Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Publishing in Non-Traditional Ways

Most of us, me included, want the next New York Times Bestseller like Allison Brennan, a new author who took the publishing industry by storm with three books slam, bam in a row.  (Although she did have a number of manuscripts written--and rejected--before taking the industry by storm--so all you unpublished authors take heart and keep writing.) We want to be published by a traditional, brick-and-mortar New York publishing company because that standard has some meaning which no one can deny.  It means your writing and your story are finally both good enough to make it into print--because it's a business and for a company to invest thousands of dollars in a new author, they need to have a pretty good idea that they are going to be able to actually sell that author's work. So it really is a standard we all hope to achieve.  It is the dream of every writer.

And yet, only a very small percentage of writers ever make it into print with one of the traditional companies--including writers who have finished several manuscripts. 

I wanted to make that point, because it's actually not the point of this article.  I don't think writers who simply haven't worked hard enough at their craft to get published should read any further.  This isn't about writing shlock and getting it published, just so you can "be published".  This is for writers who are working hard at improving their craft.  That may even have an agent and won some writing contracts, but who have just failed to catch an editor's attention--not because the work or story isn't good--but because they include some unusual element or because they chose not to include some element that simply did not fit into the framework of the story they were telling.

Right now, my agent is reviewing a manuscript before (I hope) attempting to sell it.  My original concept for the story was a light-comedic mystery set in the late Regency period (1817) in England.  There was also a romantic element.  Well, no one wanted yet another historical mystery and certainly not a light one and somehow it got all twisted up and is now a historical romance with a slight mystery element. 

But wait!  If it's a romance, you HAVE TO HAVE S-E-X.  That's right--now-a-days, there can be no historical romances without it, regardless of how much you protest that romance can actually be done without it.  Not that I'm against it--I like "it" very much--but it didn't fit my story.  And I tend not to read books (which is why I no longer read historical romances, because they've forgotten the romance part) with a lot of s-e-x because the author spends so much time priming the characters (longing glances and that sort of thing) for the s-e-x, then there's time spent on the actual s-e-x, and then all the time spent recovering from the s-e-x, and getting back to whatever story might exist, that I'm always left wondering:  Where's the story?   When are we going to get back to the story?  If there's more than one s-e-x scene, about 90% of the story is priming, s-e-x, after-s-e-x, regretting the s-e-x, then re-priming to do it again, so there is correspondingly less time spent on any sort of an actual story.  Unless, of course, that IS the story.

And I get really, really irritated with it because it's always the same pattern.
1)  Priming - longing glances, great butts, thighs, whatever.  Sheesh.
2)  S-E-X
3)  REGRET - why did I do that?  Does he actually love me?  He never said he loved me - omigod, what an idiot I am, I should-never-have-done-this.  [If you can find one book that doesn't have this pattern, you will be doing very good.]  The REGRET is there, because they have to have some reason/way to keep the woman and man apart until the end, and if they are already bonding and having s-e-x, then what is keeping them apart?  It's gotta be regret/misunderstanding/fear-of-being-dumped-again.  Double-sheesh.

4)  Repeat until conflict is resolved.  The end.
Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not against romance or s-e-x in books.  My actual point is that there can be stories that don't fit this pattern.

Authors who write stories that, for example, are set in the Regency period and have a "romance" element, may run into difficulties selling the manuscript if the characters don't indulge in s-e-x.  If this is an element that does not fit well within the framework of your story, you are at a decision point.

Are you willing to rewrite your story and twist your characters enough to fit the patterns expected by the publishing establishment?

I'm not proud - I HAVE rewritten my story to include the expected elements.  I am waiting to hear if that makes a difference.  However, I am also well aware that in doing what I did, I drastically changed my story and I'm a little less enthusiastic about it now.  It is no longer what I set out to write.

So, if this rewrite was unsuccessful and it does not make any difference, than I have another decision point. 

This is where non-traditional publishers may come into the mix.  If my agent decides the story has run as far as it can go, then I will drop the idea of selling a line of historical mysteries with a romantic element to traditional publishers.  I have four of them, and after doing a lot of soul searching, I have decided I really am not enthralled by the idea of trying to shoe-horn s-e-x into them because it changes the entire story.  It reduces the room for the mystery because of the time it takes to do this things I mentioned above (priming, s-e-x, regret, etc).  And it takes the joy out of the stories for me to twist them into something they are not.  Of course, if my agent manages to sell the one I just finished editing, than I shall be more than happy to twist the others into anything necessary to sell them, too.  Don't get me wrong.  I want to be published--traditionally.  I'll do whatever it takes.

We are looking, however, at what happens when a you realize you're heading in a different direction because you are so desperate to be published.  Don't write stories you would not, yourself, read by choice just to fit a market.  If your stories are good and your writing is flawless, but some elements just don't fit comfortably within the current marketplace, now may be the time to look at non-traditional publishing.

Not vanity publishing where you pay someone to produce your book.  Under certain circumstances (family cookbooks, family histories, things like that) a vanity publisher is the way to go.  But if you have written a work of fiction and it's good, but it doesn't fit comfortably in the framework used by brick-and-mortar publishers, you might try an e-publisher. 

I, myself, have been rejected by three e-publishers because, guess what, they also have their elements they want to see--mostly s-e-x.  Let's face it, if your story is about something other than that, but you think it has some sort of a romance or romantic element in it, you are going to have a really, really hard time selling it to ANY publisher.  Most e-publishers make the majority of their money on erotica and/or very, very hot books.  They publish the occasional book without that, but we're talking statistics now, and the fact of the matter is, most e-publishers are even more into "hot" than traditional publishers, although the gap is closing rapidly as traditional publishers start new lines of erotica and very hot stuff.

Nonetheless, you may still find that e-publishing offers you a way into the market when your work does not precisely fit these guidelines.  Maybe.  It hasn't worked for me (my three rejections all said the same thing--not sensual/hot enough) however I'm mentioning it because a lot of writers are creating manuscripts that are amazing works of imagination and creativity, and which deserve to be read, but do not fit into the categories used to define books in the publishing industry. 

If your work is good, really good, then I encourage you to look at alternate methods of publication.  The e-publishing industry is growing and over time, it may lose some of its current rigidity and be open to taking chances on creative work that offers something different, something unique.  Because there is very little cost involved in producing an e-book, they may be more open to moving away from their "erotica/hot/sensual" roots.  They may begin to offer more slots for alternative fiction that isn't quite so steamy.  I do see some exploration into other categories of fiction beginning, although it still has a lot of the original, very sensual element in all categories, so far.  I would say that this is set by the customer base, but as the world gets more "digital" this too may expand and it may offer other avenues for writers to explore.

For those of us who never fit well into traditional boxes, and who in fact have a real problem being told what to write (I am not always successful at suppressing my desire to say not just 'no' but 'hell, no and leave me alone'), this may be another way to get our stories out there.  This is not to say we can't be flexible and accept criticism and new ideas - you must always be open to that - but you must also recognize that each story has a set of critical components which you cannot change without morphing the story itself.  You must be ready to decide what you can, and cannot, change without losing the integrity of your story's vision.

I hope we will begin to see a little more freedom out there as the publishing industry expands to incorporate e-publishing and other non-traditional venues.  All we can do is wait and see...and keep on writing.

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