Better Yet, Write That Novel!

nanowrimo-vidya-sury-love-books

Hey folks! Today we’re at the hallway mark of National Novel Writing Month. If you’ve taken on this challenge for yourself, you’ve probably doing everything in your power to stop procrastinating and actually write those 50,000 words by the end of the month.

In my latest moment of procrastination, I read with delight Chuck Wendig of Terrible Minds most recent blog post: When Haters Give You Lemons. Seriously, if you haven’t read this guy’s blog, you’re really missing out. Not only is he a great writer with a unique style, but he is also hilarious and candid at the same time. His recent post was a back and forth imaginary discussion between him and us on why we shouldn’t let critics of Nanowrimo get us down.

The debate surprised me, because I thought, why would anyone get down on a Nanowrimo participant? Sure, as an indie writer I’ve seen plenty of that, but why sweet, little harmless Nanowrimo. Even the acronym is adorable.

Well, good ol’ Chuck provided a link to this blog post: Better yet, DON’T write that novel, I knew once I clicked on the link that there would be no going back, and there wasn’t.

Just to clarify, Chuck states that this blog post is three years old, so this was written before I even wrote my first Nanowrimo last November. At the time, I thought it was such a grand idea. What harm could there be?

Well, apparently a lot, from the perspective of Salon co-founder Laura Miller. Funny enough, when I began reading her blog post, I thought I was reading an article by Margaret Wente, the columnist for the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national paper. This type of thing is right up her alley, you know. Someone playing the devil’s advocate. But then I saw that she actually meant what she wrote. Really. And she’s a writer. Of a book.

Here’s what I think. She’s put way too much thought into it. I personally believe it must have hurt her brain to write that darn thing. I thought that it would make a great plot for a dystopian novel: don’t write a book. It will only corrupt our youth.

I can’t possibly dissect the entire article (well, I guess I could, but then I would never finish my novel), but here are some key points in italics. Miller writes:

Why does giving yourself permission to write a lot of crap so often seem to segue into the insistence that other people read it? Nothing about NaNoWriMo suggests that it’s likely to produce more novels I’d want to read.

First off, no one participating expects anyone to read a first draft of what they’ve written. And if they have, it’s usually by mutual agreement like beta swapping or critique partnering. Did Miller expect anyone to read your tripe of an article? If she hadn’t been so intentionally provocative, did she think you would have had over 300 posted in response? Secondly, the book world should just cater to her needs and wants, is that it? What she may view as literary genius some others might see as trash. Just look at a review on goodreads, and you’ll see what I mean. Then she says:

The last thing the world needs is more bad books.

Yes, the bad book trope. I just love that argument, because famous literary authors or genre authors or fiction authors have never, ever written a bad book. Or didn’t do so in the beginning, but learned through the act of doing. And yet is the world not filled with ugly architecture or foul music or putrid tasting food, or spoiled wine or vulgar art or offensive theatre? Is it only the book world that chooses to saturate and dilute all of the good and honourable books with their trash?

Frankly, there are already more than enough novels out there — more than those of us who still read novels could ever get around to poking our noses into, even when it’s our job to do so. This is not to say that I don’t hope that more novels will be written, particularly by the two dozen-odd authors whose new books I invariably snatch up with a suppressed squeal of excitement.

I don’t even know how to respond to this paragraph except to ask, WTF? So, let me get this straight. In Miller’s opinion, the world already has too many books so why would anyone write any more and it’s not like there is anyone but her and a handful of a few other elitists who also read. This is really beginning to sound like a Twilight Zone episode or the plot of Fahrenheit 451.

Rather than squandering our applause on writers…why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers? …They are the bedrock on which any literary culture must be built. After all, there’s not much glory in finally writing that novel if it turns out there’s no one left to read it.

Again, I am trying to fathom how this writer actually believes what she’s writing. More support for readers? While attacking Nanowrimo, she suggests that somehow readers are somehow an endangered species. That’s like saying if every amateur artist suddenly started painting, the world would run out of people to come and look at art. And as far as readers not being given proper nurturing, there are already enormous resources for readers. I for one follow at least a dozen book blogs and I’m also a member of Goodreads, and entire on-line community for readers.

Not surprising, Laura Miller is no fan of self-publishing either. In her post: When anyone can be a published author. You’re welcome to read it for yourself, but here are a few lines:

You’ve either experienced slush or you haven’t, and the difference is not trivial. People who have never had the job of reading through the heaps of unsolicited manuscripts sent to anyone even remotely connected with publishing typically have no inkling of two awful facts: 1) just how much slush is out there, and 2) how really, really, really, really terrible the vast majority of it is.

Maybe all of her rage against Nanowrimo and self-publishing comes from the above paragraph. She doesn’t state what her experience is but maybe at the beginning of her career was an intern at a publishing house?

All I can say is what I know now. Currently, there are only a handful of agents or publishers in my experience that will even accept unsolicited manuscripts, so I haven’t a clue what she is talking about.  See more about that here. The majority of agents will only accept a query letter, and maybe some pages if you’re lucky. The query letter is like a letter of introduction, in the same way a cover letter is. Like a job application, only those qualified for the job will be called for an interview.

Furthermore, in both posts she assumes that anyone who attempts to write a manuscript will submit it to an agent and if and when it is rejected, that person will choose to self-publish. This is where she is wrong. Many self-published authors are indie authors by choice. Also, many published authors have chosen to forgo traditional publishing with subsequent books and choose self-publishing instead. Furthermore, many indie writers have become hybrid authors in that they are have both self-published and traditionally published works.

What still troubles me is how we’ll get there. Will readers have to flounder in an ocean of slush before the new gatekeepers appear to rescue them? And if so, how long before they contract slush fatigue?

Miller argues without merit, that the self-published novels will be in such abundance that the even the new gatekeepers (book bloggers or book reviewers, as an example) will not be able to sort the trash from the trash not. IMHO, readers will find their books like they always have – through word of mouth. Sure, an indie author can be a guru at social networking and marketing, have a dazzling book cover and book blurb, but if they can’t write worth a lick, no one will recommend their book.  The reader is the new gatekeeper.

Now back to Nano.  HL.

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