Who Are You Writing For?

Here’s a question that I received from Mab Morris via my Facebook page.  Ms. Morris has done a great deal of writing, has edited for other people, and has even taken the step of self-publishing her novella, The Red Khemeresh (which I’ve read).

Would I Like This?

Would I Like This?

Ms. Morris’ question was complicated.  I’ll paraphrase: “How do I get beyond the frustrating praise of being told I’m a strong writer by agents, while still not knowing what it is about the piece that makes them pass on representing my work?”

Let’s start by taking a look at that important phrase “frustrating praise.”  Frustrating praise is something that writers (and I suspect musicians and other artists) encounter frequently.  The rejection says something like, “This is a well-written piece.  However, it isn’t quite right for me, so I’m going to pass on it.”

Honestly, this sort of rejection is worse than being told “Would you please learn how to write a grammatical sentence?” Or “Your book is obviously a mishmash of Firefly and Game of Thrones.  You need to do more than file off the serial numbers.  Changing Tyrion Lannister to Tyra Bannister doesn’t do it.”

At least these rejections, nasty as they are, give a writer something to work on, a path to follow towards improvement.  “You write well but this isn’t for me” is only frustrating.  So here are a few questions to ask yourself.

Did you submit your work to the right place?

This question applies both to agents and publishers.  A book that would be perfect for Baen Books (which has established a solid audience for military SF, space opera, and traditional SF/F) might not interest a press that specializes in works with a GLBTQ emphasis.  Bigger publishers or agencies deal with a wider range of books, but even there you need to target the right editor or agent.

Just because a story isn’t right for one publisher doesn’t mean it’s a bad story or a weak story.  It only means it doesn’t suit that particular market.  This applies to agents as well, since most agents specialize in a few areas.

Be familiar with your field.  I recently spoke at an event where I chatted with several people who told me they wrote “Science Fiction.”  However, after a very short discussion, it became clear that they all wrote Fantasy and, at that, very different sorts of Fantasy.  Had they submitted their works – no matter how well-written – to an SF market, they might indeed have received a rejection.

Way back in late 2012, Alan Robson and I made a methodical journey through every genre and sub-genre we could think of within Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror.  You can find these posts starting here.  Or you might want to take advantage of a free download of most of the Thursday Tangents as an e-book here.

Who Are You Writing For?

When faced with a “nice but not for me” rejection, writers need to ask themselves just who are they writing for.  Mab Morris admits that what she writes does not fit into currently popular slots: “I have a lot of joy in what I write, but it’s not like I write about vampires or YA Post Apocalyptical stuff. I write these weird aggregated world culture/mythos mashes that are allegories.”

Lately, publishers have become very focused on how to market a book.  Books are talked about not for what they are, but what they are like – while at the same time being represented as presenting a completely unique twist.  A good example of this sort of marketing is Victor Milan’s Dinosaur Lords, which was marketed as Game of Thrones meets Jurassic Park.

Since many publishers are thinking in terms of marketing categories, then agents (who make their money by selling books to publishers) are also put in the position of thinking this way.

Therefore, at some point writers need to stop and say, “Who am I writing for?  Why am I writing?”

Many writers choose to write specifically for the market they want to break into.  The more structured the market, the more constraints this will put on the material that the writer can address.  The Romance market is a good example.  In a recent SFWA Bulletin, Jeffe Kennedy wrote an excellent article talking about why characters in love do not a Romance novel make.

I once asked a very popular Romance writer about the number of sex scenes in her most recent book, especially since they didn’t seem to fit the rest of the material.  Her reply was simple: “I know what my audience wants and expects, so I give it to them.”  She’s selling a lot of books, and following expectations doesn’t make her unhappy, so, for her, it’s a win-win situation.

Although the Romance market may have more constraints than many, still it’s important to remember that any work – even self-published – will need to be identified within one or more market areas.  That’s how readers have been trained to look for the sort of book they will like.  However, this means that if you’re going to write stories that don’t neatly fit, you’re going to need to find ways to show how your story has more, not less, appeal because of that.

“Well-written” Doesn’t Mean Perfect.

Consider that although you may “write well,” that doesn’t mean you write perfectly.  Writers are often unable to find their own blind spots.  Finding people who can help you find them can be difficult – especially if you’re relying on volunteers.

Don’t count on an editor to “fix” your story for you.  These days, editors find themselves having less time to edit manuscripts.  Most editors I’ve talked with do their actual “editing” during their commute or at home.  Office time is spent on meetings, e-mails, phone conferences, and such.

This has led to the rise of the “editorial agent.”  However, remember that an agent’s commission is based on selling the book.  Therefore, an editorial agent’s best interests may not be served by helping you evolve as a writer.  Instead, they may be served by making the book as saleable as possible.  If this is what you want, great.  However, if you have a vision for your work that does not involve revising to make it fit the formula of the moment, then an editorial agent’s input may not serve your interests.

I don’t have a simple answer as to how you can find out what your work may be missing.  All I can say is that you’re going to be a step closer to that goal if you figure out why you started writing in the first place.  At least then you’ll be able to say to your beta readers, “What I’m trying to do here is THIS.  Am I managing?”

I know a good many of you are creatively engaged in one or more arts.  Any productive comments to offer?  And any more questions for me?

Advertisements

7 Responses to “Who Are You Writing For?”

  1. James M. Six Says:

    There’s also the possibility that you ARE a strong writer, your work is fine, but the agent is already representing three other authors who write the same things you do and doesn’t need a fourth … or the editor of the anthology/magazine has already bought another alternate history vampire cat detective story* and can’t justify buying yours. There is an element of luck when trying to break into traditional publishing, but honing your craft gives you more chances to play.

    * Darrell Schweitzer wrote one of those some years ago, which is why I use it as an example.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Absolutely! This is why it’s crucial to research where you’re submitting, whether to an agent or editor or publishing house. See if they like “more of the same” or are looking for variety. That can save you a lot of grief.

  2. henrietta abeyta Says:

    BALANCE YOUR HOPE. HOLD ONTO YOUR PERSEVERANCE.

    Your past is what made you who you are today so try to find some real self-satisfaction for yourself in your recent writing.

    You don’t need perfect skill in writing, while talking to publisher editor or agent you mostly need real confidence. And it’s great when you find one of the best book illustrators. Picking an illustrator for your new book it isn’t skill I’d judge the most, it’s how much the pictures fit your imagination in a pleasant way. Besides confidence your other key would knowing your grammar well. NONE OF US JUDGE ONE CHARACTER AND WHEN IT COMES TO IMAGINATION NONE OF US VISUALIZE THE WHOLE CAST THE SAME WAY EVERYONE HAS A PERSONAL EXPLANATION EVEN WHEN THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT THE SAME STORY.

    There are times planning ahead can really be helpful, a task like these book decisions of how to let the whole book appear is quite a good example. Like what if the author and the illustrator cooperated for fun putting drawings of their different favorites scenes of the book together even if a few pages ended up with two or three pictures. This would sure keep the book unique looking.

    SUBMITTING YOUR WORK TO THE RIGHT PLACE
    WHO ARE YOU WRITING FOR?
    WELL WRITING DOESN’T MEAN PERFECT

    well with all three of these question it’s entertainment and the ability to soothe yourself or comfort yourself that I’d focus on repeatedly doing such fun but busy work

    WHO ARE YOUR REAL FRIENDS

    WHO DO YOU WISH TO HELP is there someone within you???

    DO YOU WISH TO EPRESS ANY STRONG DREAM OF YOURS??

    IS THERE A PLACE IN YOUR IMAGINARY WORLD YOU WISH WAS REAL OR A PLACE YOU WISH YOU COULD TAKE FRIEND TO????????????????????????????????????????????

    DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVORITE HERO OR FAVORITE ANIMALS??

    WOULD WRITING GIVE YOU CONSOLATION WHO DO YOU MISS FAMILY MEMBER, FRIEND, A TOY YOU HUGGED A LOT??

    IS THERE SOMETHING YOU WISHED TO STUDY DURING SCHOOL THAT YOU DIDN’T BUT ARE FINALLY FREE TO STUDY TODAY???????????

    DO YOU HAVE A BEST FRIEND WHO’S FEELING LONELY THAT A BOOK MAY HELP THE FEELINGS OF ????????????????

    WHO ARE YOU THANKFUL TO HAVE THE COMPANY OF??????

    FORTUNE AND ENJOYMENT. OPINIONS AND SELF-RESPECT. VOLUNTARY INSPIRATION CAN HAPPEN WITH BOOKS. BENEFIT FROM YOUR OWN ADVENTURES MAINLY HOLD ONTO YOUR COURAGE!!

    REACH FOR THE LIGHTS, YOU MIGHT TOUCH THE SKY!!!!

    JASMINE OLSON TRYING TO SHARE WHAT SHE THOUGHT RELATED TO THESE BOOK JOBS………???

  3. dnprice01 Says:

    Thank you for the wonderful advice. It’s so wonderful to have a writer of your caliber giving such honest at thoughtful guidance to aspiring writers. It is truly appreciated.

  4. henrietta abeyta Says:

    DNPRICE01 THANK YOU. I’m glad my advice was helpful to you, I did better than I expected to at all especially since I JASMINE OLSON who gave you the good writing advice am 26 year old disabled girl who’s more at the resource level of learning stuff though I have 3 disabilities.

    THE OTHER WAY YOUR RESPECTFUL RESPONSE PLEASES ME IS BESIDES PROVING MY STRENGTH AND WISDOM AT LIBRARIES I’VE NOW EVEN DONE IT ON THE INTERNET BY SURPRISE.

    PROOF THAT DISABLED PEOPLE AREN’T USELESS. THANKS HAVE A HAPPY SUMMER DNPRICE01.

  5. Paul Says:

    So many rejections like “not right for us at this time” are unhelpful but some are actually funny. There used to be a Playboy-like magazine called Rogue whose form rejection was: “Rogue…regrets.”

  6. henrietta abeyta Says:

    WHILE WORKING I’D SAY AS I’D I FEEL INITIMACY WITH BLIND SEER WHY DON’T THE REST OF YOU SEARCH FOR AN INTIMATE FRIEND. THIS WOULD HELP DURING THE HOURS OF DIFFICULTY OR CONFUSION ABOUT HOW TO CONTINUE THE SAME BOOK.

    PHONE CALL, PICNIC, PUBLIC TALKS??????

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: