Saturday, January 7, 2006

Sour Grapes

I belong to a number of mailing lists, many of which are populated by authors, both published and unpublished. As an editor, I can sympathise with the frustrations shared by many unpublished (and undermarketed) authors, but I always wonder if they're aware of how negatively others perceive them when they post bitter, angst-filled rants to public mailing lists.

These posts always seems to focus on how unfair it is that publishers direct so many resources towards marketing and publicity for popular authors such as Dan Brown, Stephen King, and John Grisham, and how crappy these authors are -- with the implication being that the ranting unknowns would be equally successful if only they had the same marketing budgets -- because they (these great unknowns) are writers of far superior talent.

Talent is subjective, and it's always arguable, but these authors would greatly improve their chances of getting the sort of treatment they want, if they would stop eating sour grapes. That's because sour grapes tends to colour your worldview -- and believe it or not, editors can spot it.

Nobody wants to deal with sour-grape-eating folks, and they sure as heck don't want to pour scarce financial resources down a sour-grape hole. Editors are much more likely to want to deal with authors who are not too self-important to learn from the Kings, Grishams, and Browns of the world.

1 comment:

Tansy said...

I agree about the sour grapes.

I edit for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and we have heard feedback along the lines of:

The story was rejected too fast.


I hate the way they tell me when I've passed every stage (three) of the slushing process, because it gets my hopes up.

Likewise, I've heard people complaining (not ASIM-related) about personalised rejection letters, rejection letters that dare to be polite, and rejection letters that dare to suggest that maybe you might like, in the future, to submit further work to that market.


In other words, they were complaining about being rejected. Which is fair enough. No one likes being rejected. But as a writer, if you don't learn to live with it in a sane and professional manner, you really won't get very far.

The reason the Big Name Authors get marketing budgets is because they bring in so much money that it's justified to put a bit of it into publicity. The rest of the big piles of money the publishers make of them goes into subsidising projects by new and less commercial works of fiction (or at least, less dead certs).

Publicity doesn't make authors into big names. Publicity (at least, traditional publicity) doesn't actually work very well at selling books. What works is: word of mouth. People like a book, and tell their friends. More people tell more people. Books become worthy of newspaper columns and articles and strapping big posters because they're well known, not the other way around.

So the best thing a non-Big Name can do is:

write a brilliant book that no sane publisher would turn down, and that everyone in the world will love. Even people who don't read books.

write an even better book, or at least one to a consistent standard as the first.




Meanwhile: be nice to people along the way. Be clever and interesting. Publicise yourself, without being an arse about it.

God, that sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? Much easier to spend your time bitching on a mailing list.

Sour grapes authors are, to my mind, one step away from those people at parties who corner published authors and tell them that

a) they could write a bestseller if only they had the time
b) they've got a great idea for a novel and will split the money with you if you, y'know, do the writing bit
c) they plan to write in genre because, you know, any old crap can get published if there's a spaceship on the cover