Monday, February 26, 2007
Raymond Chandler is widely credited with saying that every writer has to write a million words of crap before they can produce anything worth publishing. And it is a fairly common theme at the Absolute Write forums that not being published is a better place to be than being published badly, being published by Publish America or being published and not selling (and, for some, being e-published, self-published and/or POD-published). Another oft-repeated statistic is that most authors sell their third or fourth completed novel-length manuscript and that their earlier efforts should stay in the drawer (or be burnt, see: million words of crap theory).
And that--to the purist--is what being a novelist involves: to write, write and write again. To be rejected, rejected, and rejected again. To climb out of the slush pile beaten, battered but unbowed with skin like a rhinoceros to impart this advice to the next generation of wordsmiths. Write your million, burn your first few novels, kill your darlings. No short-cuts, no excuses and most of all, no whining.
Now, of course, between e-publishing and digital printing there is a publisher for almost every book. Lower overheads mean books with lower sales potential are still profitable--even as low as the author and a few close friends (see: Publish America). So, increasingly, many authors are probably actually publishing their million words of crap--or persisting with the notion of being an author when they have the prose equivalent of a tin ear and an ego like a souffle.
Is this opening of the publishing dikes a good thing that is nurturing and allowing the development of worthy writers that would otherwise have fallen victim to the slings and arrows of outrageous slushdom? Or does it reward mediocrity, retard development and dump unprocessed slush on the readers leaving them as dazed and confused as novice novelists used to be? I mean, if anyone is going to suffer for our art surely it should be--no matter how cruelly--the artists not the readers? (And signs of reader distress are definitely out there in the blogverse).
Perhaps a little of both but it is a thought that gives me pause. For if the harsh gatekeepers of the New York presses are no longer ruling over the industry with the red pens of doom--how exactly is an author to know if their first, or second, or third, or any of their books is truly worth publishing? Which are the kittens and which are the skunks? For if there is anyone out there less able to judge the true nature of a manuscript than a distant, NY acquiring editor then surely it is the Momma cat herself?