The Ultimate Victory – Writing The Too Perfect Book

By Aaron Ritchey

So I was sick of it all. Sick of the rejection. Sick of editors. Sick of my stupid Amazon ranking. Sick of the current project, which was completely unmarketable. Like any publisher is going to want a young adult sci-fi/western, steampunk, biopunk, family drama, dystopian epic. Epic I tell you!

Sick of it all! Sick to death.

In December of 2012, when Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II came out, I watched all five Twilight movies, and I was really moved by the experience. You laugh, but I was. I left and bought Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” and listened to it over and over. The song is on the soundtrack. Google it, if you don’t believe me.

I wanted to write something simple, something completely genre, completely marketable, a perfect example of a young adult romance. I studied the genre. I read broadly. I outlined the story. I kept the characters relatable, and I worked on streamlining the language. I hired an editor, took it through my critique group, used beta readers, did a final polish.

In the fall of 2014, I started querying my young adult romance. The rejections were slow in coming. Several agents read the whole thing. I was closer than ever! My hard work had paid off!

Last week I achieved the ultimate victory! I got a rejection from a big-time literary agent who complimented my story structure and called my writing commercial. However, she basically said my book was too genre; it wouldn’t stand out.

Which is exactly what I wanted.

I am not sugar-coating this rejection. I really do feel a sense of accomplishment. When I was querying my epic, I had a lot of agents and editors scratching their hands. One laughed when I pitched it as a post-apocalyptic cattle drive, and she asked me if I was serious. Yeah, I was. The Hunger Games with cows. My epic finally found a home with WordFire Press and will be out in the fall.

So the book I adored, my cross-genre sci-fi/western, has a publisher. So far, the YA romance I wrote for the market hasn’t. What does this tell me?

There are no rules. There is no manual on writing the perfect book. It’s all very subjective, and in the end, I need to write books I’m proud of.

My YA romance will one day see the light of day: either through a traditional publisher or self-published.

But do you know what?

If it goes through my Indie press, I’ll take my little YA romance, which is too genre, and I will Aaron Michael Ritchey the hell out of it.

‘Cause those are the books I’m proud of. My books.

The Real Deal Isn’t

NMS cropA couple of weeks ago an ex-MFA (Master of Fine Arts) teacher published a - I'm calling it a bitter rant - about how he can tell the "truth," now that he's no longer teaching. I think that's a fair representation, given that the article is titled "Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One."

The article annoyed people on a number of levels, largely because the author makes so many sweeping statements that he asserts as absolutes, but that are really a matter of opinion. For example, he says that writers are born with talent - either you have it or you don't - and if you don't, you might as well not even try. We could have along debate there about talent vs. work, but I think most people will agree that having talent helps, but it's far from a guarantee of success. And the concept of "talent" means different things in different aspects of life.

On of my fellow members of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), Kyle Aisteach, asked on those forums how we all felt about the line "if you didn't decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you're probably not going to make it." He conducted an informal poll of the membership - and in SFWA, you have to meet a publication standard to be a member - on who felt they were serious about writing as a teenager. I'm one who was serious about being a doctor or a scientist as a teenager. That's me in the high school yearbook photo for those of us who qualified as National Merit Scholars. Yeah - we hammed up our nerdiness. It's can be a long story, but suffice to say that it took me many years to see a non-science career as a worthwhile pursuit. I didn't take writing seriously as a teenager because I didn't see it as valuable.

I think that's an important point in responding to the part of this article I want to address. In case you don't want to click to the article (really, who could blame you?), here's the bit I'm talking about.

If you aren't a serious reader, don't expect anyone to read what you write.

Without exception, my best students were the ones who read the hardest books I could assign and asked for more. One student, having finished his assigned books early, asked me to assign him three big novels for the period between semesters. Infinite Jest, 2666, and Gravity's Rainbow, I told him, almost as a joke. He read all three and submitted an extra-credit essay, too. That guy was the Real Deal.

Conversely, I've had students ask if I could assign shorter books, or—without a trace of embarrassment—say they weren't into "the classics" as if "the classics" was some single, aesthetically consistent genre. Students who claimed to enjoy "all sorts" of books were invariably the ones with the most limited taste. One student, upon reading The Great Gatsby (for the first time! Yes, a graduate student!), told me she preferred to read books "that don't make me work so hard to understand the words." I almost quit my job on the spot.

I have a number of issues here. Yes, I totally agree that writers should read. Reading is key to our understanding of our own work and the work others are engaged in. I object, very much, to the idea that a serious reader is one who reads books that are 1) "Hard," 2) "Big," 3) Not short, 4) "Classics" 5) Full of hard-to-understand words. That kind of arrogance rubs me the wrong way. The idea that more-difficult is more valuable is part of what kept me focusing on a course of study and career that I didn't love.

The worst part of this, however, is the unconscious sexism here. At least, I HOPE it's not consciously done! Note that the student he dubs as "The Real Deal," is male. It also seems he's quite privileged, as he spends his school break reading huge tomes and writing extra-credit essays. Not, say, working 12-hour days at a job to pay tuition. Note also that all three books the author suggests as "serious" reading are by white, male authors. Conversely the student he disdains, who - GASP! - had never read The Great Gatsby, another book by a white, male author, about white, privileged people, is female.

Could be a coincidence? Except his reported response to her is to want to quit his job on the spot, not the special effort he gave The Real Deal Guy, by suggesting specific books that might work for him.

(I also think it's funny that he decries the assumption that "'the classics' [are] some single, aesthetically consistent genre," when I could probably assemble a decent argument for that very thing.)

In the end, it's clear that this guy is Disappointed. He tries for the claim that it's not important that people think you're smart, when he's spent the entire article convincing us how smart he is. Certainly far smarter than the chick who'd never read The Great Gatsby. I don't really care about him - but I do care about the aspiring writers he may have wounded in his vanity. I wish I could reach out to that young woman and give her some reading suggestions. I'd like to tell her that talent means little compared to hard work and perseverance.

Most of all, I want to tell her - and that author - this: There is no such thing as The Real Deal.

Honoring Your Contract

By Katriena Knights

One of the most important things you can do is a writer is honor your contracts. I’m not talking about your contracts with your publishers. I’m talking about your contracts with your readers.

Wait, what? Authors don’t sign contracts with readers, do they? So what am I yapping on about this time?

Readers have expectations. These expectations vary depending upon what kind of book you’re writing. Or, in some cases, the kind of book you claim to be writing. Violating these expectations can lose you your readers—sometimes permanently.

Of course this is more true with genre writing than literary. Most mainstream books have some built-in expectations, as well, but they’re a bit more fluid. Still, when you move from writing for yourself to writing to an audience, it’s a good idea to keep those audience expectations in mind. Most of these expectations have to do with the book’s ending.

For example, in a romance, your reader expects a happily-ever-after ending—an HEA—or at least a happy-for-now—HFN. If your romantic couple decides to go there separate ways, or if one dies horribly, your book isn’t a romance. If you market it as a romance and it lacks the HEA or HFN, your readers will discover you’ve violated that contract and probably won’t come back.

Mystery readers expect the crime to be solved, whether it’s a murder or petty theft. The solving of the crime should drive the plot, and the solution should drive the climax. Loose ends might be left here and there, but the main crime should be wrapped up. If you decide to be extra “edgy” and “realistic” and leave the crime unsolved, you’ve violated your contract. (There are mystery writers who’ve successfully published books that don’t wrap everything up, but they were long-time, established authors with a fan base willing to go along for the ride.)

With any book, of any genre, readers expect a conclusion of some sort. If too much is left hanging, plot points are tied up, or characters are left without resolution, you’ll lose some readers. This is why my copy of Trumpet of the Swan fell apart after about ten readings, but I only read Stuart Little a couple of times. Louis got a nicely constructed happily-ever-after, but poor Stuart didn’t get a nicely tied-up ending. I suppose maybe it was appropriate for his story, but I’m still bitter about it.

However, that’s an example where the genre didn’t dictate the ending. It wasn’t a violation of a genre contract, but it didn’t live up to my personal expectations. As a writer, there’s nothing you can do about that, so there’s no point trying. But do keep in mind the expectations of your genre and of your average reader when you’re stitching that plot together.