So, I have alluded before to the fact that I have a vague intention of trying to get published one of these days. There are a lot of reasons why I've never made a serious effort to do, and why I'm still spending more time writing fan fiction than I am working on my novel, but let's just say that I pretty much see publishing a novel as something on my Bucket List, not a career ambition; even if I do get published, I'm unlikely to quit my day job. So I don't worry a whole lot about whether I am "building an audience" with my blog (there are also reasons why I don't use my real name here, mostly to do with (1) an aversion to publicity, and (2) there are some really bugfuck crazy people on the internets) or whether I am "hurting my future career" as a writer.
Which is a good thing, because according to Regan Leigh, who has apparently managed to join the Cool Kids Club and become besties with a bunch of other YA authors despite not having been published yet herself, writing negative reviews is something aspiring writers should never, ever do.
Okay, in fairness, that's a guest post written by Leigh's friend Susan Dennard, not Leigh herself. Dennard apparently has written one novel, due to be published next year, and here is what she says:
Trust me: agents google you. If they find your blog/twitter/Goodreads/whatever and see you’ve bashed an author or bashed a book or even declared in the politest of tones that you “disliked the author’s use of alternating first person POV” or you “felt the characters were two-dimensional”, you’re ruining your chances of getting an agent.
(Of course, this is not always the case, but it is often the case. Some agents may overlook this or disagree entirely, but it’s better to play it safe!)
Before I went on sub, my agents warned me to stay professional, keep my online presence calm and clean, and avoid negative reviews, comments — anything. Just like “talking bad” about a book can keep you from getting an agent, it will also keep you from getting a book deal.
Trust me: editors google you. And TRUST ME: editors may love your book, but hate your online presence — and that means you won’t get published.
I don't know either Regan Leigh or Susan Dennard, nor have I read anything they've written (I don't even follow their blogs; I came across that link elsewhere), so I have nothing against them. I'm sure they're perfectly nice people, and I wish them every success in their writing ambitions.
But not to put too fine a point on it, I think Susan Dennard is full of it. I'll risk ruining my chances of ever getting a book deal by saying that.
First of all, on the one hand she says "this is not always the case" but on the other, she pretty much asserts as a blanket statement that if you say anything bad about another author or politely dislike an author's use of alternating first person POV, you're ruined, ruined!
Look, I have no doubt that some aspiring writers do blow opportunities by shooting off their mouths where a prospective agent or editor can read about it. If your online presence is that of an asshole who's always getting into flamewars, yes, I can see an agent thinking twice about whether she wants to work with you. No one wants to be trying to represent a new author who's likely to make herself the next star of fandom_wank, and no editor wants to have her publisher being associated with the latest round of Author!Crazy bouncing around the Twittersphere.
And yes, I know there are authors who have thin egos and will try to shun you/badmouth you if you've said anything negative about them or their writing.
But holy crap, if "playing it safe" and making sure you never offend anyone in the industry by expressing an honest opinion is the price you have to pay for getting published, I'll stick to fan fiction or just put my novel up on Smashwords.
If you write something good enough to be published, yes, perhaps an agent or two might back off if they don't like your online persona, but not every agent is that risk-averse. Susan Dennard's assertion that a negative review of a book you didn't like will make you publishing anathema is, I think, just silly and more self-protection than honest advice.
This meme going around that writers better not say anything bad another writer's books is getting on my last nerve. It seems to be especially prevalent in the YA genre, which seems to be high school-cliquey beyond belief (seriously, all the authors seem to know each other and puff each other up), but I've seen it on a lot of writing sites. I've read more than a few rants from both aspiring and published authors asserting one or more of the following:
- Writers should not criticize books. You'll damage your career.
- Readers should not criticize books. You're not a writer, so how dare you?
- You should only write a review if you love the book. If you didn't like it, you should say nothing.
- Even on Goodreads and Amazon. People who give books one or two stars are ignorant haters.
- You should only criticize a book if you're a professional reviewer. "Unqualified" people shouldn't be trashing books with their unqualified opinions.
- Professional reviewers are just bitter writer-wannabes and since they can't write themselves, you shouldn't listen to their opinions.
Now, obviously (fortunately) not all writers have that kind of attitude. Not even all YA writers do (though most seem to). But it's not uncommon. I am seeing more and more of the same Special Precious Snowflake Syndrome that makes fanfic writers such frail flowers that they explode in wank and tears when someone gives them concrit spreading to the YA authorsphere, I guess as more former fanfic writers manage to become published authors (and usually they write YA because YA is where you can keep writing your shippy squee-fics while calling it pro-fic).
Of course, I also think that in general, I'm not mean or assholeish; I don't write anything that would get me in trouble if my friends, family, or employer were to read it. And I do try not to say mean things about authors personally even if I hated their books. (Okay, I have called Anne Rice batshit crazy. But everyone calls Anne Rice batshit crazy.) But I know for a fact that at least two authors have read my reviews and been unhappy about them. Would I ask them for a blurb for my book were it to be published? No. Would I feel like I could look them in the eye if I were sitting next to them at a con panel? Sure.
For future reference, if someone trashes my writing (as opposed to me personally), I might not like it, but I'm not going to hold a grudge or try to trash that person's writing in return. I hope every author would be grown-up enough not to play these stupid high school games.
It's a good thing no one ever told these authors that you shouldn't bash other authors. And of course no one delivers epic snark like Mark Twain.
Alexandra Quick and the Stars Above
One of these days, I am going to write an epic post about what Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Wire have in common, but in the meantime, I'm thinking a lot about the back stories and minor character interactions going on "off-screen" in Alexandra Quick, things I don't write into the story because it would be too tangential, but which affect other interactions. So sometimes I drop hints, or casual references, and I must admit, I take an author's delight in seeing if any readers will pick up on these "easter eggs" and draw the correct conclusion. Of course, people often make the wrong inference. Which raises the question of whether they are really wrong or not, which ties into the whole issue of what's actually "canon" -- only the words on the page? Things the author has said, whether within the books or outside them? Every idea that's in the author's head, even if unwritten? (There is a couple, for example, that I see marrying someday, but not only will it not happen in the series, it will probably never be mentioned even in the Epilogue and if I did mention it, people would say WTF? because even by that time, there probably won't have been enough written to hint at the relationship. But in my head, that's what happens in the future. It's like Cho marrying a Muggle -- canon or not?)
The other thing really gnawing at me right now is laying down sufficient foreshadowing to make everything that follows make sense, without tying myself to something that I want to change later. As I've said before, I'm a loose outliner. I have a general idea of the direction the entire series will take and what the major events and outcomes will be, but there are a lot of details I fill in as I go along, and lots of major plot points I haven't figured out how to connect yet and won't until I get that far. So I want to establish a foundation for them now, but I'm afraid two or three books later I'll be realizing I made a big "Oops!" in book three or four because at that time I didn't know for certain how I was going to resolve things later.
"No. I am your father."
I just finished a big long conversation between Alex and her father -- probably the longest conversation they've had yet. And I'm not satisfied with it. It's probably going to be rewritten half a dozen times even before it goes to my betas. See, he knows lots of things and has lots of secrets, and Alexandra is getting really tired of not knowing these things. A lot of adults have been keeping secrets from her. This sort of thing (important information that the protagonist doesn't know but other characters do) generates a certain amount of tension between narrative suspense and suspension of disbelief, and it's one of the things that really annoyed me about Rowling's plots. A lot of the secrets that were kept from Harry for years (especially by Dumbledore) didn't and shouldn't have been kept secret! Why didn't they sit him down when he first arrived at Hogwarts and say, "Okay, kid, here's the deal, and why your life is going to suck for the next seven years"?
Well, the narrative reason was because authors and readers both love Big Reveals as a series progresses. But the plot reason was... umm, Dumbledore was a tool? No, he wanted to "protect" Harry and give him a few years of blissful ignorance, I guess. Good plan, Dumbles.
So, there is a little of that going on in Alexandra Quick, but I am trying to handle it better. Not sure if I am succeeding. There are reasons why adults are keeping secrets from her. Some are good reasons, and some are just plain selfish reasons, but I hope they at least make sense from the characters' perspective. (Needless to say, when Alexandra learns of these things -- and there are going to be some great big whoppers in AQATSA -- she is not going to think they were good reasons.)
And if I sound like I'm arrogantly being all "I can do better than Rowling," trust me, I know there is plenty of stuff I don't do nearly as well as she did. Alexandra Quick is a tribute to Harry Potter and it parallels the original series somewhat, and yes, sometimes I deliberately address issues because I don't like how Rowling addressed them, but I'm not trying to do a "rewrite, except better" of Harry Potter.
The book, like this post, keeps swelling in size
So, I've just finished Chapter 19, and am at 124,634 words. I think I am at about the halfway point, or perhaps past it. Or not. I can't say how big the final draft will be; I am still aiming to not suffer from book-bloat syndrome and would like to keep it below the length of AQATLB, but it's possible this will end up being the longest book in the series yet. I don't know! Why can't I do a better job of outlining? Arrgh. Some chapters are killing me.
Here, have a wordle. (Click for larger image.)
(Bonus factoid/tease: I know what the titles of books six and seven will be, but I haven't yet decided on the title of book five.)