Differences between "Good" and "Publishable"


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Thread: Differences between "Good" and "Publishable"

  1. #1

    Differences between "Good" and "Publishable"

    Wasn't sure whether to drop this in Publishing Discussion or here but figured it's kind of something that goes beyond publishing...

    Just finished up and started the submission cycle of a newly born short story & not totally sold on this one, even though I think in many ways it's one of my best stories to date.

    What I am starting to perceive, at least in the SS market, is that a lot of stories that are really good (in terms of standard of writing, originality of concept, and strength of story overall) are not necessarily the ones that are wanted.

    For example, I just sold a horror story I deliberately dumbed down after the publisher said the original story I sent had "too much message" (!) but said I could submit another so long as it was before the deadline on July 15, which was less than a week away at that point. The story I sent was very hammy. It was literally the least effort I had put into a story this year. It wasn't bad exactly, but compared to the one I originally sent in it was pretty...mediocre. I wrote it in one night and story-wise it was essentially Stephen King meets South Park, like it had every cliche the theme called for. It even had a few typos because I basically wasn't that invested when I redrafted. They wrote back within 48 hours and accepted it immediately.

    Which brings me to the point: Which was that I wonder what the disconnect is, assuming of course that there is one, between good writing and publishable writing?

    It wasn't just me who thought those rejected stories were better than the accepted ones. What I am finding in particular is that stories that are kind of fluid and difficult-to-pigeon-hole are particularly vulnerable to becoming commercially homeless, because there is so much emphasis these days on genre and grouping to themes that are considered a draw. I had always thought that originality was the main asset to a story, and I still do, but this does not seem to be the case when it comes to the industry right now: The cartoonish horror, the tropey science fiction, a lot of genre fiction seems to want stories that are SUPER genre-y. They want ham. They don't necessarily want originality, at least not to the point it stops being easily identifiable as [genre].

    ..Which means whenever a story occupies a place that isn't quite horror, isn't quite mystery, etc, I'm wondering if it's just always gonna be a harder sell? I currently have six stories that I have indefinitely retired from pursuing publication of, because I submitted them all over the place (100+ places) and nobody wanted to bite and it got to being tedious and intrusive on my time. These are all stories that fall into that no-mans-land. But they're also good stories.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  2. #2
    I'm not keen on the 'dumbing down' tag. Mostly it's just writing to market. And with writing to market...

    Most if it is down to comfort zones. Readers themselves are diverse, and are willing to try anything. However, they are also set in their ways, going to one publisher for a light read, another publisher for a darker read. It's why publishers delve into different lines: the one I work with has three: DSP main MM romance. Then DSPP, which is the darker line, where you can place horror, then Harmony Ink, which is YA LGBT work. But even with those, they are the mainstream in my genre, where you can also get more niche markets. If the publisher is suggesting a change, whether you feel it's right or wrong, it can come down to them just knowing their readers' tastes better than you.

    There's always a plus, though: It's your work. It's up to you whether you sign the contract or not.

    I know when I subbed one novel, that publisher said they couldn't take on a novel where the main MCS to the relationship didn't meet until chapter 6. They said with it being romance, they needed to meet in the first, could I change it? That novel was a psych thriller hybrid, where I couldn't have the two lovers meeting in the first chapter without screwing up the plot. In the end, I didn't choose to go with that publisher because I didn't want to compromise my story. It was taken on by a niche publisher later.

    On the whole, readers are fantastic, but publishers can and will work to their own readership. You have to respect that. Sometimes your work doesn't fit that particular readership so you either change or walk away. But there are always other options out there.

    It's just finding them.
    Running on Id, no Ego or Super-ego at the helm

    Hidden Content

  3. #3
    Without seeing the material, I can offer one possibility: You may write better when you are loose and casual. Possibly you are trying too hard on some pieces, and it shows in the work. Dunno.

    I personally write best when I am swinging for the fences by writing with wanton abandon. When I get self-conscious, my work is not as good. Sure, it's mechanically sound, but the stuff I write freely seems to breathe.

    Is it possible that you are too formal on some of those pieces?

  4. #4
    Yes, I have read books and wondered, "Why was this ever published?" And then I realized -- a synopsis of this story would sound really interesting. I imagined a short description for each character, and those would have been interesting too! If the publisher just looks at those, then the agent just needs to look at those, and the actual boring book with flat characters becomes irrelevant.

    And the story is that Harry Potter was accepted for publication only because the publisher accidentally got the opinion from someone in the target audience.

    And of course the dominant factor for whether a book is published is whether or not the author has published before. It seems to be that little work sometimes goes into a book by a well-known author.

    Argh, you shouldn't have gotten me started. I read a Patterson novel and said to myself, there must be something good in this book. And I realized, there was! Several things. Then I read the blurb for the book, and everything I identified was in the blurb!
    How to write a good start: Hidden Content . Useful, original information. Long and thorough.
    Includes Hidden Content (do you start with description?), Hidden Content (a favorite with publishers apparently), starting with Hidden Content (a lost art), and more.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    Yes, I have read books and wondered, "Why was this ever published?" And then I realized -- a synopsis of this story would sound really interesting. I imagined a short description for each character, and those would have been interesting too! If the publisher just looks at those, then the agent just needs to look at those, and the actual boring book with flat characters becomes irrelevant.

    And the story is that Harry Potter was accepted for publication only because the publisher accidentally got the opinion from someone in the target audience.

    And of course the dominant factor for whether a book is published is whether or not the author has published before. It seems to be that little work sometimes goes into a book by a well-known author.

    Argh, you shouldn't have gotten me started. I read a Patterson novel and said to myself, there must be something good in this book. And I realized, there was! Several things. Then I read the blurb for the book, and everything I identified was in the blurb!
    Yeah you know I think that may be part of it. Usually my submission cover letter includes a paragraph overview (they're only short stories so no synopsis is requested) and I do tend to struggle with writing the summary on stories that are, well, kind of difficult to summarize. But I also find it a little hard to believe that publishers no matter how overworked they are aren't actually reading short stories at least somewhat before kitting the reject button. Maybe I'm underestimating the fatigue of the editors though (?)

    I mean, maybe it literally comes down to them skimming for whatever buzzwords fit the theme ('vampire', 'murder', 'corpse', whatever) and when those items don't appear it's basically a nah. In which case, fine, but my response to that is gonna be 'fuck off pretending like you want something original then!'

    Quote Originally Posted by Ralph Rotten View Post
    Without seeing the material, I can offer one possibility: You may write better when you are loose and casual. Possibly you are trying too hard on some pieces, and it shows in the work. Dunno.

    I personally write best when I am swinging for the fences by writing with wanton abandon. When I get self-conscious, my work is not as good. Sure, it's mechanically sound, but the stuff I write freely seems to breathe.

    Is it possible that you are too formal on some of those pieces?
    Possible. It's weird though because if it was really an issue of less serious = better story I feel like my beta readers (I usually have at least three unrelated people read my work and I try to rotate) would have told me. As it was the response to the story that got accepted was kind of "Um, it's okay." Which is weird, that an 'um it's okay' story is making money.

    Different folks different strokes maybe, I guess.

    Quote Originally Posted by Aquilo View Post
    I'm not keen on the 'dumbing down' tag. Mostly it's just writing to market. And with writing to market...

    Most if it is down to comfort zones. Readers themselves are diverse, and are willing to try anything. However, they are also set in their ways, going to one publisher for a light read, another publisher for a darker read. It's why publishers delve into different lines: the one I work with has three: DSP main MM romance. Then DSPP, which is the darker line, where you can place horror, then Harmony Ink, which is YA LGBT work. But even with those, they are the mainstream in my genre, where you can also get more niche markets. If the publisher is suggesting a change, whether you feel it's right or wrong, it can come down to them just knowing their readers' tastes better than you.

    There's always a plus, though: It's your work. It's up to you whether you sign the contract or not.

    I know when I subbed one novel, that publisher said they couldn't take on a novel where the main MCS to the relationship didn't meet until chapter 6. They said with it being romance, they needed to meet in the first, could I change it? That novel was a psych thriller hybrid, where I couldn't have the two lovers meeting in the first chapter without screwing up the plot. In the end, I didn't choose to go with that publisher because I didn't want to compromise my story. It was taken on by a niche publisher later.

    On the whole, readers are fantastic, but publishers can and will work to their own readership. You have to respect that. Sometimes your work doesn't fit that particular readership so you either change or walk away. But there are always other options out there.

    It's just finding them.
    I only meant 'dumbing down' in reference to the irony that work in which I had put minimal creative investment but maximum working-to-formula got accepted in pretty much record time while other stories that I (and my betas...) have said 'wow this really is good!' can gain nothing but 'sorry, not right for us'.

    But yeah, I do understand the market argument. There is a reason why there are more burger joints in America than places than there are places that sell Somali camel 'n' rice, right? I guess my issue is that I don't necessarily think this adds up to quality, let alone originality, being the main factor.

    I am working through an anthology by Crystal Lake Publishing at the moment (who I generally admire for the quality of their authorship) and it strikes me just how lousy so many of the stories in it are. Then I read the author bios and find out the author has sold hundreds of short stories. But one thing I can say is these 'lousy' stories do pretty closely stick to the anthology's theme.

    Here's an example. A piece of flash on here I wrote that one LM in March is one of the six pieces I mentioned I have not been able to sell anywhere despite sending them everywhere. It's also a piece that is fairly absent of genre, it's literary fiction really.

    Now that doesn't prove anything in itself, of course, but it does indicate to me that it may just be generally harder to sell pieces that don't adhere solidly to a defined theme, which I guess makes sense given anthologies do tend to be theme specific. This however may mean I have to start staying away from that kind of material as there is no point writing stories that won't get pay dirt.

    Unless I'm not seeing clearly.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    I guess my issue is that I don't necessarily think this adds up to quality, let alone originality, being the main factor.
    I agree completely. There some authors out there who have such amazing talent, and they'll on a few reviews on Amazon, yet then there's the author scams out there that see rubbish gain 200+. I read some rubbish too, and it's there: how the hell did this get published?
    Running on Id, no Ego or Super-ego at the helm

    Hidden Content

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post

    In which case, fine, but my response to that is gonna be 'fuck off pretending like you want something original then!'
    Yes, it's frustrating, but I've also had experience of agents liking my book(s) but not having 'any experience of selling this type of fiction', because they sell formulaic stuff (my words now, not theirs), unless they have an established author's name as the selling point..

    I do think that short term they know how to make money. But this can be damaging in the long term- if someone buys a crappy book due to a good selling point, the reader's less likely to buy another book (he may think 'I just don't like books').

    I knew an agent (friend of a friend) who said he never read(s) books; he sussed out if the pitch was sellable and just took it straight to the publisher.
    Last edited by Fatclub; July 21st, 2019 at 06:11 PM.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Here's an example. A piece of flash on here I wrote that one LM in March is one of the six pieces I mentioned I have not been able to sell anywhere despite sending them everywhere. It's also a piece that is fairly absent of genre, it's literary fiction really.
    I'd say send those kind of stories to magazines asking for literary fiction. Lots of places prefer realistic/literary fiction to genre fiction; in fact, a lot of the bigger magazines do. Honestly, I see more literary journals publishing that kind of thing than I see them publishing genre stuff. Anthologies might be more genre-oriented, though... I don't know.

    That's not to say there aren't things that are inherently hard to publish... there are. "Literary" fiction with speculative (sci-fi or fantasy) elements has a much smaller market, from what I've seen. Rhyming poetry, too, or fiction with religious themes that's not "clean" or "wholesome" enough for the mainstream Christian market. But realistic literary fiction? There's tons of journals and magazines that publish exclusively that.
    "So long is the way to the unknown, long is the way we have come. . ." ~ Turisas, Five Hundred and One

    "[An artist is] an idiot babbling through town. . .crying, 'Dreams, dreams for sale! Two for a kopek, two for a song; if you won't buy them, just take them for free!'" ~ Michael O' Brien,
    Sophia House

    Christ is risen from the dead,
    trampling on Death by death,
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    lavishing light.



  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by ArrowInTheBowOfTheLord View Post
    I'd say send those kind of stories to magazines asking for literary fiction. Lots of places prefer realistic/literary fiction to genre fiction; in fact, a lot of the bigger magazines do. Honestly, I see more literary journals publishing that kind of thing than I see them publishing genre stuff. Anthologies might be more genre-oriented, though... I don't know.

    That's not to say there aren't things that are inherently hard to publish... there are. "Literary" fiction with speculative (sci-fi or fantasy) elements has a much smaller market, from what I've seen. Rhyming poetry, too, or fiction with religious themes that's not "clean" or "wholesome" enough for the mainstream Christian market. But realistic literary fiction? There's tons of journals and magazines that publish exclusively that.
    Yeah that was just one easy example (because it's on here) but the others are all fairly literary, what I would call 'high brow', so that's definitely part of it. But I'm not really sure how to fix it.

    What I find to be my biggest problem is that I do mostly write genre fiction, because that's my interest as far as story, but I write it in a literary way, because that's how I write. This has the great effect of alienating the literary folks, who it seems think that any story with magic or monsters or macabre shit is basically the equivalent of hardcore pornography in the Louvre, while being too...well, literary for a lot of genre fiction publishers who don't want stories that concern the human condition or emotional journeys or anything that really 'goes there'.

    I know writing the above makes me sound like a pretentious ass, I'm not oblivious to that, but the point is that I am starting to think it is very easy to miss the mark between both genre and literary and this has to be a factor taken into account when planning a new project. Otherwise you end up with a pile of misfit.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Wasn't sure whether to drop this in Publishing Discussion or here but figured it's kind of something that goes beyond publishing...

    Just finished up and started the submission cycle of a newly born short story & not totally sold on this one, even though I think in many ways it's one of my best stories to date.

    What I am starting to perceive, at least in the SS market, is that a lot of stories that are really good (in terms of standard of writing, originality of concept, and strength of story overall) are not necessarily the ones that are wanted.

    For example, I just sold a horror story I deliberately dumbed down after the publisher said the original story I sent had "too much message" (!) but said I could submit another so long as it was before the deadline on July 15, which was less than a week away at that point. The story I sent was very hammy. It was literally the least effort I had put into a story this year. It wasn't bad exactly, but compared to the one I originally sent in it was pretty...mediocre. I wrote it in one night and story-wise it was essentially Stephen King meets South Park, like it had every cliche the theme called for. It even had a few typos because I basically wasn't that invested when I redrafted. They wrote back within 48 hours and accepted it immediately.

    Which brings me to the point: Which was that I wonder what the disconnect is, assuming of course that there is one, between good writing and publishable writing?

    It wasn't just me who thought those rejected stories were better than the accepted ones. What I am finding in particular is that stories that are kind of fluid and difficult-to-pigeon-hole are particularly vulnerable to becoming commercially homeless, because there is so much emphasis these days on genre and grouping to themes that are considered a draw. I had always thought that originality was the main asset to a story, and I still do, but this does not seem to be the case when it comes to the industry right now: The cartoonish horror, the tropey science fiction, a lot of genre fiction seems to want stories that are SUPER genre-y. They want ham. They don't necessarily want originality, at least not to the point it stops being easily identifiable as [genre].

    ..Which means whenever a story occupies a place that isn't quite horror, isn't quite mystery, etc, I'm wondering if it's just always gonna be a harder sell? I currently have six stories that I have indefinitely retired from pursuing publication of, because I submitted them all over the place (100+ places) and nobody wanted to bite and it got to being tedious and intrusive on my time. These are all stories that fall into that no-mans-land. But they're also good stories.
    Duuuuuude, I feel you on this. I was hesitant to even look at this thread because I didn't want to get into some publishing argument. Everything I write is no man's land. I know it's good. Other writers know it's good (maybe not to everyone's taste, but we've all pulled worse off the shelves than what we put out). It's such a pointless argument. Really good, soul-searching stories languish while so much formulaic, saccharine BS gets bought.

    Have you watched the Black Mirror episode "Fifteen Million Merits"? It deals with this sort of thing--real art and soul vs commercial interests.

    I gave up on publishing short stories. There didn't seem to be any way to make a living on it. Of course, when I was still trying, there were so few paying markets, and most required that I pay postage (which I couldn't afford). Lots of long-running magazines were folding left and right, overcome by all the pop-up Internet competition (and then the competition would fold). Talebones was my first sale ($20), and it folded very soon after. I was published in Alienskin, but never paid the promised $10, so I gave up...

    I sent two stories to Talebones: "Turquoise Morning" and "A Difference of Six Degrees". Turquoise was a 2k dark fantasy about an assassin's school in some eternally dark realm. Hints some original worldbuilding, peoples, races. Before the male POV can graduate, he has to kill his roommate, a woman he's fallen in love with. He has 24 hrs to do it. Does have a twist ending. This one sold.

    Six Degrees, however, is something I worked super, super hard on. It's 4k, science-fiction, set in a series of massive underground military/industrial bases. POV is a scientist/doctor/genetic engineer who's worked on the comparatively budget-slashed Project Nightshade for years. Project (one of several ongoing projects) has made a strange boy which is not human and is supposed to have crazy mindpowers the military wants... but he's not showing them what he's capable of. Several twists. Turns out this scientist POV has been sexually abusing the child--but was also purposefully directed by the company to do so without her even realizing it because the company thinks a psychological break will show them what they want to see (they can always clone another one now that the first has been made). Her emotional breakdown is the catalyst for his breakdown--and he kills everyone accidentally via this temporary insanity. So the cute little Lovecraftian abomination was the victim and because he went mad everyone died. Lots of neat themes, some a bit turned on their heads or turned up to eleven, people and scenes that get weirder as it goes. Lot in it... but nobody wants to publish this thing.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

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