I'm always amused by those aspiring authors who think that most of what gets published nowadays is crap, but who are, nonetheless, desperate to get published themselves. These people are convinced--CONVINCED--that they aren't getting published because they are too brilliant to be recognized by plebian agents and publishers that only put out mainstream crap.

To demonstrate their literary superiority, they send letters like this one, which The Rejecter featured on her blog not too long ago:

The dynamic for agents is to find that compelling work that is salable, not an easy task I'm sure. For me some books that are considered page turners are often so empty and the characters so thin I don't care what they do and the plot so mundanely crime-ridden or romance-ridden or horror-ridden that I don't care what happens. I could give many examples of such profitable books with their suspense page turners in different genres that the only reasonable thing is for the characters to self-destruct. Good luck to those writers. I do not envy or begrudge them anything, for life is too short for that. Maybe these books are a kind of therapy in their escapism for readers and agents are part of the therapy business. However, maybe there is kind of writing that tries to sustain us by illuminating the real world.

Now, the dilemma is, do the vagaries of the the marketplace where escapism literature is easily identified and dominate reduce the marketplace need for compelling stories that deal more authentically with the real world?

umm...Setting aside the substance of this letter for a moment...this is not good writing. Like, at all.

When I used to teach, I would often see this kind of writing from my students who were trying on academic language for the first time. They were new to academic writing, and so their attempts to master it would often result in this kind of overly wordy and obscure language that doesn't really say a lot. It made grading their papers really a lot of fun, let me tell you.

But let's take a closer look, shall we? How about just at that last part, the actual question:

Now, the dilemma is, do the vagaries of the the marketplace where escapism literature is easily identified and dominate reduce the marketplace need for compelling stories that deal more authentically with the real world?

Let me rewrite that a little bit, so it becomes a little more clear.*

In a market where most books are escapist fantasies, is there less of a need for compelling stories that reflect the world more realistically?

Well, the answer to that question is, of course, no. No, there isn't less of a need. People will always want compelling stories that reflect the world.

But, and also, to answer the underlying question, no, there isn't MORE of a need either. Just like people will always want more "realistic" stories, they will also always want more escapist fantasy. As The Rejecter says in her response, the market buys what the market can sell. Does that mean that there's a lot of second rate (or third rate) stuff out there, because that stuff sells? Sure. Of course. Believe me, there have been plenty of times when I've read a book and thought "really? This guy instead of me?" But that doesn't mean that first rate stuff doesn't get published. In fact, I would argue that, if your stuff is actually first rate, you can probably get it published if you try hard enough for long enough.

But most of the people who write letters like the one above--okay, I'm about to be really mean here--they don't write first rate stuff. Or even, if this letter is any example, third rate stuff. It's true. These people, in my experience,** are generally bad writers. Their language is stilted, their plots are navel-gazing psychological twisters about characters that are thinly veiled versions of themselves, their action scenes don't have any action and their dialogue scenes sound like badly done Masterpiece Theater. In my experience.

In other words, if your magnum opus doesn't garner you an agent and/or a publishing contract immediately,*** it might be that your book is too brilliant for modern sensibilities to understand. Or maybe it's just that you haven't gotten your work out to the right person at the right time--time and chance happen to us all, yeah? Or it might be that the marketplace is too blighted with commercial genre fiction that sells (THE HORROR!) that an agent couldn't recognize your genius with two hands and a flashlight. It could be that you are our generation's Faulkner**** or Joyce,***** but are doomed to walk the world unrecognized until after the discovery of your manuscript in a trunk after your untimely death from the cold in your unheated apartment, at which time you will be heralded as the "Greatest Writer We Never Knew" and a shrine will be erected in your honor with an eternal flame in front of it.

Or it could be that you suck.

Just sayin'.



*Or, at least, clear to me. I don't know what the author really was trying to say here.

**Experience that is not, I hasten to add, with the actual writer of this actual letter.

***And that's what you're looking for. Many many writers are not looking for this. Many just write because they enjoy it, or prefer self-publishing, or internet infamy, or whatever, all of which are cool. Those people aren't going to get all indignant about the "state of the publishing industry" because they don't care about that state.

****Although Faulkner didn't have much of a problem getting published.
*****Joyce did have more trouble, but he, too, was published fairly early on, and even got Finnegan's Wake through, which ::shudder::

******Note that I am not saying that I don't suck. I'm just another unpublished aspiring author like the rest of the unwashed masses. What I am saying is that I am not interested in laying the blame for my lack of publication at the feet of the publishing industry because I am "too good" to write the "crap" that the industry is interested in selling. I don't think it's their fault that I am not published yet, which seems to be the attitude of the type of writer I'm talking about.


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