I read something very sad over the weekend.
I’ve been following a cooperative blog of Christian speculative fiction writers, and from time to time, some of them post things about their writing journey. The thing which unites them is their common goal of seeking gatekeeper publication for their work.
Nothing else matters, and when one of them decides to go indie, they politely (we’re all Christians! be nice!) dismiss that person from their ranks.
Also, if the author actually manages to become published, they’re considered alumni and asked to move aside. Long story short, it’s a pool of wannabe authors, and no others need apply.
That’s fine, it’s what they stand for and what they want from their group. I think they could stand to learn from some indie authors, and I think they’re being hurt by the Sacred Cows of Publishing (Dean Wesley Smith’s term). But that’s me.
As evidence for my statement, though, one of them attended a conference recently. The author met with someone who, according the author, has a lot of industry knowledge. And this author, struggling to fit in with the gatekeeper system, naturally took what was given as gospel.
I read what the author got from the “knowledgeable person” and wanted to scream.
The author was told the three samples of her manuscripts were all very different. The “knowledgeable person” had a difficult time hearing the author’s voice, finding it in common across all three stories. The “knowledgeable person” asked who the author was, as a writer?
Now, I’m not a knowledgeable business insider to the world of legacy publishing. I know a few things, and those things are all sort of old info now, really. So I’m not to be heard on this. I only opine here; fair warning.
But the fact this author could produce three manuscripts which all have different voices screams to me. If the author isn’t producing what the gatekeepers want, they’re not getting through, period. Nothing they can do will change that except to attempt to conform to an ever-shifting, never-the-same set of rules and standards which are anything but hard and fast.
These manuscripts, in my view, each tell a unique story. They should have their own voice. The author is, in theory, growing and developing storytelling skills. If the novels are related, in the same series, then maybe it’s more important to have the same voice shine through. But is there a “problem” with an author who’s given unique voice to each story?
I got angry about this. That’s the exact kind of homogenizing “advice” that authors take so seriously because of who offers it, and is choking to a writer’s growth to develop storytelling skills.
The story is unique. Its voice maybe too. I don’t write everything in my “author voice.” If I did, everything would sound the same, and I become boring, predictable, and generic. All the other wannabes out there are doing the same thing. They’re writing to please gatekeepers, they’re “polishing” their manuscripts until there’s nothing but smooth, shiny sameness left, they’re focusing on words instead of story. And for what?
All to be told they’re not good enough.
This author has a dream, and I get that. This person aspires to reach that plateau, somehow cut through the ocean of stifling advice out there, and climb into the cesspool of stolen rights and crappy contracts. I know that. I did too, once. And that author, who felt the feedback was both constructive (it wasn’t) and painful (I can only imagine), came away unsure and doubting their own talent and felt they had to find their identity as a writer.
A lot of writers I’ve know, and I don’t know many anymore, live this advice too. They do everything they’re told to do, everything they read in blogs, everything they get from critique groups, workshops, and conferences. They’re told what and how, and even sometimes why. They work the advice as hard as they can, and they still come up short.
Because there’s no secret. There’s no magic bullet. There’s no formula. And all the advice they’re given, all the input they receive, seeks to make them homogenous. It seeks to make them something the gatekeepers think they can sell. And while those same gatekeepers say “Don’t write to trends!”, they are basing what they tell the unwashed masses thronging to them to adjust their writing so it’s what they’re able to sell to their line.
Did you see “reader” anywhere in there?
Again, I’m not an industry insider. I’m not even an experienced wannabe. I’ve been published in non-fiction three times, and I never got any feedback about my writing style or “voice.” So maybe I’m off the mark, far adrift from what’s really going on in legacy publishing. But you know what? I don’t think so. I’m following along with enough people who are familiar with the industry in its current form to glean some information.
Tilting with windmills isn’t going to help anyone, but this is the kind of thing which makes me sick to my stomach.
This author, after licking wounds for a bit, decided to pray and seek God for the identity the “knowledgeable person” said was missing. That’s what I hope I’ll do if I ever find myself in a similar situation.
As for me, though, I’d tell that author to stop. Just stop. You’ve polished enough. You’ve homogenized enough. Stop changing, stop adjusting, and move on to the next story. And let that story speak to you in its own voice.
If the “industry” of gatekeepers who are more fickle and subjective than knowledgeable don’t like your work, well…someone out there does. Why not try and let them find you?