“Something to say.” — Blogging Insights 3.0 # 4

I would say it another way: “Writing is easy. Getting a book published is hard.”

For many or most writers, they have no problem putting words on a page. Turning those words into something interesting, cogent, cleanly written and properly proofread is another matter. It requires focus, patience and other skills that may or may not be part of a writer’s craft.

Back when publishers were still looking for manuscripts that had something to say and which were creative, original and possibly even shocking, part of an author’s contract included an editor and proofreader. It was not assumed that an author could not only write the book, but do all the other tasks associated with getting the manuscript into shape for publication. Editors read the manuscript, told the writer what he or she needed to do to bring it up to snuff. You could argue with your editor — to a point — but after that, editors ruled. Some editors — Max Perkins being the most famous — took a more active hand in editing.

These days? Writers are not given much editorial help — if indeed they get any. Proofreaders? If you can afford one, feel free to hire one. Publicity? Book tours? Signings? The writer is on his/her own.

I struggled with all of that. Writing was not the problem, but I was so “in” the book, editing was difficult. It’s hard to “see” what you wrote as other will see it. When you birthed the text, you will see what you meant to say. This can be very different from what’s on the page. Even when you have friends to help, eventually they also get to know the book too well. The book was never properly edited and every time I look at it, I shudder as I encounter all the mistakes I made that remain uncorrected.

You can’t go back and redo a book, or at least I can’t.

I was luckier in that I was able to get some free PR because Garry still had quite a few friends who were working. Most of them have since retired. They were a big help.

Something to say? I wish I believed that publishers were looking for authors who have something to say. I’m sure some are, but many are not. They are looking for quick and easy sales. If an author writes one book that does well, they want the writer to keep writing the same story — with minor plot changes. Authors battle endlessly with their publishers to be allowed to write something different because “something different” may or may not sell. A different kind of story is risky and publishers are risk-averse.

Doubleday in Garden City – the good old days

It’s not the same publishing universe it was when I worked in the industry. Even what I did as an editor — book flaps, publicity pieces, cover letters for book clubs — all of this material was edited by a senior editor. I didn’t need to worry about typos or poorly phrased sections. That’s what the senior editor took care of. While there is a publishing industry “out there,” it’s not the one in which I worked. Book clubs are mostly gone. Amazon has a few, but they are different and more about getting books for less money than quality.

As for something to say? How many recently published books in fiction are not a repeat of someone else’s book? There are a few unique authors out there, but most of them established themselves as authors before publishers stopped caring about quality and began bottom-lining every book to the detriment of all. I suspect there’s more quality in new non-fiction than fiction. Mind you, as a non-fiction writer, I have no argument with the value of a well-written biography or history. But it’s in fiction is where a certain kind of literary magic begins. Literature IS fiction.

American literature is suffering. Between the failure of publishers to promote new authors and with so many places banning books, how can we — a supposedly “free people” — tolerate book banning? is there a future for American literature? Will there even be future American literature?

I am sure there are great young authors out there who have something to say which people would read. The odds of those original manuscripts being professionally published, distributed and effectively promoted is unpromising.

I’m not a big fiction reader. I have specific niches and genres I love, but when I can’t find anything that grabs my interest, I’m happy to slide into non-fiction, especially history. At least when I read history, the author always has something to say. I may not agree with it and it may not be well written, but at least non-fiction is never a replication of someone else’s book with new character names and a fresh cover.

Categories: #Blogging, #Writing, Anecdote, Editing, Publishing

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29 replies

  1. True. The other day a friend was mentioning about the publishing industry and how it has changed over the years.


    • It went from being an industry that really cared about literature and authors to being just another big business, counting beans and discounting everything else. I’m sure there are small publishers who still seek good authors who can tell a great story, but once upon a time — 50 years ago, give or take a decade — ALL publishers were doing it. This change has not improved the quality of American literature and I doubt it has improved readership. No matter how much they try to pick books they think will sell well rather than finding great books worth reading, it’s still a crap shoot.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, writing a book can be tough, well editing your work is tough, I agree, if one author writes well, publishers tend to want them to keep writing the same kind of stories. X


    • They actually try to PREVENT authors from trying anything new — and they pay them really badly. Most published (with an actual publication house) authors can’t earn enough money from their writing to give up their day jobs.


  3. The world is changing at an appalling rate, and not for the better…


  4. So many of the fiction stories I see on Amazon seem to be similar. Especially in romance fiction. Not my favourite genre but sometimes I’ll read it when I don’t want to think. I’m sure that many people who like a particular author are happy to have endless stories written about the same characters, maybe focussing on a different one each time. However, they do become very predictable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A lot of NEW books are basically rewrites of existing stories. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote LOTR and since them, there are probably thousands of LOTR rewrites. As a former editor of the Doubleday Romance Library (it wasn’t MY favorite genre either, though I did learn to respect the authors), they are very formulaic. There are maybe three plots and they are available with or without sex. The really important parts of the book are finding a location and describing it well (most romances are half travel guides and half sappy love story) and describing whatever the current fashion is. I did find a few that actually included recipes. One was about a Texas chili cook-off and my chili making skills vastly improved after reading it. But mostly, it’s a hot dude, a beautiful (but insecure) woman and the rest you can predict before you get through the first chapter.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Finding an original plot or story line is hard these days. Most movies are also either ripoff’s of some previous story or a remake.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You need to create a scenario and characters to make the scenario work. Just putting words on a page may make a fine 800 word blog, but a book requires you see the story and its development from end to end. This requires a lot of discipline and a willingness to discard a lot of what you write. Many wannabe authors can’t do that.

      I think the real difference between good writers and the rest is discipline. You have to know where you are going and how each character will get there. I was never good at that, not because I couldn’t create characters, but because I couldn’t create action. All my “characters” were sedentary which doesn’t make an interesting story. Even I found my fiction dull. I loved my first 10 pages, but after that? It was boring.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great points. I have completed books for sale, but they would be better if I’d had editing and marketing help. Same goes for most of the indie e-fiction I buy on Amazon…

    Liked by 1 person

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