Monday, July 30, 2012

Tidbits They Don’t Tell You In Author’s School, Part 2

by Stephanie Osborn

We've been talking about the little odds and ends that beginning writers NEED to know, but often aren't TOLD. Things that it's useful to know about to avoid making mistakes. Last week we covered a pre-tidbit, and Tidbit One, which was about finding out how long a novel is FOR YOUR GENRE, and shooting for that length. We're picking up today with Tidbits Two and Three.

Tidbit Two: It IS possible to have a novel that’s TOO LONG. You see, there’s a bit of alchemy mixed into publishing. There’s some arcane formula publishers use to transmute word count into page count. Page count, in turn, converts to shelf space. Use up too much shelf space on one book, and the publisher suddenly can’t display as many books. So your wonderful, two hundred thousand plus word count book that spewed out of you like water from a fire hose probably isn’t usable, unless you can find a way to cut it down into two or three books.

Trust me, I've been there. Yes, I broke it into multiple volumes.

Tidbit Three: There is a pecking order among authors, and it is not entirely determined by tenure, sales figures and awards. Who published you? How big was your last advance? (This is, not coincidentally, often determined by the size of the publishing house.) The bigger the publishing house, the larger your advance, the higher up the pecking order you are – at least in the minds of some. Be prepared to experience resentment from those below you, and disdain from those above. Some of us view the playing field as level – but not all.

Not quite what you expected to hear? Sorry. When was there ever a decent-sized group of people who did NOT establish a stratified society, or social subset? Writers are people too. Better to find out now than later, when you run into somebody way above you in the pecking order and who recognizes said order.

Yeah, been there, too.

-Stephanie Osborn


Anonymous said...

Isn't that what happened to Tolkien with The Lord of the Rings? It can be hard to find a stopping place when the story keeps going.

Stephanie Osborn said...

Yes. Yes, it can. Epic literature still exists, and his is a case in point. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that - from the artistic standpoint.

From the publisher's standpoint, it's a problem.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about what you said about there being a pecking order among authors. Such a thing hadn't occurred to me before beyond "obviously this person or that person has more experience and therefore is higher than I am."
It makes sense of course. There is a ranking system to most things. It is just that I've never given it much thought. It is difficult to judge how high someone is on the totem pole in other things, how on earth do I go about figuring out the author ranking system? (That's the main question I keep asking myself, because it's something I've never been good at.) My default plan is usually to be as respectful as possible (though sometimes I do get carried away when I get excited) no matter who it is, that way my bases are mostly covered.

Stephanie Osborn said...

That is a very good approach. However, even then it can still get you in trouble if you cross over a line that some more well-known authors draw in the sand. This is particularly true in asking favors, such as for cover blurbs, etc. My experience is, if you don't know the author well, don't ask.

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