Archive for September 4th, 2012

Kick in the Gut

on September 4, 2012 in Misc 8 Comments »

Have you ever had a stranger rip apart one of your manuscripts?

That happened to me this last week and I feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut.

I think I’ve mentioned here before that I have two manuscripts I’m editing for self-publication: Charity Macay and the Almighty Dollar, and a sequel to it, Charity MacCay and Holy Relations.  They’re funny, rollicking tales set in New York and elsewhere in the late 1860’s.  I’m very proud of them, and after some effort I finally convinced a few friends and a family member to read them.  To be clear, these are people who, if they don’t like something, will absolutely tell me.  They’ll be kind and diplomatic, but they’ll give me their honest reactions and try to be helpful (“Maybe you can fix the story…”).

They all LOVED Charity MacCay.

Loved as in carrying the manuscripts back and forth to work, or staying up into the wee hours to read them, or calling me up or emailing a reaction as soon as he/she finished one.  They also marveled that they had never read anything quite like these two novels.  So I started feeling pretty confident.

But then one of these friends sent a manuscript to a friend back East; seems this woman is a successful freelance magazine editor.

Her reaction?  She delivered a kick right to my solar plexus.

After saying something about how the story kept her going, she proceeded to deliver a hatchet job.  How she just didn’t “get” this character Charity or why did Charity make such bad decisions, and she compared her unfavorably to Scarlet O’Hara, who doesn’t make such mistakes because she is “cold and calculating.”


Also, I have too many minor characters (something no else thought), too much description (again, no one else had this impression), too much vernacular speech (gee, obviously I hadn’t done my homework after reading about 50+ non-fiction books on the period, including ones from the 1860’s that I could only access on microfilm).  Finally, she recommended that I read Edith Wharton in order to learn how to write description and dialogue.

OMG, I don’t write like Edith Wharton?  I have committed a literary crime!  By the way, Edith Wharton puts me to sleep.

My first reaction upon reading this woman’s email was to feel as if I’d been stabbed and left to bleed to death.  Then I broke down her points. There were, admittedly, a couple good ones about a couple scenes.  But the rest of her opinion was flat out insulting.  I didn’t write another Gone with the Wind?  I didn’t scribble an Edith Wharton tome?  NO SHIT SHERLOCK!

Ultimately, what this “professional’s” opinion did to me was remind me why I’m self-publishing.  Among other reasons, I would have to compare in a query letter my manuscripts to books that are already out there.  I must make sure they fit neatly into a specific genre.  I must have a “product” that a publisher’s marketing department would know how to sell.

But what if I’ve written something that can’t be easily pigeonholed?  What if I’ve created something that’s kind of – oh, I don’t know… original?

Since at this point I’m waxing sarcastic, I figure it’s time to sign off.  I’ll just end by adding that this experience has also made me even more sympathetic with my fellow writers who have had similar experiences at the hands of “professionals.”

I feel for you.