1. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Are publishers really interested in good writing?

    Discussion in 'Traditional Publishing' started by OurJud, Sep 15, 2017.

    It's what we all strive for; wonderful prose, tight punctuation, strong sentence structure. But while all this is important, how much does it really count when compared with a novel a publisher recognises as something they know will sell, simply because of genre/style/subject matter?

    Take JKR for instance. I've not read any of the HP books, but how good is her writing, really? It's well publicised that her first HP book was rejected by at least half a dozen publishers until someone took a chance and the rest, as they say, is history. The point I'm making here is that at least half a dozen publishers were not sufficiently impressed enough by her writing to take her on board.

    Publishing is a business, and for that reason anyone willing to invest in a new author needs to know they will at the very worse get their investment back.

    Of course the writing must be at least competent, but is it true to say that anyone hoping to get published in the traditional sense, needs to concentrate on the market rather than writing for themselves?
     
  2. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

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    You can't chase the market in writing because it takes too long for a novel to go from writing to published; you'll miss any trend you aim for.

    Luck is a big part of it, yes, but the amount of luck you need goes down the better your writing is. Good writing always sells, to some degree, but well timed mediocre writing will only sell sometimes.

    End of the day, the quality of the writing is the only thing you can directly control.
     
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  3. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    So how do you explain the Harry Potter and Da Vinci Code clones that diarrhoead their way through the market shortly after the originals had set the publishing world alight?
     
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  4. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'd say that the only consideration is whether the book will sell or not, just like any product in any business. This assumes, like you said, that the quality of the product is high enough that the manufacturer won't embarrass themselves by putting their name on it. But in short, a poorly written book that is a "guaranteed" best seller will be picked up every time. But a wonderfully written prosaic book that is "guaranteed" to flop will be rejected every time. Things aren't that cut and dry obviously, but you get the idea.

    I'd say, yes, they have to focus on a market to give them the best chance of success, just like any product in any business. Banks won't give loans without business plans that rely heavily on market demographics. Retailers won't stock new products without market research. I'm in the process of opening a new restaurant (not my money, but I'll be working there) and everything from the menu to the decor to the space between the tables is market driven. Every decision is based on giving the people what they want.

    You mean there'll be no sci-fi or gothic a year from now? Guess I'm fucked.
     
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  5. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

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    I'd wager they were already on submission and their doppelgangers' success simply prompted agents to pick them up.
    I'd also wager that they sold like ice to Eskimos.
     
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  6. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Senior Member

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    JKR & HP series is a long and twisted road. Well written is a portion of her early rejections. There was a court case that details the saga.

    'Good writing' is extremely subjective. I tend to look at things through a business view, so for me, 'good writing' is writing that sells. Publishing is a business and businesses need to make money to stay in business.

    The same way I would explain it for every single industry- if there is a good chance it will make a profit most will pursue it.
     
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  7. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    You see the advice "write for yourself" a lot around here. I think until we have concrete evidence one way or the other, the default assumption should be that your best chances of getting traditionally published is if you write for the market. I think this is logical.
     
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  8. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    And me, only I'll probably need about twenty years :D
     
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  9. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    As near as I can figure out, the publishing industry is not monolithic. Instead, various publishers look for niche markets that they can fill. For some, writing quality is paramount; for others, it's the ability to capture the widest market through lowest-common-denominator writing. The trick is to match the writer to the publisher, and the publisher to the reader. The best publishers for writers are not necessarily the most successful ones in terms of sales, but the ones who know their markets best and can identify the writers who write for that market.

    It's a happy surprise when the combination of a niche writer and a niche publisher creates a best seller that transcends the niche market that was expected, but it doesn't happen very often.
     
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  10. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Senior Member

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    I think it is more of a 'write for yourself within the structure/formula that is wanted by publishers'.
    Structure is key to selling writing in a professional world, and that goes for just about any writing.
    Publishers want original stories that follow a general structure/formula.
     
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  11. Edward M. Grant

    Edward M. Grant Contributor Contributor

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    If you're submitting it to a trade publisher, yes. But there are full-time self-published writers who'll notice a new trend starting and have a book out to surf that rising trend the next month.

    And even the trade publishers seem to have got better at rushing trendy books through the publishing process to keep up with those trends. But it will still take a lot more than a month from writing 'Chapter One' to seeing it on the store shelves that way.
     
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  12. Edward M. Grant

    Edward M. Grant Contributor Contributor

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    I've only read the first two books and I'm not really a fan, but her writing was OK, at least for the youth market. Certainly not bad.

    As I understand it, one of the problems with the book as submitted was that it started with a chapter of White Room Syndrome with just a bunch of dialogue and no setting. That's a common red-flag for poor writing, and a long-established SFF editor posted online that she would have rejected it too, for that reason. I'm not sure whether JKR rewrote that chapter or whether the publisher who finally bought it read on past it, to get into the good stuff.
     
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  13. Hawkeye87

    Hawkeye87 New Member

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    Publishers are interested in making money. They only care about the quality in so far as how they believe it will affect sales. Proof - Fifty Shades of Grey.

    Random House (or more specifically, a subdivision of them) purchased the books less than a year after the...(I'm cringing typing this)..."writer" self-published them. Why? They saw it would make a ton of money. They didn't do much editing. The narration is terrible. I've seen middle-school essays with more polish than E.L. James.

    Meanwhile, Tolkien had to battle the publisher's fear of profit losses. The Hobbit 1st edition did not print many copies, and it was an unexpected hit (like the luck some have discussed earlier). But even after that, the only reason The Lord of the Rings is called a trilogy is because the publisher refused to gamble that he could sell the novel in one binding, even while many people reviewing it said it would be a game changer.

    Publishers are businessmen, not literary connoisseurs. They are much more apt to follow charts and trends than talent. And no, it's not if a publisher rejects your work it's because he can't appreciate your genius. 1) You may not be a genius. 2) While they may laud you for being willing to put out great art for little compensation, they won't let their paycheck shrink for your art.

    The best way to tell if your work is good is just to get it in front of anyone who will read it. If you can get people to 1) enjoy it and 2) tell you what they thought you did well, you probably have talent. After that, there are too many factors that come into play to judge talent by success. Many authors became successful postmortem. Others only became successful because they appealed to the lowest common denominator (ahem James), or happen to ride a trend wave. And who knows how many talented writers, like musicians, faded into obscurity?

    If you are seeking external approval, my advice would be find someone who enjoys reading the genre you are writing in and just ask for their opinion. What did they like most about your book? What weaknesses did they think you needed to work on? And just keep working at your craft. Most writers never make a living off their writing (even Grisham had to wait until his 7th to retire from Law), so it's more important to just constantly get feedback and constantly share your new work and just keep improving.
     
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  14. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    @Hawkeye87 - I'm not looking for external approval. Maybe when and if (that's a big if) I ever finish a novel, but not right now.

    I was just curious.
     
  15. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    No, it's not really about quality. There are so many people writing these days that they can pick and choose whatever they want. If you have what they want, and your writing isn't awful, they'll pick it up.
     
  16. Hawkeye87

    Hawkeye87 New Member

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    Didn't accuse you of it, included that just in case you were going to value your work based on acceptance or rejection by a publishing house :) Many have.

    And there's nothing wrong with seeking external approval. I've just finished my first novel and you better believe I'm looking for it.

    Also, for my second novel, I do hope have a traditional publisher. There are a ton of reasons to pursue a large publisher, small press, or self-publish. It's just that evaluating your ability as a story-teller isn't one of them.

    My first novel takes place in my own fantasy world, the first of a series, and I wanted full creative control. I can't that get any way other than self-publishing.

    My second novel I'm working on is a one-off Sci-Fi book that takes place in a future earth and I want them to take care of all the editing, cover design...all the chores I have to do for my fantasy novels, I want them to do. And, since it's not my own world with its own lore, I'm fine with them tinkering with it.

    This was just my two cents on a forum :)
     
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  17. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    No, I understand this. I hadn't taken offence, I was merely clearing up the fact I wasn't yet looking for any external approval.
     
  18. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    Of course if you wanna sell, you have to focus more on market than writing for yourself - it shouldn't be a revelation. It's really just common sense.

    You can experiment all you like once you've made a name for yourself. I think writing is one of those fields where it seems writers feel entitled to bypass the rite of passage. We wanna be able to do whatever we like before we've gained the experience. It could happen, but can we really be surprised when it doesn't? (by the way, none of this is an attack on anyone - just more of a rant against a trend I've seen amongst writers, the whole thing with "You must write for yourself!" and while yes, I agree, to a degree, I often feel frustrated by a lack of... I guess practicality that exists amongst writers?)

    Anyway, as for Rowling - I've been trying to read Cuckoo's Calling and gosh... yeah her writing isn't the best. And I was just chatting about it with my friend who's read and loved the book, how quite honestly, she hadn't noticed the poor writing style and she doesn't care about it either.

    And that's the thing - most readers don't care about the quality of your writing. Most readers can't tell the difference. They want a good story, that's all. They don't care about the art form. They don't see it as an art form. They see a book as a way to relax, a bit of wind-down time before bed, a story to read on holiday or when they have nothing to do. Entertainment.

    And if you can release a book that's timely - eg. it somehow resonates with what's been rocking the nation - then it will be a hit. Think Frozen, released at a time when gay marriage was all the rage and immediately there were comparisons between Elsa and the gay in the closet. Can't say I remember what Da Vinci Code might have coincided with now but I'll bet it rode on a wave of some existing national/international debate. When a story puts something that's been on the nation's mind on the spotlight, it explodes. However, making it timely is really luck of the draw. Considering the time it takes to write, edit, and then a few more years before it goes through the publishing process, these are trends that you have no way of predicting.

    But writing to the genre market - that you can certainly predict, and would be wise to adhere to, I think, if selling is the goal. Heck - if making writing a career is the goal. Because it ain't a career if it doesn't support your rent and food, really. But writers are in general neither businessmen nor career-driven. We just wanna write 'cause we love it and we want our work read... and that's probably why few can support themselves with their writing.
     
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  19. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    The fact that an agent or publisher may choose a quite well-written book in a popular genre versus a brilliantly written one about a topic that has no inherent interest to anyone doesn't mean that they don't care about good writing. It means that they're not running a charity.
     
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  20. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    So, in a nutshell, any idiot can get published?

    It's encouraging if nothing else.
     
  21. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    Having the brains to decipher a genre pattern and then the skill to deliberately write to that pattern is hardly an easy thing to do. And you do need at least mediocre writing to get published - just getting all your SPAG right already gets rid of a majority.

    Publishing is a business. Again, how you write depends on why you're writing. If for pleasure, then do whatever you want. If for personal satisfaction, do whatever you want. If to get traditionally published and therefore actually read, with people paying money for your book - well then it makes sense you have to cater to your customers. It's not about being an idiot. It's rather more about not having your head in the clouds. (I mean generally - not specifically your head.)
     
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  22. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    This is something I'm struggling with in my own pursuits. I like to think that there is a give and take. Play the game, contribute, and maybe if you're good, you get a shot at doing something different.

    David Lynch's Twin Peaks, the Return is a lesson in this(apologies for not using a book as an example.) Whereas the first two seasons were visibly trying to appeal to a large fan base, this new season, which is exclusive to Showtime was clearly all about what Lynch wanted. Many fans were upset that he did not cater to their expectations, but many, myself included, admit that it was genius.
     
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  23. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    It's funny but I see this analogy in the exact opposite terms. Compared to the original series the new season was commercial garbage.
     
  24. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    You're definitely in the minority as far as calling it "commercial" goes.
     
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  25. Hawkeye87

    Hawkeye87 New Member

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    Except chasing the market doesn't increase your odds of being able to make a career out of writing. For starters, as others have pointed out, by the time you write the type of story that's trending now and it goes through the publication process, the trend is over.

    Second, the normal first time deal for an author is an advance of $5k. It won't be high enough to live off of for a year, and your advance won't be until you the next book after your first bestseller.

    Finally, while most self-published books sell less than 100 copies, most traditional books sell less than 2000. That's 6% of 1 percent of 1 percent of 1 percent of the US population (until you become a bestseller, you are still your biggest marketing resource).

    So, you probably aren't going to make money either way, and you probably aren't going to have many readers either way.

    Practically speaking, for me the pros of traditional are mainly free editing and cover design, which removes a lot of stress (some want the "prestige" of being published, but since quality isn't their main concern, that goes out the door for me). But I give up creative control and some rights to the book. The advantage of self publishing is full control. The downside is you have to do, or pay someone else to do, everything.
     

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