I read The Guide to Literary Agents Editor’s Blog by Chuck Sambuchino today. It was an older post (September 27,2009) on word count. I am neither confused on word count, nor am I looking for a new agent (Love the one I have, thank you very much). But I often like to read the thoughts of publishing professionals on various topics just to learn or get exposed to a different perspective. Mr. Sambuchino said two things that absolutely resonated with me.
The first: “The most important thing here is to realize that there are always exceptions to these rules. And man, people love to point out exceptions - and they always will.”
He of course is talking about writing rules. I love rules--grammar rules, rules of etiquette, rules of writing, rules of behavior, etc. Rules make life easy in a way--you don’t have to think for yourself; you can just do what is expected of you. Do I follow all rules? Not always. I like to think for myself, judge for myself if a rule is fitting or moral or right, but I understand the need for rules and I also understand the need to know the rules. Writing rules exist not because the author isn’t creative enough to produce something without them, but because when a reader picks up a book, the reader has expectations. If a writer refuses to meet those expectations, the writer will be unsuccessful. Breaking those rules comes with a risk, and if a writer breaks those rules, he/she had better know why he/she did so. To break a writing rule, you must understand it first.
Are there exceptions? Of course, but you can’t bank on being an exception. It always surprises me, for example, when I meet an author who doesn’t think that knowing grammar is an essential skill for writing a book. You do. Or when a writer believes that they can include anything in a story (or not change elements, or refuse to listen to critique--not critics, mind you, but critique from editors or agents or trusted readers--and no, I am not arguing in favor of critique groups) because it is their vision and their vision is art and therefore perfect.
The exception gets talked about BECAUSE he/she is an exception. If I tell my students that smoking is bad for them, one will invariably pop up with “Well, my grandfather smoked every day, and he lived to be 95.” Right. He is the exception. We talk about shark attacks and plane crashes because they are the exception. We don’t talk about the millions (yes, millions) who travel each year on an airplane without incident, or the millions (yes, millions) who swim in the ocean and emerge without a nibbled toe. But people will point out the exception and then expect that they too are the exception.
Which leads me to the second quote: “And since most writers haven't earned oodles, they need to stick to the rules and make sure they work gets read. The other thing that will make you an exception is if your writing is absolutely brilliant. But let's face it. Most of our work does not classify as ‘absolutely brilliant’ or we'd all have 16 novels at this point.”
As much I would like to believe I am an extraordinary writer, we have yet to see if my sales record will support that claim. Do I write well? Absolutely. Do I tell a good story? Definitely. Am I brilliant? Of course…in spots. Sometimes my writing blows me away, and then if I look at it again, I see areas I can improve in. Will I be the next big star? God, I hope so, but looking at facts realistically, I write a good book that people can enjoy (yes, I have been told as much). I love the books I write, and I hope to sell enough to establish a career, but to paraphrase Mr. Sambuchino, if most of my work classified as ‘absolutely brilliant’, I’d have 16 novels at this point.
Am I special? You bet your life. There aren’t many who have had a book published, and I number among them. Sometimes that has to be enough.
Next time I’ll talk about Theme and its role in the romance novel. I love the topic of Theme.
The website for the blog is:
Books I’m reading now:
An Affair before Christmas by Eloisa James
A Lady of Persuasion by Tessa Dare
How to Engage an Earl by Kathryn Caskie
Sin and Scandal in England by Melody Thomas