Hey guys, Meg here! I'm blogging to tell you about a few things I've learned in the past year or so while writing, editing, and trying to publish a novel. I found them eye-opening, and maybe you will too! Or maybe not. In that case, I'm sorry this post is so boring for you.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED ABOUT PUBLISHING I GUESS
1. Everything is SUBJECTIVE.
Okay not literally everything; if you spell words in your manuscript wrong, then you've spelled them wrong no matter who reads it. But it is so important to remember that one person may read your manuscript and absolutely love it, while somebody else may read the very same manuscript and think it's drivel. That's how it goes. For my Masters dissertation, I got an A from one grader and a C from another. They agreed on a B (to Matt's chagrin; thank you Matt!). And then a third grader gave me an A. On the same manuscript.
When it comes to creative things like novel writing, there is no "right" way to do it. Whether or not somebody likes your book is based completely on their own taste. If an agent rejects you (I remind myself regularly), it doesn't necessarily mean that your manuscript is bad. It just means that a) it's not to their taste, b) they didn't fall in love with it enough, c) it doesn't fit anywhere in their list, d) they loved it but already represent a similar book, e) they were in a bad mood that day. Or something else entirely! I have to constantly tell myself that there will be an agent out there who loves my book, I just haven't found her yet. Keep on trucking.
2. Commercial fiction is not literary fiction.
This is important to remember! Especially if you've taken college courses in creative writing, or attended writing workshops. For the most part (well, based on my experience), these are geared towards literary writers. Which to me means boring writers, but in reality means "not genre." What is genre fiction, you ask? Basically all the fun books: Sci fi, fantasy, YA, crime, mystery, romance, etc. Literary writers tend to be more like poets, I find. They focus on the words themselves, crafting perfect sentences, creating beautiful imagery in unique and beautiful ways. Genre writers tend to worry more about plot, characterization, and plot. Plot is important. The writing itself is important, but it's not the same sort of writing that literary people write. You can say "she laughed," "she grimaced," or "he sighed" a whole bunch in your book if you want! You can sell that book, and people will like it! You don't need to hang on your creative writing professor's every word if she's a literary person, and you're a genre person. Realize that you must learn the rules, but you can discard the ones that don't apply to you.
Also, and I learned this the hard way, if you're a genre writer and you take a creative writing course or do a workshop... they might not take you seriously. Which is horrible, and old-fashioned and prejudiced and total bullshit, but it happens! I was told by one of my undergrad workshop profs that I straight-up should not try to get a Masters in creative writing, because people at the graduate level wouldn't take my fantasy writing seriously. Well guess who got a Masters in creative writing, asshole! Don't listen to the negative people, you guys. You just have to find the right environment and the right group of people, and you'll flourish. But beware, there are workshops and programs out there that will treat you as a second-class citizen if you come in brandishing your sci fi/fantasy short stories. As soon as people in one of my workshops found out I wrote fantasy, they started making bad jokes about dragons every day in class. Just a warning.
3. It's okay to write commercial fiction.
It is! I think a lot of people don't regard commercial writers as ~real writers~, but those people are douchenoggins. Also they don't sell as many books. Why? Because commercial writers... wait for it... are more commercial. People buy genre books, and chick lit, and commercial fiction. You can make a living writing commercially. Which is why it's called that! And that is totally okay. If you want to write a beautiful work of art, that's amazing and you should go for it. But if you want to write a fun, tightly-plotted book that will sell, go ahead and do that instead. It's okay!
4. You don't have the be a unique and beautiful snowflake.
I mean, obviously your book should stand on its own legs, and not be a complete rip-off of somebody else's work. However -- and here's something that still baffles me a bit -- it's okay to write something that's super similar to another thing that's out there. I mean, how many books are there about a young dude who goes on a quest to find or destroy some magical item? LIKE A BILLION. And how many books are there about a teenage girl who falls in love with a supernatural hottie? LIKE A BILLION. And they all sell! People like reading books that remind them of books they've already read. I know I do! More babely steampunk werewolves, please!
Agents even like this. I see agents tweeting all the time asking for submissions that remind them of a movie they just watched, or a book they just read and loved. Obviously you don't want to write that very same book or movie with only the names changed, but it's okay to be slightly derivative. Look at the steampunk craze that's happening. They all have automatons and airships and girls in corsets firing pistols at mad scientists, but it's okay! Because steampunk is selling, and agents want to represent books that will sell, so a lot of these books resemble each other closely.
Maybe some people think that's stupid and bad, but I think it's awesome, because it doesn't make me freak out and bash my head repeatedly against the wall trying to come up with a completely and utterly new concept that nobody has ever thought of before in the history of the world. I mean if you dissect the book I'm writing now, it's basically The Affair of the Necklace meets steampunk meets Star Wars meets a tiny bit o' Jane Austen. Which is kind of a weird combo. It's actually so weird I'm worried it won't sell. But who knows? Everything is subjective!