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  1. #41
    Quote Originally Posted by Bayview View Post
    I think any argument based on "the vast majority of Writer-Type-X has trouble getting published" needs to acknowledge that the vast majority of every type of writer has trouble getting published. There are thousands of new graduates of MFA and other writing programs each year... very few of them successfully publish. Add in the thousands of writers who closely study all the how-to books, Swain or otherwise, each year. Very few of them successfully publish. Do we have a breakdown of what proportion of the much-vaunted 99.9% of submissions that are rejected come from graduates of writing programs and/or how-to books?
    I can only answer this based on my experience. Agents tend to start with cover letters and biogs. They're looking for something saleable and that includes someone with pedigree. Agents can survive off one or two big hitters; the rest of their stable is a punt. In publishing houses I've worked in, and that people I've known for years work in, it's common to never see a biog or cover letter. They're held back, because the goal is to make a judgement on the book itself. If a publisher gets something that works for them, they look more at the long game.

    Obviously, if the author is the Pope or a mass murderer, that has traction. The MSS will simply be rewritten if its poor quality, because fame trumps quality every time when looking at the bottom line.

    For example, one of the famous best seller female authors known for raunchy novels has one title that people all recognise. It never made a penny for the publisher but established her as a major name. From that point on she made them serious cash, because they didn't need to market her again.

    I'd say take the percentage of literature graduates who write, and that'll be the same percentage that get rejected. Certainly, in the EMEA region we don't really have degrees in fiction writing, because we come from a lyrical and storytelling tradition :-". As such, most publishers view such degrees as a bit of a cop-out, like sociology!

    Obviously, Jay is the expert in the US publishing market so you'll have to take his guesstimates as you find them.
    Last edited by Pete_C; February 14th, 2018 at 01:45 PM.

  2. #42
    Unless Jay has worked in publishing, and I don't recall him ever saying that he has, I'll take his guesstimates with a generous sprinkling of salt.

  3. #43
    Quote Originally Posted by Jack of all trades View Post
    Unless Jay has worked in publishing, and I don't recall him ever saying that he has, I'll take his guesstimates with a generous sprinkling of salt.
    I don't know if he has said as much, but he's pretty certain about what they want to publish so he must have an inside track, surely?

  4. #44
    The only name that should be bandied about in this thread for discussion, is Swain. Thanks.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel

    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase


  5. #45
    I am the first to admit when I'm wrong, so here goes: I was wrong. I suggested that Swain published 'Techniques' in 1981, making it a mere 37 years out of step with modern literature. That was the date is became available in paperback. It was actually published in 1965. That actually switched on a light bulb in my head.

    In 1965, there was a proliferation of magazines that solely dealt in the 'pulp' market. They paid for stories that matched a formula, that followed a definitive progressive arc of conflict/resolution. The stories were predominantly sci-fi, horror, westerns, war stories, hard romance (read softish porn), etc.; the emphasis was on sensationalism. The average populus did not read books, but they lapped up short lurid tales. The stories had to hold in the interest of the average man in the street and did so by delivering wave after wave of conflict, struggle, conflict, change, conflict, resolution. Depth, meaning and experimentation were no-nos. The sheer depth of such magazines meant that each fought for market share by being more lurid, more sensational and faster paced than its competitors. It was a mass market of stories to be read on the toilet / bus / quiet moment at work. For writers, anyone who followed the formula could get a paying spot.

    In the 53 years since 'Techniques' was published, the typical reader has changed. Magazines have changed. Communications have changed. The world has changed.

    Since 'Techniques' was published, people have protested against many things and changed the world creating empowerment for the masses. man walked on the moon. Disney created a worldwide empire, terrorism became an everyday issue, psychedelia happened, punk rock happened, hip hop and rap happened, women took positions of power, the twin towers were built and fell, a US president was brought down by the press, the Western world had several wars with the Middle Eastern world, AIDS appeared, the recreational use of drugs became not just acceptable but somewhat de rigour in certain circles, an actor became president of the US, PCs and laptops appeared as did the first computer virus, the internet happened, mobile phones arrived, cloning and deep learning and the IoT happened, books and music and films went over-the-air, people no longer thought of fruit when the word Apple was used, things changed so significantly that it's almost laughable how people lived in 1965.

    The pulp magazine market died. The demand for lurid formulaic short stories and novels died. The paying market for writing that followed a very defined structure shut down. Readers demanded more and they got more from those who were free to experiment and invent and kick against the pricks. The need to entertain through a sensational and lurid tale was no longer the way to earn money by writing.

    Swain's 'Techniques' made some sense in 1965. It didn't make much sense in 1981. It makes no sense in 2018 where those who rise to the top will be innovative, fresh, exciting and challenging. Nobody pays for yesterday's restrictions any more.

    Given the paying markets of the day when 'Techniques' was published, I can see a purpose, albeit one I don't agree was necessary. It also qualifies, to me, why it's utterly irrelevant for any serious writer today.

  6. #46
    Quote Originally Posted by Jack of all trades View Post
    Unless Jay has worked in publishing, and I don't recall him ever saying that he has, I'll take his guesstimates with a generous sprinkling of salt.
    Work for a publisher? No. Read a publisher's slushpile? Yes. Meet with Agents like Noah Lukeman and Donald Maass? Yes. Own a manuscript critique service before I retired? Yes.

    But that's just to clarify. The numbers I quote can be verified with any agent or publisher.

    And again, forget that. Want to know if an agent thinks learning your craft matters? Here's an article from Novel Writing Help. Look at point 6. Ian Irvine, a respected novelist also suggests books on craft (not Swain, but he does recommend Don Maass's book, which I recommend when the writing is close to submission-ready.

    But the prize goes to a series of articles posted by Kristin Nelson, of the Nelson Agency. She has a series on Story Openings to Avoid that is pure gold. And, the first thing she talks about is the necessity of a writer knowing their craft. Seems to me that if the one who will be reading your submission says it's necessary, picking up a few of the tricks of the trade before submitting just might make sense.

    I really don't make this stuff up. Really.

  7. #47
    The pulp magazine market died. The demand for lurid formulaic short stories and novels died.
    I'm pretty sure you've never read one, because you dismiss the single most popular reading material of its time, as a whole, with words like "lurid." Do you really think an entire generation of readers were idiots, and that today's ficction reader has far more lofty tastes? They were the the paperback of the time, that's all. Have you not heard modern romance novels or sci-fi dismissed with the same disdain? Popular fiction is popular fiction. And given that they are the biggest market...

    Assume that you're right, though, and that the techniques he espouses, and taught, work only for action/dialog dominated genres, like adventure, sci-fi, and romance, which probably accounts for greater than 80% of the market. What's the problem?
    Swain's 'Techniques' made some sense in 1965. It didn't make much sense in 1981
    Some sense? Which part? And on what do you base the statement that it only made "some" sense? Can you support that it somehow stopped making sense in 1881, specifically, or within that decade, with references? That's a pretty serious indictment, after all.

    The reason I mention it is that Jack Bickham, who taught with Swain, and ended up as his boss, and with the title, Honored Professor, released Scene and Structure, which espoused exactly the same techniques, in 1999. And he sold over forty novels over his career. So obviously the same techniques work for novels. If everything being taught in 1965 stopped making sense in 1981, why would the school continue teaching it today? Why would students enroll? And why would Oklahoma University teach their students only the techniques of pulp adventure?

    The pulp magazines were mass market short story magazines. They didn't lower their standards for writing, because readers wouldn't accept that. The public's taste in stories has changed over the years, yes, and such things as wanting more dialog, making it relevant to todays social norms, and other things, has changed. But they're more a matter of style. The structure of a scene on the page has not change in hundreds of years. Swain didn't invent the techniques he mentioned, remember. Nor have viewpoint, character development, and the other nuts-and-bolts issues changed. The nonfiction style of writing we all learn in school has not, and is not, useful to writing fiction because it's goal is to inform, not entertain. And that has always been true.

    But again, put that aside, because you're making a generalization. You say that Swain's book no longer makes sense, but don't mention which of the things in it don't, and in what way. Why not discuss that? How about some examples of before 1981 and after? Maybe you could comment on how that fair usage sample on viewpoint no longer works, and present how protagonist focus and viewpoint are done today. Remember, in calling the book irrelevant you're disagreeing with the views of that book expressed by Kirkus, and people like K.M Weiland, a successful author, writer of books on writing, and more. And given that it was out of print until the university's press brought it back in 2012, you're also disagreeing with the views of 235 people who reviewed it with not one comment giving less than four stars. You would think that at least some of them would feel that it doesn't make sense? Wouldn't I be able to find an article on the Internet, by a successful writer/teacher/publisher voting against that book?

    If you've not read the book, I have it in ePub format, and would be glad to share it with you, if you like.

  8. #48
    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greenstein View Post
    Dunno. Link to it and I'll take a look. One thing to look at, though, is its sales ranking and the comments readers post.
    Terri Gerritsen. Ice Cold. I don't think the book matters. Isn't that a common technique? A really exciting mystery or something to keep me reading; then Chapter 2 is the normal start to a book? Again, the point is that whatever excitement would have been generated by that second chapter is eclipsed by the importance of the first chapter. I also might read the second chapter more quickly, trying to get to the more interesting information.

    It defies the principle of rising tension and seems more useful for selling the book than making it enjoyable reading.

  9. #49
    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greenstein View Post
    Work for a publisher? No. Read a publisher's slushpile? Yes.

    How does one who does not work for a publishing company get access to a publisher's slush pile?

    Nevermind. I don't want to be banned.

  10. #50
    As someone who writes and works in publishing for a living, and always has done, I tend to know a lot of people in the same profession. People I went to University with, people I worked with, people who also write. Birds of a feather and all that. Until a couple of years ago I'd never heard of Swain or any of his competitors, nor met anyone who had recommended or even read a 'how to' book. Odd that so many people successfully earn a living without having heard of him, isn't it?

    On our side of the pond, creative writing courses tend to be evening classes for elderly ladies who want to write poems about cats. So certainly the bulk of UK and EMEA writers of my generation and previous never read Swain or the others (I can't name them because I genuinely don't know who they are). I do on occasions work with younger writers (i.e. less than 50 year olds) and have never heard Swain or other similar names bandied about.

    I only heard of Swain a few years ago, via the interweb, and bought 'Techniques' out of mild interest. I've already made my thoughts clear in this thread so won't repeat them.

    Some people obviously adore Swain. Mind you, some people pay to have a lady dressed in leather feed them cat pooh. There's more out than in.

    Jay, in response to your response, you've made a number of assumptions about myself and what I have and haven't read. These are incorrect. Additionally, I think all of the questions you ask are answered in my posts, so you could always read those in full if you care to.

    Anyone else bored of Swain? I am, so that's all I have to say on his books, methodology and teachings.


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