Kick in the Gut

on September 4, 2012 in Misc

Have you ever had a stranger rip apart one of your manuscripts?

That happened to me this last week and I feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut.

I think I’ve mentioned here before that I have two manuscripts I’m editing for self-publication: Charity Macay and the Almighty Dollar, and a sequel to it, Charity MacCay and Holy Relations.  They’re funny, rollicking tales set in New York and elsewhere in the late 1860’s.  I’m very proud of them, and after some effort I finally convinced a few friends and a family member to read them.  To be clear, these are people who, if they don’t like something, will absolutely tell me.  They’ll be kind and diplomatic, but they’ll give me their honest reactions and try to be helpful (“Maybe you can fix the story…”).

They all LOVED Charity MacCay.

Loved as in carrying the manuscripts back and forth to work, or staying up into the wee hours to read them, or calling me up or emailing a reaction as soon as he/she finished one.  They also marveled that they had never read anything quite like these two novels.  So I started feeling pretty confident.

But then one of these friends sent a manuscript to a friend back East; seems this woman is a successful freelance magazine editor.

Her reaction?  She delivered a kick right to my solar plexus.

After saying something about how the story kept her going, she proceeded to deliver a hatchet job.  How she just didn’t “get” this character Charity or why did Charity make such bad decisions, and she compared her unfavorably to Scarlet O’Hara, who doesn’t make such mistakes because she is “cold and calculating.”

Well, here’s a newsflash: CHARITY IS NOTHING LIKE SCARLET O’HARA! ON PURPOSE!

Also, I have too many minor characters (something no else thought), too much description (again, no one else had this impression), too much vernacular speech (gee, obviously I hadn’t done my homework after reading about 50+ non-fiction books on the period, including ones from the 1860’s that I could only access on microfilm).  Finally, she recommended that I read Edith Wharton in order to learn how to write description and dialogue.

OMG, I don’t write like Edith Wharton?  I have committed a literary crime!  By the way, Edith Wharton puts me to sleep.

My first reaction upon reading this woman’s email was to feel as if I’d been stabbed and left to bleed to death.  Then I broke down her points. There were, admittedly, a couple good ones about a couple scenes.  But the rest of her opinion was flat out insulting.  I didn’t write another Gone with the Wind?  I didn’t scribble an Edith Wharton tome?  NO SHIT SHERLOCK!

Ultimately, what this “professional’s” opinion did to me was remind me why I’m self-publishing.  Among other reasons, I would have to compare in a query letter my manuscripts to books that are already out there.  I must make sure they fit neatly into a specific genre.  I must have a “product” that a publisher’s marketing department would know how to sell.

But what if I’ve written something that can’t be easily pigeonholed?  What if I’ve created something that’s kind of – oh, I don’t know… original?

Since at this point I’m waxing sarcastic, I figure it’s time to sign off.  I’ll just end by adding that this experience has also made me even more sympathetic with my fellow writers who have had similar experiences at the hands of “professionals.”

I feel for you.

8 Responses to “Kick in the Gut”

  1. Think I lost it by the time I hit the ‘no shit Sherlock’ part!
    And there’s a famous science fiction author that puts me to sleep. Really glad I don’t write like him no matter how popular he was.
    Take the points that matter and then dump the rest.

  2. Helena says:

    Alex – You’re a non-conformist writer too! And a very successful one who DOESN’T put writers to sleep.

  3. I had a bad review from a very small book blogger that tore my manuscript apart saying that 1) he was offended by Kolin’s accent and 2) he accused me of ripping off Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” books and said that King did it better.

    I was really offended by his review because I felt that my book had no resemblance to the Dark Tower books other than the fact that I have a tower in them. There are lots of books that have towers. I honestly felt he reviewed the book without having read it.

  4. Helena says:

    Michael – Exactly! Your bad reviewer got tripped up over something as trivial as a tower (and having read your exciting book I can testify that the tower was for me a minor point), whereas my reviewer got her head stuck in Margaret Mitchell’s and Edith Wharton’s books simply because of the time period I chose. Talk about small-minded people!

  5. Old Kitty says:

    Oh dear!!! Keep calm and carry on as the famous saying goes!! :-) Take care
    x

  6. Ciara Knight says:

    Good for you. It takes a strong person to analyze something and learn from it. Don’t change your voice or your characters, but learn what you can.

  7. Helena says:

    Old Kitty — I’m carrying on, now that I’m calmer. Thanks.

  8. Helena says:

    Ciara — She did have a couple good comments on a couple scenes, and I’d be dumb not to use them. Thanks.