I have a few questions for those who work in the publishing industry:
- Would you turn down a manuscript in which the first 4 pages featured nothing but exposition, i.e. no dialogue whatsoever?
- Would you turn down a manuscript geared toward 9-11 year olds that was over 60 thousand words long?
- Would you turn down a manuscript with at least 6 to 8 passive voice sentences in just the first chapter?
- What about a manuscript riddled with adverbs–especially dialogue attribution adverbs?
Congratulations. You just turned down Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. And you missed out on all that luscious cash.
I've seen headlines, blogs, and tweets about the impending death of the publishing industry, many of them linking it to the rise of e-books and e-book readers. I suspect, however, that the publishing industry's problems run deeper than just technological advances.
My past few posts have focused on a few writing rules J. K. Rowling broke–writing rules publisher, agents, and editors often insist authors follow. Rowling submitted Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to several publishing houses before finally getting a book deal. No one knows the reasons those publishers turned down Potter, but I have a few suspicions.
Could it be that publishers spend more time focusing on what they think sells books instead of what actually sells books? Harry Potter didn't fit in the publishing industry's box of what they thought could sell. It exploded out of it.
What can we learn from J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter?
- A captivating story trumps all writing rules. Write captivating stories. Buy captivating manuscripts.
- The publishing industry should concentrate less on finding manuscripts that fit in their rules and their "boxes" and more on finding captivating stories. Lose the fear and allow yourself a little creativity.
- Writers should focus on writing captivating stories and worry about the rules later.
- That being said, writers should still be aware of industry standard rules. Learn the craft. Play the game. Sometimes in order to get your captivating story out there, you've got to march to someone else's drum.
What do you think? Has the publishing industry stopped concentrating on what makes a story sell?
This post is part of a mini-series of posts. Click below to read previous posts in the series.
- On Writing: How to Break the Rules & Get Away With It!
- On Writing: How to Break the "Kill the Narrator Rule" & Get Away With It!
- On Writing: How to Break the "Eliminate Passive Voice Rule" & Get Away With It!
- On Writing: How to Break the "Eliminate Bland Adjectives Rule" & Get Away With It!
- On Writing: How to Break the "Eliminate Adverbs Rule" & Get Away With It!
- On Writing: How to Break the "Never Shift POVs Rule" & Get Away With It!
Fantasy novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason, which is being adapted into a graphic novel series by Wandering Sage Publications, Inc. Weston speaks to children, teens, and adults about writing and the process of getting published. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. Find out more about The Elysian Chronicles at www.elysianchronicles.com.