Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Selling Cartoonish Characters with Wooden Dialogue -- Carol Hoenig

The Huffington Post -- February 22, 2009
I stumbled across this article by Carol Hoenig, author of the multi-award winning Novel "Without Grace" and it really did give me a giggle, so I thought I would share her thoughts. The full article can be read here.

"I often write about the publishing industry and most recently wrote here about its standards. Admittedly, I am rather vocal when it comes to self-publishing or print-on-demand. Nevertheless, in spite of the new publishing paradigm, there is still often a stigma when it comes to self-publishing. The idea that if a book hasn't been vetted, even though most print-on-demand publishers now do offer editorial services, then it is not worth time or money. With that in mind, let's look at recent feedback on some novels with titles I'll keep anonymous:

  • "Clunky pacing and cartoonish characters"
  • "reads like a superficial TV script"
  • "overall silliness and lack of credible characters"
  • "a mechanical plot and an improbable ending far from satisfy"
  • "descriptions of technology and applications are painstakingly overexplained"
  • "wooden dialogue"

No wonder an element of writers cannot find a traditional publisher! Savvy agents simply cannot sell a story with "cartoonish characters" or "wooden dialogue." Right? Actually, that's not quite true because all those reviews were from Publishers Weekly and were for traditionally published books, which makes one wonder about the nature of this business."


Now, I don't think this article should be taken as a license to write badly. But it does make me wonder about that old adage I hear so often: "If your book isn't real published then it isn't any good." Based upon the PW review comments on these so-called mainstream real published books, I am now completely confused as to what actually makes a book good in the eyes of a mainstream publisher. But then again, I never had much faith in the mainstream publishing world to begin with. Most of the authors I love weren't noticed or appreciated until after they were dead. During their lives, they were nothing but unpublishable madmen. So all I can say to self-published authors is: keep learning and improving your craft, study your grammar and your literary theory, and write the best damn stories you can. Keep it fresh, keep it edgy, keep it honest. If you are writing for art, then write what you feel and how you feel it. If you want to write for the market, well, I can't really help you there, but there are a million cookie cutter "how to" books out there that speak to that. -- cannegardner


Anonymous said...

Cross-quote from my own site:

One thing I have been asked is: By [self-publishing], aren't you tacitly admitting that you don't have enough confidence in your work to have it professionally produced? That was a toughie the first time I encountered it, and I've since come to think of it this way: By trying to adopt the best possible standards of production, editing, and storytelling, am I not a "professional" myself? Yes, I take on the responsibility, and thereby make it that much more difficult -- I don't have the marketing muscle of a whole company behind me, to be sure -- but is it any less professional if one person does it as opposed to a whole company?

cheryl anne gardner said...

Or in the other direction, I have heard the vanity thing as in "blatantly having too much confidence in the work."

I think the definitions of professional confidence and professionalism are a bit skewed in this area. If you take the craft seriously, serious enough to learn how to be a good editor, a marketing agent, a book designer, a web-designer, and all the other things you have to be to self-publish properly, then yes, you are a professional, beyond a shadow of a doubt. I can tell when a self-published author is serious. Not only is their product well crafted from front cover to back cover blurb, but they act professional, from blog posts to review queries. It all matters, and we do it all ourselves.

I like that. I write novellas. They are too short to turn a profit for major publishing houses unless they are a collection. I know the shorter works are coming back in favour with the e-book age. I believe in my art, don't care about profit, and just want to share my stories. So, I could either get busy waiting or get busy doing. I prefer to do, and I also prefer to do it my way. I also know it takes work, a critical eye, a desire grow and learn, and most importantly, a passion for the word. If you have got all those things, then you don't need someone else to tell you how to create your art. But that's just me, and I am my best and worst critic.