Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Writing Wednesday: Do You Need to Write Good?

At length I have talked about annoying message board troll JayG, but why not one more time?  Actually I've heard this before from other people too but it's one of his favorite lines to trot out:  good prose leads to being successful.  If you're not successful, it's because your prose isn't good enough.

To which I always snicker.  Come on, dude, if that were true then literary books would be at the top of the bestseller list.  EL James would still be writing fanfics.  Nicholas Sparks would be doing...whatever he did before The Notebook.  The reality is that most literary books barely sell enough to qualify as midlist--if that.  Like art movies, the public rarely has much interest in arty books because newsflash:  the public is barely literate and thus doesn't give a fuck about prose.

Saying that prose is the determining factor is like saying the quality of someone's voice determines who will have a good music career.  Thanks to computers those who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket can have a hit album.  And it's definitely not about songwriting because many successful musicians either don't write their own songs or their lyrics are fucking terrible.  (Looking at you, Train.) 

To me "prose" is something to target because it's easier to accept for a lot of people than the truth, which is that it's all about the marketing.  If you're getting shot down by a hundred publishers, it's easier to think it's because you haven't tweaked your prose enough than to think it's because your story isn't salable.  I mean, come on, prose is something you can fix.  Having a marketable story is much more difficult.

Of course if you think about it logically, 95% (or more) of people you submit to won't even read a fucking word of your book's prose.  The only prose they're reading is your query letter.  Which, hello, that's marketing.   Thus having a marketable story is much, much  more important than having wonderful prose.

Not that you can write completely like crap.  If you have typos every other word you're just going to give any agent or editor a headache.  What you really need to strive for is competence.  You don't have to write like the latest Pulitzer Prize winner (whoever that is) to get your book published.  You just need a good idea with writing that doesn't completely suck.

So there you go:  strive to not completely suck.  Words to live by.  Or don't.  Why do I care?

BTW, recently I was overdosing on schadenfreude concerning JayG.  He was trying to big stuff someone by crowing about how adopting Dwight Swain's teachings led to him "selling" his next book.  When he mentioned the book I looked it up and found out he "sold" it to some pathetic fly by night operation that shortly after flew the coop.  This publisher sucks so much that there's not even a Chapter 1 and there's a typo on the back cover.  Of course he lied about that and said the person who mentioned that was just a troll, so I went and bought a copy for $3 off Amazon.  And yup, the "troll" was right.
Embiggen to see the typo.
The really funny part is I opened the front cover and found a personal note to his "favorite sister."  Ouch.  But I can see my sisters selling any books I give them--if anywhere would take them.  Or just dump it in one of those Better World Books boxes outside Meijer stores.
See, I'm not lying.
Now I sort of feel bad.  The original publisher of A Hero's Journey wasn't great but at least they're still in business.  This JayG is like the real-life version of the Dennis Farina character in "Authors Anonymous" except the back cover of his book wasn't in Chinese, so there's that.

So yeah, that's the value of "good prose."


  1. I'm haven't laughed this hard so early in the morning in a long time. So you bought his book and it was once his sisters! That's hilarious.

    It seems to me that agents and publishers usually never really say it's all about marketing. They only send a form letter. Once you get out there and publish then you find out it's 95% about selling and giving readers what they want. So yeah, I agree with everything you said here.

  2. Oh my. When you go after someone, you go after them with both barrels. I feel sorry for this guy. I guess he does get your $3.00. I saw on Cindy's blog you're adopting a cat. Is there a particular kind you are getting?

    1. He only got the $3 if he was the Amazon vendor who sold it to me.

  3. Sadly the general public is less interested in literary classics than in bubble gum pop. So marketing probably drives sales more than anything else these days. Sometimes cream rises to the top though.



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