I have this novel that I started about six years ago and finally completed to my satisfaction earlier in March. Although I believe the book is done, a friend emailed to say there was a slot open for consultation with the book doctor who would be presenting to our alumni last weekend. I could have it gratis, if I sent an opening chapter of something ASAP.
Really? Sure. Um, here… this is done.
Book Doc seemed knowledgeable in the group session. I was a bit concerned that his chosen area of writing was young adult novels, but then he mentioned that he dealt with all styles of writing in his editing service, including literary, which is what mine is written in. In fact, he praised literary style as the highest form to which writers could aspire. And every aspect of a good first chapter that he discussed matched what I’d done in mine. The one-on-one session was going to be fun.
You can probably guess the next part.
I sat down for our meeting. BD pulled out a two-page, single-spaced crit of my nine-page chapter, plus extensive line notes. The abuse started with the first sentence and didn’t let up.
But there was something very unsettling about it all. Despite his claim to an appreciation for literary style, all his criticisms came from the land of commercial books. My sentences were sometimes too long. The character’s name should be in the first sentence or readers might become confused. Interior monologue should be in italics so readers can recognize it as such. It sounded like a YA primer. Had he even read literary works?
Later, another attendee shared her experience. Turns out he ripped her even worse than me—told her to trash the entire first chapter of her book and start again. For the record, the writer is one of the finest I’ve ever met. She’s been published in dozens of journals and is much honored. I know her writing, and I know BD was completely off base about her chapter.
So what to make of it? Do I want to change my style and my message to make it accessible to more readers, or should I remain true to my vision and challenge readers to figure the story out?
Two possibilities come to mind: one, that I’m actually on to something with this novel, a genre-busting, mind-bending literary excursion into dysfunctional worlds of science fiction, politics, love and corporate marketing that is simply too intense and intellectual for commercial-minded hacks like BD to understand; or two, that I’ve completely lost my mind and have no clue about how to write well. Either way I haven’t got a best seller on my hands and it’s going to be hell to get it published. My best bet will be to find an indie publisher that specializes in unusual stories. But then, I realized that a few months ago, after enough rejections from commercial agents to wallpaper my spare bathroom. And the next time I have an “opportunity” to present my novel in a commercial setting, I’ll have to think long and hard about it.
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