Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reconciling literary sensitivity with rejection slips

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[Manuscript in several hands including leaves from a common-place book; genealogical notes and nostrums]It's impossible to write a post like this without sounding whiney because I guess it is sort of whiney to question how so many bad books make it onto the market. In case you're wondering, the books I review on this blog are usually good, so I don't consider the ones that make it into my reviews a representative sample of what's available. Sometimes, I'll struggle through a book because I feel like I need to take one for the team if it's for a book club. Sometimes, it's a horrible book that happens to have a big cult following---why? Who knows?

Even relatively good books by respected authors contain a surprisingly high number of what I see as the literary equivalent of sour notes in music. I'll be happily reading along, and something will just stop me. I scratch my head and say, "Ooh! That's unfortunate." How does this stuff get out there?

As an aspiring author, I hear all these speeches about how important it is to make every word perfect and try to make every page the best one you can. Certainly a room filled with trained monkeys could crank out better material than what passes for popular fiction. Take Vixen from the Bright Young Things series. The author of that book has an agent! Not only that, she has an agent who sold her books as a series. Even after editing, it's still painfully bad. I couldn't even make it past page 20 because I felt my IQ deteriorating with each new sentence. What motivated someone to take her on as a client? Were they really that desperate to have a series of novels set in the roaring 20s? I don't get it.

In the end, I feel like I'm left with my own standards to judge my writing against, and that's unfortunate because it means I could revise something a thousand times and still find something I'm unhappy with. Maybe my willingness to make changes will be a strength in the long run, but it also means it's really hard to decide what"done" means when it comes to a manuscript.