*Warning, rant ahead*
As I wander and blurk around the blogosphere, I've seen many places where people complain that publishing houses are more interested in money than good writing, that most books out today are crap and that popularity is more important than quality.
Now, to a certain extent I can understand this frustration. Many of us went to college where we dissected the masterpieces of literature, discussing theme and symbolism. Then as writers we serve a long apprenticeship in which we learn the rules for writing, and querying and plotting, etc. Rules like "show, don't tell," and "cut back on the adverbs." We research and practice and collect rejections and then we go to the bookstore and see the latest bestseller, rife with adverbs and thematically as deep as a mud puddle. And we stand there and think:
"This is terrible. Why is it that this person has so much success? More importantly, if this is the standard, why can't I sell my work?
These are painful questions for any writer, especially a new one. And for a lot of people, the tendency at this point is to blame the publishing industry for just caring about money, and blame the readers for having no taste.
This was brought home to me when I stumbled across an old blog post by the ever-helpful Nathan Bransford, in which he asked people to weigh in on this question:
"You go down to the crossroads and make a pact to have your novel and future novels published. You are given a conditional choice. Either you can receive the highest literary acclaim for your work, but a guarantee that you will never earn enough to give up your day job. Or you can always be considered a terrible hack, but make bucketloads of cash. Which do you choose?"
Here were my observations. (There were many good points made in this discussion, but these are just the ones that stuck out to me):
~Most people went for the money, but there were many passionate posts about acclaim.
~Several people made comments to the effect that they wouldn't have any self respect if they were hacks.
~Many of the people who voted for literary acclaim made statements to the effect that they would never write "just for the money".
~Being considered a hack was often equated with not writing the best stuff that they could write, even by people who wanted the money. In fact, one anonymous person (who voted for acclaim) said. "I hate it when things that aren't worth crap are popular, it really frustrates me".
Hmmm.... What ran through my mind, and as some posters pointed out, was that to be making lots of money doing this, you have to have a lot of readers. What you write has to resonate with many, many people in order to bring in that kind of money. And yet the majority of people in this discussion didn't even mentioned the readers.
Writers do this a lot. We talk about writing for ourselves, writing for the market, writing "commercial fiction, writing "literary fiction", writing for money, writing for editors, writing for critics, etc. We rarely talk about the readers, except in broad financial terms, as if readers were a kind of stock market that we play.
And when we do talk about them, the idea keeps popping up that the average American reader is a poor judge of books, and therefore can be dismissed or ignored because they don't know what's good anyway.
I find this very odd.
Mainly because this is hugely different from the way that many long-time writers view readers. If you read Stephan King's On Writing, or Terry Brook's Sometimes the Magic Works, both those men are hugely respectful of the reader. Without ever saying you should pander to people (It's quite funny to hear Stephan King's take on his hate mail), they make it very clear that they consider the reader in what they write.
For example, Stephan King says repeatedly that while you should write the first draft with the door closed, (for yourself), you should write the second with the door open. This means letting the world in, revising with the reader in mind. He also refers the the connection between the writer and the reader as a powerful form of telepathy, and because of that writing is not something to be taken lightly.
Terry Brooks has a set of principles for good writing and one of them is DON'T BORE THE READER. He puts it like this:
"You can get away with breaking all of the other rules, at least once in a while, but you can't get away with breaking this one.... (Cliches and poor writing) are always a clear indication that the writer doesn't have enough respect for the reader. Readers may not be savvy enough to figure out what it is about a book that doesn't work, but they are plenty sharp enough to know when they are being dissed."
It makes me wonder, are we newer writers losing our respect for the reader? With all our struggling and agonizing and trying to get this publisher or that agent, have we lost the sense of connection between the storyteller and the listener?
What do you think?