Monday, November 12, 2007

Ice Storm, Anne Stuart and that envelope....

That's right - I bought the new Anne Stuart on Saturday and I neglected my child and my husband and any sort of word count I wanted to hit this weekend and hunkered down and read the thing.

She's great - Anne Stuart is a master - she still does the same things wrong that make me mad in all her books. Repetitive dialogue, increasing conflict and tension that the character's don't seem to respond too in their dialogue or thoughts. The character's change by the end of the book in one sudden swoop of change - that is totally dramatic and exciting but means that the middle of the book things are sort of unchanging. She isn't as descriptive in her action scenes as I think she should be. I did some skimming.

But she still does the same things AMAZINGLY! Her characters are incredible - unlike any other characters out there. Her sex scenes are spicy but totally totally character involved unlike so many romances out there. Conflict is top notch.

But this is my thought while reading the book: I know I've been guilty of reading really great books, with characters and plot lines that are outside of the box in terms of what we read in the standard romance, or the standard novel. I've read these books, and I've loved these books and I've thought -- you have to be Anne Stuart to be able to do this. Or, you have to be J.R. Ward or Susan Elizabeth Phillips to be able to write about football stars, or vampires who might or might not be bisexual. Heroines who are killers, or heroes who are blind or a subplot with a porn star or anything DIFFERENT can't be done by someone new. Or sort of new. Or who writes family drama superromance.

Basically, my thought was - stay inside the envelope, Molly.

But reading Anne Stuart I realized, sure it helps to be Anne Stuart - but editors are dying for different. Readers are dying for different - the envelope is DYING to be pushed. And ANYONE can do it. Any one of us. But, you can not give an editor the chance to say no. You can't leave any room for doubt. I know there are so many writers out there thinking - I write totally different heroines and no one will buy my books but e-press or small press or no one and I'm totally pissed off and disillusioned. My answer to you is -- write better. Be better. Don't let the editor say - love the premise, but can't get into to it - because all that editor is saying is -- you didn't totally sell me. You didn't do it well enough.

You don't have to be Anne Stuart to write different books - you just have to be better than her. And, frankly, that's a hard challenge, but that's what it is. You have a great idea, something dark and scary and sexy and wild - do it. Just don't back down, don't be lazy! But do write the crap out of it.


Maureen McGowan said...

I think this is so true, Molly. I think rejections sometimes say it's the premise or the likeablity of the heroine or something like that because it's an easier thing for the editor to say than, "the writing isn't strong enough." And it's an easier/more palatable thing for writers to believe, too.

Do I think my first book had bad market timing in terms of when it hit editors' desks? Sure. I do think a year earlier it would have sold. But if it had been better, something no one could put down, they'd have found a way to make an offer anyway. We have to keep getting better and tearing that envelope with our ideas. (scary as it is.)

Molly O'Keefe said...

I think it's about being above trends. Jennifer Weiner who is top shelf all the way - writes above the trends. And she's pretty freaking great. We just can't give an editor a reason to say no and that usually means being patient, taking your time with your book, giving it that final edit. Going the extra mile with brainstorming, pushing your comfort level.

Basically all the things I hate doing....

Anonymous said...

So true, and great post.
It's giving people something new, something amazing and really pushing ourselves as writers.

Which is really hard and I'm tired just thinking about it, but it is what we need to do.
I hate that last edit...

Anonymous said...


So you feel there is no niche too small for the big publishers? That there is no need for small press?

As someone writing in a very tight, and very small niche, I hope you're right.

Molly O'Keefe said...

No - I do think there is room for small presses - and I think if it works for the writer - it's a great place to be. Lots of attention by the publisher - probably more room for the writer within the editorial calendar. But if a writer wants mainstream or big print runs and a shot a bestseller lists - I think there's no niche too small if it's done right. Does that make sense?

For yars we've heard editors say they just want good stories told well - and I really believe that.

Molly O'Keefe said...

thinking about that further - it's probably a matter of blending what makes a book really niche-y and a mainstream, popular voice, or elements. It's always a compromise...

Kris Eton said...

And what's wrong with starting with an e-press or small press to prove that people DO like what you are writing? There are more ways than one to build a writing career...and to start with e-presses or smaller publishers who don't pay so great is nothing to sneeze at.

This is why there is so much erotic romance now being printed by the traditional publishers...epubs beat them to the market and proved there was an audience for them. And this is starting to come true with other types of books as well. Samhain Publishing is one who is begging for cross-genre books, as is Loose ID. These are very successful online publishers...and some of their authors make very good money.

Eventually, NY will catch on and try to do the same. Once they see a trend making big bucks.

Epubs are kind of the experimental thing that traditional publishers can use to gauge reader interest. And when they see a trend grow rapidly, they try to jump on the bandwagon.

Don't despair!

Anonymous said...

I believe that editors want stories that are told well but publishers want stories that will sell well.

If the book appears to be a niche play then its up to the author to prove that it is not.

And one way to do that is to self/small/ePublish.

The bonus for going small is that the author has a better shot at making the niche play a success because the publisher is more flexible.

For example:
I'm adding a resource page to my novels. Although expected by the business crowd, I doubt the romance lines that I'd otherwise sell into would appreciate it. However, I was able to convince my small press editor to give it a try.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Hey Kris - I think you are so right. e-press/small press are flexible enough to take a risk - or to cater whole-heartedly to a niche (like Kimber's resource page - so cool). Absolutely nothing wrong with that. And I do think that Ellora's Cave and many of the other epress companies practically creted the erotica boom that we're seeing right now. Ellora's Cave proved that it could sell so every New York house created a place for erotica.

My point is that for a lot of years I took my rejections or my ideas and thought 'I can't do this because it's not the trend, or I'm not big enough, or there's already so many of them.' And, frankly, I feel like it was an excuse not to write better, not to learn more and try harder. I got a lot of rejections that said "I liked it, but I didn't love it." That's not the editor's fault, or the market's fault - it's mine for not making my mms as powerful as I could.

Anonymous said...

Really interesting topic and discussion! But how much of the "I liked it but didn't love it" is the subjective nature of reading? There are many books I've read, recommended by trusted friends and fellow readers who said "I loved it!" and when I got it I said, "Eh, me? Not so much."

But I do agree with you, Molly about taking things to the next level. Never assume your manuscript is the be all. This is always about learning and improving. My problem now is that I know I have to rise to the next level and my fear is - what if I can't!

Molly O'Keefe said...

Ha Nelsa! I'm with you -- but this is my new attitude.. if I can tell that I need to get better and I can see where it needs to happen - than I can do it. Not to say it will be easy or that I have any of the tools required - it's like knowing you need a hammer -- but only having a screwdriver. As long as I know I need the hammer I can dig around until I find it... or something along those lines....

Anonymous said...

I agree, the feeling I get from the state of publishing right now is that almost anything will go, as long as it's big, with huge conflict, huge stakes and written so well, the editor literally can't put it down.
So easy to write, so hard to manage.

Abby said...

"I believe that editors want stories that are told well but publishers want stories that will sell well."

I think Kimber nailed it. Sorry to be the naysayer, but no matter how well-written, something not commercial enough to make money has a slim chance.

Historical writers are almost constantly baffled. Editors want a good story well told... but Westerns don't sell, so don't write those. Ditto Civil War stories or WW1/WW2 stories. Stories set in remote locations like Asia and South America - don't write those. Actually, set your story in Regency England and you're good to go.

OK - I'd like to see Anne Stuart sell a Civil War story. That would be cool.

Maureen McGowan said...

I don't think you're necessarily being a naysayer, Abby... It is important to keep an eye on the market.

I think Molly's point is that if we look at all the huge break out novels (even published by NY) they almost all break some of the so-called rules. They all push the envelope of what's acceptable/commercial.

And what editors are looking for is constantly changing. There are at least a couple of editors I heard in Dallas this summer who specifically mentioned they want Westerns right now, for example... As soon as someone breaks out with a huge, different, unusual take on the Western... suddenly they'll all be clamoring for more Westerns... (And it wasn't very many years ago that writers couldn't sell a paranormal or a romantic suspense...)

It's such a hard thing to know how far outside the lines we can colour and still be marketable.

Maureen McGowan said...

Kimber said: I believe that editors want stories that are told well but publishers want stories that will sell well.

Very, very true... But it's also true that it's part of the editors' job to convince their publishers what's going to sell well.

Kate Duffy claims she's never been turned down by her publisher on a book she was in love with.

Anonymous said...

I bet Kate Duffy has a history of books with solid financial success.

If you look at most of the truly innovative books out there, there are patterns. Either the author built up credibility with more mainstream books before the innovation or they proved the innovation first by self/small/ePublishing.

That isn't a bad thing. Big publishers have big print runs. A turkey would mean big losses which would hurt the entire company. Best to let the smaller players experiment and then act on their successes.

(Most other industries do the same.)

Maureen McGowan said...

She's known for breaking new ground though... Sure, editors don't want to risk being wrong very often... They'd get fired. But I do think mainstream editors will take risks if they love the book enough. How else did someone like JR Ward get books with bisexual heros published? Sadly, I've had a couple editors who were interested in my book but got shot down by their publisher. So, I'm not disagreeing with you. I'd love to believe it's just marketablity that caused my books not to get contracts so far... But I've come to believe the editors just didn't feel strongly enough about the book to argue hard enough. So, I need to write a better book that blows editors' minds so they won't back down. OR I could write something directly to trends that they might buy for commercial reasons regardless of loving it. But it might not get me where I want to be in the long run.

I know you've taken another route, Kimber. And I admire that. Truly. It's just not the route for me right now.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Whoa - who knew this would be such a conversation starter. Thanks everyone for chiming in! Everyone's right of course. I was just thinking of the book The Time Traveller's Wife -- which probably got rejected all over the place by lots and lots of romance editors and agents because it didn't fit the trend or was too big or too strange -- but so well written -- that it was going to find a home no matter what.

Editor's do have to love a book to get it approved by publishers with an eye on the bottom line- and frankly I think Kate Duffy might be lying.

But, PollyAnna though it might be - I think good books find homes. Might just take longer.

Maureen McGowan said...

It HAS been a great conversation starter.

The other tidbit I recently learned was that WATER FOR ELEPHANTS was Sara Gruen's option book at Avon and they rejected it.

Again. Great book. Not the right home. Found the right home (and its way onto the NYT Bestseller list.)

Anonymous said...

Well, that's an interesting point and drives another question.

How do you know whether the rejection is due to the writing or due to not finding the right home for the novel?

I cheated. An agent told me point blank that my crazy mutant genre was a niche for small press (and that the novel was "good enough" to be published otherwise if only I didn't have that nasty business talk thrown in).

But for other aspiring writers, how would they know?

Maureen McGowan said...

The problem is, we never know, I don't think. I mean, even that agent who gave you that great advice... it was just one person's opinion.

Bottom line, I think... Really, really amazing writing and storytelling always wins out. Because people like to read it and therefore it WILL sell lots of copies even if the subject matter, or structure, or whatever, is a little unusual or goes against what typically sells well. But it can be harder to find the right publishing home for books like that, and sometimes the right publishing home is a smaller house.

I think we drunk writers have simply taken an oath that we're not going to use "that idea's too edgy" or "that kind of thing doesn't sell" as an excuse not to try to get better, or write the books we want to write.

I'm sure we'll all cave in a few weeks. We were drunk when we took the oath. LOL.

Abby said...

OK, Maureen you make a good point - you can't use the market to make excuses for yourself.

I guess what I'm getting at with historicals is that so many of them get rejected on concept alone, without even looking at the writing.

And just to stir the pot a bit more, JR Ward is not a GREAT writer. She is a commercial writer. Those books ain't winning no Pulitzers. What sold them was hook and a high concept.

Molly O'Keefe said...

HA! Abby good point - she's not a great writer -- but as I am probably never going to win a pulitzer either -- I could comfort myself with some of her cash!!!

Maureen McGowan said...

Yes... But I would argue that her storytelling ability is excellent. Also, art or not, any writer that keeps readers turning pages quickly (especially this reader who is VERY picky) is doing something very, very right.
Her books grab you from page one and don't let go. She didn't give editors a chance to go, "Gee, are readers going to accept these killer heros? These guys who constantly admire each other's naked bodies and snap people's necks every second chapter?" Because they were so caught up in the storytelling that they didn't care about these things.

But you're so right.

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