On Writing: What the Publishing Industry Can Learn From J. K. Rowling & Harry Potter

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.

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.

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About M. B. Weston

M. B. Weston is an award-winning fantasy, pulp, young adult, steampunk, and paranormal author. Her attention to procedure and detail gives her works an authentic gritty, military feel that takes an adventure tale to the level of a true page-turner. Weston’s writing attracts both fantasy and non-fantasy readers, and her audience ranges from upper-elementary students to adults. A gifted orator, Weston has been invited as a guest speaker to numerous writing and science fiction/fantasy panels at conventions across the US, including DragonCon, BabelCon, NecronomiCon, and Alabama Phoenix Festival. She has served on panels with such authors as Sherrilyn Kenyon, J. F. Lewis, Todd McCaffrey, and Jonathan Maberry. Weston has spoken to thousands of students and adults about the craft of writing and has been invited as the keynote speaker at youth camps and at several schools throughout the US.
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