, so I read his work rather often.

    James Patterson's writing is ... well, I don't like it, but he sells a ton of books anyway. Someone out there must really like his books, which means he has succeeded as a pro writers.

    An unknown writer has to show the publisher that he knows what he's doing. A bestselling author has already demonstrated that he knows the craft, and can sometimes get away with more.
     
  9. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    I always assumed it was the case that they read the first few pages to get an idea of your general writing style rather than seeing whether you set your book off with a bang. Surely publishers know whether your story idea will sell from the plot summary rather than from reading the first few pages?
     
  10. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    My understanding is it is actually the first 13 lines in the US that is most likely to get your whole manuscript read. If those lines that form the first page of a book don't grab then the rest won't be read.
     
  11. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    @ Stubeard: Since the craft of writing takes years, dedication, and practice to learn, editors cannot ever assume that a previously unpublished writer has written a good book. They have to read it all the way through to make absolutely certain.

    The truth is, most first efforts -- the first finished book, the first dozen short stories -- are very rough. Shoddy characterization, factual errors, inconsistent worldbuilding, absurd amounts of gore, pacing problems . . . The list goes on and on. I don't mean that all these things will be done badly, but if one or two or more of these are terrible, the book is not a professional-quality book, any more than a chair with four legs all different lengths is a well-made piece of furniture.

    So publishers will usually ask for a synopsis and a few pages, maybe ten, maybe twenty, maybe the first chapter or the first three chapters. This is actually just the publisher saying, "Prove to me that you have a coherent storyline and that you can write decently for more than a couple pages at a time." If the first pages are good, they'll ask for the full manuscript ... and then, in many cases, they'll discover that your book is good for the first hundred pages and then gets tangled up in subplots where it dies. Rejection.

    No one can look at a plot summary / storyline and tell whether a book will sell. The most fascinating plot can be derailed by terrible writing -- and the sentence-by-sentence writing can be perfect while the worldbuilding or characters are still horrible.

    On the other hand, a simple plot, say "New girl in town becomes obsessed with boy, boy turns out to be a vampire, they wangst for a while and then he saves her life." I wouldn't have thought that storyline would make for a good book, but millions of Twilight fans disagree with me. Okay, fine for them; I'm sure not everyone likes Scott Lynch's books or the Narnia series. (In fact, I know one guy who loathes Lewis's writing style with a passion.)

    Now, it is true that most "regular" readers won't see many terrible, half-baked books. Publishers try not to publish them. But I have read several self-published books, which are generally pretty good examples of what happens when a want-to-be-pro-writer gets through a complete book -- hooray! -- and then gets rejected from every real publisher. If the writer is sufficiently new to the writing business, he won't be able to discern the very real differences between a publishable novel and what he has written, and the indignation builds.

    "Why can't they see my brilliance?" the Unpublishable Author asks. "Look at King. His books suck, yet he's making tons of money. The publishers must be rolling in the dough. My book's just as good as that crap book Cell; how come they're rejecting it? I'll show them! I'll publish my own book, cut out the middleman, and my readers will vindicate me!"

    This is a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. Unpublishable Writers are the ones who don't think they need to correct spelling and grammar before submitting their work. The ones who ask for a "genuine" or "honest" critique and then bitch about your points afterward because all they really wanted was a pat on the head and a doggie biscuit. The ones who focus all their energy on a really bad finished piece instead of starting to write another, better one.

    Fortunately, rough work and shaky writing will improve over time. With practice. But even when every one of us on WritingForums is professionally published, editors will still be asking for full manuscripts to read ... because by then there'll be a crop of new Unpublishable Novels competing with the professional quality ones, and editors will still have to weed them out.
     
  12. Community
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    Funny, he was the person that popped into my head when I saw the title of this thread. But did he start out that way or did he only become that way after he was famous?
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Before he became famous he had to edit his manuscripts down. Even after he was pretty well established, he had to trim back The Stand substantially.

    When he became the name most associated with modern horror, he did all his readers a "favor" and restored The Stand to full bloat.

    Some of his earlier writing gets to the point pretty quickly.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sadly, I think that it's rare for them to read as many as a few pages - at least one website of advice for authors says that most submissions are rejected on page 1. I don't know if they go into how often they're rejected on paragraph 1 or line 1, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's a lot.

    And I suspect that the ability to grab the reader's attention with the first line of the book is one of the skills that the agent/publisher/whoever is looking for. I'm sure that many otherwise-good writers who don't have that skill could learn it, but if there are clamoring crowds of authors who already have it, the guy who doesn't probably isn't going to get a further reading.

    Which does of course return to the question of why books by new authors, that don't follow those rules, ever get published. I have no clue. But it does seem clear that it's wisest to go with the odds and do all the things that make the screener happy, and refrain from all of the things that make them shout (in that same website's terminology) "NEXT!".

    ChickenFreak
     
  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think your general writing style or plot summary are what editors generally mean. They want to be 'hooked' by the novel itself in the first few pages. A good idea is nice, but ideas are commonplace.
     
  16. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    I think I might have been misunderstood again (not very encouraging as a writer :meh: ).

    I meant that they will first look at the synopsis (to check it's not glorifying racism or paedophilia or something), THEN look at a few pages to check your writing style, THEN read more, THEN perhaps go on and read the whole thing.

    I didn't mean they wouldn't ever read the whole thing, nor did I mean they would JUST look at the synopsis.

    I meant that they wouldn't read the first few pages to get a rundown of the plot, so you don't necessarily have to have all the story elements in place in the extract you send to a potential publisher.

    Additionally, I meant you don't have to have a big action scene right at the start. If your plot synopsis tells that the start is set in a small and backwards village, it's bound to be a little less dramatic than the big set-piece ending. But, with the help of the synopsis, the publisher will understand that the whole novel is not just set in that village, telling a story of boring parochial life.

    What I meant was, you might have a great story idea and a great synopsis, but if you can't write dialogue properly, or even in sentences, then no publisher will take you on. That sort of thing can be told from reading just a few lines.
     
  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, that's definitely true. Bad writing can kill you in the first few pages. but getting back to the main question, when I've read/heard editors talk about it, it really does seem like they want the story itself to grab them within the first few pages. Of course, the variable there is what "grabs" an editor, which is probably as varied as editors themselves.
     
  18. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    And getting back to the main question myself:

    Publishers do not publish books because they are "good" - they publish them because they want to make money. As has been said above, previously successful authors can get away with stuff that rookie authors can't because their name will help sell.

    If you want to gain more insight from other authors, perhaps you should only look at their very first publications.

    And the golden rule - don't be jealous of other people's success. It's not worth it.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    any good idea can bomb in the hands of a poor writer... and any awful idea can be turned into a bestseller by a truly talented/skilled one... so no publisher will take on a ms without seeing how well the author can write the story, regardless of how good it sounds...

    i sure hope you're joking!
     
  20. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    The key word was - "rather" (not to mention I have since clarified what I meant, or tried to anyway).

    Publishers are more likely to make a judgement on the plot from the synopsis than from reading the first few pages - you won't need to have everything set up in the first few pages you send to the publishers. Those pages will only be used to check your writing style/ability.


    It really doesn't bode well for me as a writer that people are constantly mis-understanding my posts :-(
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry, but that makes no sense at all to me... if those first few pages don't hook the readers [includes the agent and publisher], they'll not be likely to request the full ms...

    so the first few pages are not only used to check writing style, but also to see if the work will hook the readers from the get-go, or if it'll bore them into not reading any further...

    i'm sorry if i'm misunderstanding what you wrote, but that's what i get from it...
     
  22. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    To try to merge both of your positions, I guess one could say that the first few pages don't need to communicate that, say, the two main characters will end up having a swordfight on the edge of a cliff because they're fighting over a kitten cloned from DNA found in an ancient Egyptian tomb... but the first few pages, and in fact the very first sentence, had still better grab the reader by the collar and make him eager to keep reading.

    ChickenFreak
     
  23. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not only do you have to grab and hold on to the attention of your reader, (agent, publisher or other) in the first few pages you have to hang on to that reader right through your manuscript.
     
  24. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    A great beginning is more likely to see me put up with a rambling middle, whereas a bad beginning I will just put the book down. I love Arthur Hailey, his basic stories are gripping, his beginnings hold me and his endings are explosive but he can't half ramble in the middle.

    Personally I find his beginning and ending is usually well worth plowing through the middle
     
  25. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    Thank you ChickenFreak. That's exactly what I'm trying to say!
     

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