Essay–Content May Appear Offensive

Writers write. If you chose to work with a “traditional” publisher, they then publish your book. In between? An editor.

This person, this editor, can make or break you and your story. There are editors out there who will attack your manuscript from the point of marketability. Others will take their red pen and decide that your characters don’t do what the editor thinks they should do. Some will completely fuck up and decide not to give you the feedback you need.

Thus far, I have managed to work with great editors. Both Jennifer Melzer and Sue Baiman are deadly honest if they see a problem with a story mechanic, a character’s motivation, flowery prose, awkward metaphors, and etc. In other words: they do their jobs and they do them well.

Now, here’s what I haven’t had to deal with–an editor who is also the publisher of my work. An editor that isn’t freelance works for a publishing company. That means their bills are paid by making sure the books they curate are marketable and will resonate with their core audience. Yes, publishers have audiences.

For instance, if you pick up a book by Permuted Press, you imagine it’s going to be apocalyptic. TOR will be a different flavor of science fiction than Baen. Why? Because many of their readership has more loyalty to the publisher than the writers in their stable. Strange, but true.

Therefore, the editor is thinking about their bonus. The editor is thinking about their salary. They will be hesitant to take on a book if it doesn’t meet their established criteria for the content. In these cases, it matters little how great the writing is. They want a story they can sell. Period.

This little post was driven by a conversation I had today with another author. He related a story about an editor trying to change his anti-hero into a hero. Why? They didn’t think a book where the protagonist is a “bad guy” would sell. I mean, who the hell would read it?

I WOULD, DAMMIT!

But see, if you’re a publisher of particular styles of genre fiction, your readers want to pick up a book and expect it to have the same feel as the books they’ve already purchased. Those readers want continuity in the style and the basic content. They are going to be ultra-pissed if you put something out there that doesn’t fit the “theme” of your other properties.

The publisher’s “reputation” is at stake here. The brand loyalty a house gains is not from taking chances, it’s from staying the course once that course is established. Yet that’s only in certain cases.

There are publishers out there who will take chances. Hell, some of them go out of their way to find the strange, the weird, the insane. In fact that becomes their brand. If you pick up one of their books, you know you’re in for a wild ride that would go great with two hits of acid or a bushel of magic mushrooms.

SO WHAT’S A WRITER TO DO?

I put a note on facebook/twitter/g+ a couple of weeks ago that said “Write the fucking book. Worry about selling it later.” I stand by that. I may never find someone willing to publish all of my insanity. It’s possible such a company doesn’t exist. Unless, of course, it’s my own.

Thankfully, I don’t give a shit. If I believe in one of my books, although I can’t find a publisher interested in publishing it, I’m doing it myself. I spend the money to do the same things a real publisher does (apart from marketing which many don’t even do anyway). I hire editors. I hire artwork folk. I trust the things I’m not good at to people who are.

So, little scribbler, let me explain something. Not finding a publisher doesn’t mean your work sucks. If you take a look at all the “overnight success” stories, you’ll encounter a bunch of folks who wrote several novels before selling any of them. That’s the case for most of us.

Just this month (April 2014), I sold my first book to a publisher. Who knows how well it will do? Will it maybe be the story that puts me over the top? Will my back catalog fly off the digital shelves? Or will a dozen publishers line up to purchase said back catalog?

I’ve been writing since I was twelve or thirteen. I was awarded a grant from Colorado State University for my writing. After I had a very bad experience with an agent at age 23, I stopped writing for more than a decade. I’ve only gotten back in the game over the past six years or so. Six years. I haven’t even attempted to perform a word count of everything I’ve written since then. I’m afraid it will boggle my mind in the expansive number of words, or it will depress me at how little I’ve accomplished.

Either way, that’s six years of toil spending countless hours writing, editing, podcasting, publishing, and etc. In this case, “toil” isn’t a bad thing if you have pets, a stressful, demanding dayjob, and a wife that works strange hours. Writing is my sanctuary, but the cost to my so-called social life is pretty serious.

BUT THAT’S BEING A WRITER, DUMBASS!

Yes, yes it is. My point though is that six years seems like a long time. Even worse if you’ve been doing this as long as I have. Thirty plus years of loving the written word and my imagination enough to create “art.” Somehow, some way, I’ve managed to build a loyal group of listeners and readers, garner several award nominations (and been a finalist three times), and taken on some pretty damned hefty projects. It’s been a hell of a ride, and now it’s part of me. It’s what I do. It’s my career when I leave the software development and system administration gigs behind me.

I want to do this full time. In order to get there, I either have to come up with stories that are marketable, or find a way to market those that aren’t. I’m trying something new this year by working with a publisher. The first book is an audition of sorts. The first book will either sell, or it won’t. And whose fault will it be if it doesn’t sell? Um, no one’s and everyone’s.

Markets are fickle. Readers are fickle. You can write the best book in the universe and it’s possible it’ll be a flop. Also, you could write a real piece of shit and it might sell like crack. There’s no sure thing in this business. There never was.

You have to write the story you want to write. It’s your imagination. It’s your world, your people, your monsters, your everything. It’ll sell, or it won’t. The content of your writing is what you put into it. Those of us who travel the dark side, so to speak, are going to offend some readers. Or some editors. And even publishers. But you can’t worry about that. You have to worry about writing the book. Because that’s your job.

Posted in Essays
2 comments on “Essay–Content May Appear Offensive
  1. Aleleeinn says:

    It is unsettling that your essay could have been written about the music industry and would have be equally on target.

    It saddens me to know people want the same old shit over and over, but that’s true in the music and movie industries. Guess it thought the readers of books were a brighter more adventuresome lot.

    I really should have know that part. had a friend who devoured romance novels. She would read them by the box full. They were the same story over and over. That was 30 years ago. Guess we haven’t gotten any more adventuresome.

    I like what you write. It a matter of style. Your sense of humor and approach to characterization appeals to me. I can’t explain it an better than that. Pretty much who I select music. Almost invariably, I know what I like instantly. That was how I felt about your stuff. I wanted more.

    Thanks for not giving up, and giving me what I want.

    Aleleeinn

    • Paul Cooley says:

      Cheers, brother. And yes, readers are still as locked with their tastes as are music-listeners and movie/tv viewers. People often become addicted to safety. For some, any art that challenges their pre-conceived notions makes them uncomfortable.

      That’s normal. It’s pretty much always been that way. So thank you for NOT being one of those, mate. Your patronage and comments are appreciated.

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