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.|
|See, I'm not lying.|
So yeah, that's the value of "good prose."