Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Pearl of Great Depression: There's a REASON this stuff isn't in stores

You'll want to skip this entry. Seriously. Just skip.

So I know my last entry mentioned my theory that in the hands of a good author, anything will look good. Fan-freaking-tastic. But today I was reminded, firmly, by a pro that I respect, that if something isn't marketable it's not going to get published. So either you have a name somebody will recognize and buy (Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer, Dan Brown, Neil Gaiman) or you have a plot that immediately screams "This will sell." And not even "This will sell ten million copies" but "this will make its advance back."

A book advance, in case you didn't know, is the amount of royalties the publisher thinks the book will make in its lifetime. Not in a year, not in a decade, but the entire time the book is in print and on sale. Most book advances are low four figures, say $2000, and the ballpark for royalties are 8%-15% of cover price, which works out to just about a couple bucks a book. To make a $2000 advance back, a book has to sell about 2000 copies. And most books don't make their advance back. So when an agent, publisher, what have you, picks up a novel for representation or publication they are hoping the book will interest at least two thousand people. That there is something marketable about it ... and they can decide that by the second page or so.

Which amounts to another ho-boy-am-I-screwed moment, because of point number 3 in previous depression post: My main character is a writer, and by page two all she's done is have a conversation with her agent in a way I have just been informed is singularly unbelieveable. So the twists and turns and interesting developments I've spent so much time on do not matter for shit, because they don't happen by page two and I see no way to MAKE them happen on page two that wouldn't result in my cutting the book down so far, it's too small to sell. I have five thousands words left before we dip below novel-sized word counts, and I can see every one of those vanishing as I delete unnecessary dialogue tags.

Sometimes, boys and girls, the reason the novels you want to read don't exist is because nobody ELSE wants to read this stuff. I liked District 9 for the same reasons everybody else got squicked out. What is wonderful and magnificant and oh, so lovely in print to you is KILL WITH FIRE to someone else (and Piers Anthony, I'm looking at you here) and "meh" to a great many other people. In order to get one of those kooky and funky books on the market, you have to have a brand name to go with it. I am pretty sure the Dark Tower series would never have been published if Stephen King hadn't been attached to it. Not because DT sucks, but because DT is weird, and who wants to read an epic science fiction/fantasy/western involving interdimensional travel and no less than THREE cameos by the author, which are vitally important to the plot?

A great example of how fucking unfair and yet unavoidable this reality is, is the Anita Blake series. It starts out kick ass because that's what it had to be to get published, but once LKH's publisher realized people would buy her novels reguardless of the contents, they took the leash off. Which gave us Narcissus in Chains and the Merry Gentry series. Breaking Dawn and Bone Magic exist because the author has a following big enough to make publishing total shit worth it to the publisher. I'm not saying they don't care about great literature because again, most books don't make their advances back and they got published anyway. Which means somebody pretty high up in the publishing house fell in love with the book and said I don't give a shit, print this. But it's got to be awesome in ways that I cannot imagine, and can probably not achieve on my first go.

Talent doesn't matter, skill doesn't matter, good plotting and pacing don't matter. The only thing that matters is what will sell. 

Now to the all of ONE PERSON who is following this blog, this does not mean I'm giving up, because I'm not going to throw away three years of work ... but you know, there comes a point where you just have to admit how thoroughly screwed you are. And I just realized that because of a single character detail that I unfortunately did make integral to the plot -- and you read the thing, you know what I'm talking about, can YOU figure out how to disengage her career from the rest of the story?-- I might as well throw out those three years and start over. People might want to read it, people might not want to read it. But nobody is going to publish it.

If I decide to do this again, and I'm seriously considering calling it a day when WBR falls flat on its face, the main character will be an industrial baker with bad management and absolutely no personal relationships to speak of. Because bread and lonlieness are the two things I can probably write about inside and out.

1 comment:

  1. Submit the fucking thing and get on with it. You've devoted three years of your life to it. Now FINISH it. Which means submit it, not rewrite it again.

    And one follower is one more than I have.