If the first rule of blogging is check carefully what you’ve written before publishing, then the second should be: double-check if it was done late at night.
And if you’re sending off a manuscript submission you’d probably quadruple check. Yet it’s amazing what mistakes slip through. I often am of my own, and I think I’ve learned to be careful! Anyway, I might give my thoughts on the submission process (to agents & publishers) in a future post.
But let’s assume you’ve completed the novel, with all the basic errors eliminated. Typically, In the process of writing, it’s been enthralling but troublesome in varying measures, and in the darkest days seemed as if it would never be finished. Then (after [insert number] rewrites) it is finally ready to be released to an unsuspecting world. And with the myriad of free self publishing opportunities it can be. Only problem is it won’t sell, or at least only achieving numbers that barely reach three figures, unless you’re one of the rare exceptions – which has more to do with gaining a following, hitting upon some Zeitgeist whereupon interest snowballs. But more likely it’s your mood that will resemble fifty shades of grey (heading nearer the black end) than sales; and if you’re writing SF, that’s a uniquely tricky proposition. Of course giving it away is far more likely to generate interest. I write from experience here. But to have a realistic chance of making money from your labour of love there’s still only one sure route: The agent.
With the second (and hitherto unsuccessful) attempt at publishing, I’ve become obsessed trying to second-guess what a publisher – or in the first instance an agent – is looking for: their filter process. Now, if they are having to apply some quick criteria to deal with the welter of submissions the process might as well be done by an AI. Let’s see … Previously successful idea+variation, at least enough to give a new spin on the genre Zeitgeist, which can be described in a back-blurb length; opening chapter that does not contain lengthy description (esp world building or biography) but instead either an immersion into an action scene or a character; plot driven by character rather than a concept; no switching POV without a clear break of paragraph; no author intrusion or omniscience; no red herrings or loose ends that are never tied up; no false cliff hangers; SF esp: no deus ex machina style contrivances; no concepts which lack any basis in contemporary science; no scenarios without any bearing on real life situations, or cannot be related by analogy, metaphor or allegory. And there’s probably much more needed to add to the programming. And you’ll notice the filtering would mostly be done through negative criteria.
Anyway, it’s likely I would fail on that test. But then good writing is not about adhering to a strict set of rules, even if it is about having an awareness of them. I can think of some great/acclaimed writers who break the rules, except their talent lies in knowing how to break them, and previous success gives them the confidence to do so. And confidence comes from finding a [writing] voice readers like but which is not pandering to some perceived market-oriented populism. So, of course, you can write something great and it will get slammed (check out Amazon reviews of classic acclaimed novels, or Booker winners) or simply have your work dismissed. Above all it’s about garnering interest. Many flawed novels can be interesting and valuable; I tried to analyse one, only to find smoke and mirrors, but the illusion was enjoyable.
So, yes, something does need to change in the publishing industry. In the meantime, there’s only the frustrating waiting process and the uncertainty of never knowing where you went wrong. Sounds like a publishing dystopia!