If you’re really good? Like knowing if he really loves you… it’s not immediately obvious.
This grizzly (what, you think I’m not? Just mess with my kids. Okay. I’m more of a dragon) Old Writer wishes for this one dramatic scene, she could come down from the mountain, carrying tablets, but she can’t afford an ipad, so you’ll have to make do.
Look… I’ll tell you a story – like I ever do anything else? – I grew up thinking of myself as not particularly attractive. I knew for a fact most guys of my acquaintance had rather chew off their ankle than spend an afternoon talking to me.
It never occurred to me this had nothing to do with my looks, but to conversational gambits that started with, “So, what do you think the chances are that the Napoleonic invasions and the bureaucratic state they ushered in across Europe are the proximate cause of WWI carnage?”
And then I (finally) got pregnant and had the world’s second worst pregnancy (I don’t know everyone’s pregnancy stories. One might be worse) still resulting in a live child. Part of this involved being bed ridden for six months. It not only made me gain sixty pounds, but the hormonal and other effects destroyed my metabolism.
The first time I went out in public felt weird. Not because I felt self-conscious, but because something was different. It took me about an hour to realize strange men were no longer turning around to stare at me. Yes, they’d done that before. They’d done it while I thought I was an ugly duckling.
What does that mean? You can’t tell from inside. You can’t tell how you look, you can’t tell how you feel, and you most certainly can’t tell how you write.
Look, if you have a few spare kroner, buy For Us The Living, by Robert A. Heinlein. Then read Patterson’s biography of Heinlein. Not only didn’t Robert realize that novel was a dud, but he kept trying to publish it for the next ten years or so, even while he was writing the juveniles, which means he HAD figured out what a novel was.
Another story – my first created world, in which I wrote EIGHT novels, I couldn’t give away for love or money. I was then – my children (G) – as you are now, or rather more naive, if you consider I started writing this at 14 and submitting at 22.
When it got rejected (Mostly with standard rejections, though an editor I would later go on to work for told me she hated the characters, the setting and the writing style – which… never mind.) I assumed it was because my technique wasn’t up to snuff, and I went and worked at it some more. I read how to books. I read other books and analyzed them. I took the Writers’ magazine course and half of the Writers Digest (I got published halfway through that.) I tried first person. I tried third person. I tried a cast of thousands, I…
I never considered the books weren’t selling because they were WEIRD.
See, at fourteen, I created this world as an answer to The Left Hand Of Darkness. I’m sorry, that book has world building issues. (It’s a good book, nonetheless – magnanimous of me, isn’t it? – even if its narrative style is very much a prisoner of the seventies.) From MY perspective (what other perspective would I work with, honeys?) she got humans wrong. Yes, even hermaphrodite humans. From what I read humans settled, formed clans and families because females needed protection when pregnant. If everyone could get pregnant… Well… It’s hard to tell, since the only hermaphrodite species we know are lower orders. However I think there is at least as much likelihood that it would become a fiercely independent every-individual’s hand against everyone else’s as a mother-loving, clannish society where children were communally raised and therefore no one was tied down to child rearing. (What is it with “feminism” and not wanting to be “tied down” to child rearing, anyway? Shouldn’t that be “masculinism”? Love them and leave them?)
Anyway… I created my world as a response. Yeah, it’s a world of fierce individualists. It also has an ick factor a mile wide (well, unless you make up a pronoun, and I’m not that crazy, you end up using “he” – at least you do if you’re not writing the clannish, feminist thingy.) AND it has a counter-politically-correct factor wider than that (look, I THOUGHT SF was about open minds. I hadn’t realized a lot of the efforts of NYC publishing were towards creating consensus reality, including consensus imagined reality. I WAS YOUNG.) AND to top it all off and put a cherry on it, it went the way my stories do. Busy creating the world, I forgot WHY I was doing it, and got into all the fun details, including geneological tables going back 3k years, and dynastic wars and… yeah. (Scratches nose.) If I were smart, I wouldn’t (apparently) have pushed that baby carriage. Twice.
Eventually it dawned on me that it MIGHT be the world. (What, it had only been sixteen years since I created the world!) I wrote the Pseudo-Cretan fantasy, which did have internal issues (including my being stuck in cast of thousands) and though I didn’t sell it, I got tons of interest from agents, AND it won a contest. And then I wrote the first version of Darkship Thieves. And then things got weird.
Anyway, the point is, the first one of those first books WAS PUBLISHABLE as far as quality goes. It was however sort of like a dead albatross, from the marketable point of view. I thought my problem was technique, when in fact my problem was (as usual) having fallen under my own influence and thinking more kinds of forbidden thoughts than I can mention. (I mean, the books didn’t even have sex in them, which would be the only excuse that NYC would GET for writing them.)
So, you kids (get off my lawn!) today, breaking in with your newfangled indie publishing can stop feeling like ya’ll are the lone ranger because you don’t know if what you’re writing is good. No one EVER knows if what they write is good. You write what you want to write and what fits your internal biases of how a story should go. And you’ll be stubbornly blind to your peculiar biases. (Like, not figuring out that in books about an hermaphrodite species people expect sex. Or that New York editors would balk at a fiercely individualistic and independent society in which every individual had a womb.)
There are – of course – writers’ groups. There’s only one problem with writers’ groups. Most of them aren’t writers’ groups. Most of them are … critiquers’ groups. What I mean by this is that 90% of the writers’ workshops out there have devolved from groups of writers banding together to improve their writing to groups of people who have learned “rules” with which they can beat hopefuls away from even trying to write and incidentally make themselves feel better. For instance, the ban on adjectives and adverbs? (Gleefully broken by Rowling and others.) It’s a feature of minimalism. If you aspire to write in a minimalist style, heed the ban. If not… Well… write what works.
And what works? How the heck do I know? I could have told you, once upon a time, what would have worked for the traditional market. I could tell you because there were well-known editorial biases. Now…
Even Kris Rusch and Dean Smith are no longer teaching the Oregon Professional Writers Workshop. (And they did it for years and were good at it.) Why? Because no one knows where to aim to hit the jackpot. No, not even old pros.
But how do you know you’re not going to embarrass yourself? You don’t. It’s a risk you’ll have to take. The disadvantage of the collapse of consensus taste – among many advantages, like not having stuff forced down your throat – is that there is no consensus taste. What is too unreasonable for me, too new agey, too seventies, to mother-hugging-Earthy is someone else’s “just right” and “Plausible.” And there are enough readers out there for those.
I don’t like For Us The Living, and I find Pratchett’s Rincewind books well-nigh-unreadable. There are people who love both.
Put it out. Put it all out. Then, if you choose, take conclusions from what sells best. Grammar and punctuation and formatting should be obeyed – or at least given broad nods to. (Formatting can get odd across multiple platforms.) So copyediting should be attended to. Copyediting isn’t – or shouldn’t be – very expensive. Get that done.
The rest… If you aspire to be a bestseller, read the things that are selling well. Study how they do it. If you aspire to be literary, study how your idols do it.
To your own self, be true. And stop trying to judge your writing. You can’t. Amanda Hocking hoped to make a couple hundred dollars to go see the Muppets, live. Instead, her books made her money hand over fist. My older son has a story out – Bite One Get One Free – which he’d shelved after its being rejected for a vampire antho (possibly because it’s science fiction.) It has now sold over 1500 copies. A short story. With no publicity.
You can’t tell. Write it the best you know and put it all out. Let the readers sort them out.