Monthly Archives: March 2016

Lies Writers Tell Ourselves: Publishable Quality

Long ago, when I was young and innocent and just starting out on my journey through the world of publishing, I had the idea that my job was to write a book good enough to be published. Once I did that, everything else would follow—because if it’s good enough to be published, that means it’ll be published, right?

HA HA HA HA HA. Oh, what a fool I was.

I think this is a common myth, though. More than once, I had various industry professionals tell me my book was publishable quality, too, reinforcing my idea that there was this bar, and once you passed it, you were in. But this is a very dangerous illusion.

It’s a strange idea in the first place. Books get published all the time which you or I might very well not consider of Publishable Quality. And I’ve certainly beta read a decent number of books which I consider to well surpass that bar which have not yet found a home with a publisher. It’s not like you can put a manuscript on the Awesomeness Scale and see if it rates at 90% or above and slap a “Grade A” sticker on it and put it on the shelf.

One problem with the Publishable Quality idea is that it obscures the truth: publishing is incredibly subjective. If you and I did a blind taste test of 20 novels and had to check off which we thought were of Publishable Quality, we’d be extremely unlikely to come up with perfectly matching lists at the end. Nearly every published debut novel out there got rejected at some point. The idea that there’s some way to objectively gauge novel quality leaves us open to greater pain with rejection, because then instead of meaning we didn’t find our book’s  agent/editor soul mate, it means our book wasn’t good enough.

The Publishable Quality myth comes with another hidden catch. Even if you assume we could come up with some vague level of “Yeah, most people agree this is good enough to be a published book,” there are more books meeting that bar than there are slots for books to traditionally publish. Writing a good book is a rare skill, and one we should be proud of—but it’s not so rare that there isn’t still competition once you clear the elusive “publishable” bar.

Which leads to perhaps the most insidious danger of this notion of Publishable Quality. It can lead you to believe that once your book hits that level, you can stop trying to make it better. I know when I first started querying, I thought I just had to make my book good enough. But now that I’ve immersed myself in the world of writing and publishing for a while, I know that’s not true.

You can’t stop at good enough. You probably shouldn’t even stop at as good as I can make it. You have to keep going until as good as it can possibly be.

If you strive for less than that, you might still get published. It’s a subjective business, after all. But you’ll have failed to do your book the justice it deserves. You’ll have missed opportunities to make yourself a better writer.

So don’t ask yourself “Is this book publishable?” Ask yourself “How can I make this book even better?” You’ll go less crazy and write a better book.


Go Back and Revise, or Keep Drafting?

I’m at that point on my WIP where I know I’m going to make some edits to chapters I’ve already written that will significantly change a viewpoint character. I have to make the choice whether to go back and revise now, or to forge ahead and finish the first draft before revising.

Normally, I’m a big fan of revising first when this sort of thing happens. It’s hard to build on what came before if you don’t even know what that is. If I haven’t rewritten those scenes, their emotional content can’t inform what I’m writing now. I can’t make subtle references back to what happened there, or let the particulars of those key events drive how my characters act and make decisions now. I can’t refer back to those unwritten scenes in dialogue or internal monologue.

In this case, though, I’m going to forge ahead. Because this is a multi POV project and I’m trying to do some cool things with how the POVs play off each other, I already know there’s a lot of revising in my future. Anything I go back and revise now is just going to get revised again when I’m done, and the new stuff I write now is probably also going to get revised…maybe even completely rewritten. This is not going to be a “clean, awesome first draft” kind of book. It’s going to be messy before it gets pretty.

So I’m going to let go of perfectionism (for now) (at least a bit) and forge ahead, choosing momentum over continuity in this draft. Different books require different strategies!

I know I’m not the only one who’s faced this dilemma… I’d love to hear how others have handled it!


Powers Most Super

On a long car drive back from New York this weekend, my older daughter asked my husband and I what we thought were some of the coolest fictional powers we’d seen in books, TV, comics, etc. (This is, by the way, an awesome way to make about half an hour pass without noticing.)

The conversation segued to me giving a rundown of some of the powers the various major characters have in my WIP fantasy YA, along with a brief summary of each character’s core conflict (because for some of them, their powers are inseparable from their conflict). When I was done running through them, my younger daughter asked, “Wait, are you talking about your book, Mommy?”

Yes, I said, this is the book I’m working on now. Why?

“I thought it was a professional book!”

My husband and eldest made “Ouch!” noises, but hey, I take it as a compliment. 🙂

My takeaway from the larger conversation, however, is that a lot of the time what we thought was so cool about the fictional powers we liked best was not the power itself, but how the author handled it.

They had the characters using their powers in an intelligent way, coming up with clever applications to deal with tough situations. They had considered and shown the impact of that power on the character, the people around them, and on society at large. Or they had wound the character’s power into their own inner or external conflict in some way, making it a problem as much as a solution.

And that was what made it so interesting. Not the design of the power itself (and certainly not its apparent magnitude), but how it played out in the story.