"The result is that those who have unique voices switch to writing best-selling formula or quit. And editors ask for fresh voices!" IJ Parker

I lifted that quote off of the Kool-Aid thread, because it got me thinking about something that came up on a discussion list that's been bugging me for a few days.

The comment on the list was that if writers are in the business mainly to make money they're in the wrong business.

Anyone who follows it will know what I'm talking about. They will also know about the ongoing discussions of what you can - and cannot - include in your books. No dead puppies. Not too much sex. Not too much violence or showing blood. A fictional disease might be better than giving a character cancer, etc. etc. etc.

What I really want to say is that if I'm required to follow a checklist of what is and is not acceptable to include in my book, shouldn't I expect to be well paid? I mean, it's hardly writing for love anymore, is it? It's writing to meet the preferences of certain outspoken readers.

And here's the sad truth, that brings me back to IJ's comment: Probably few authors on here could honestly say that they haven't made some compromise with their work in order to get it published. Now, for the majority of people it was probably something minor - changing a character name, toning up or down the violence in a scene accordingly, etc - but in some cases it becomes something major. I had to put my first book in the US. And here's the thing: We applaud authors who do a wonderful job utilizing the setting and making it a character in books and then we tell other writers "Great stuff, move it to a US city." Move it somewhere we've never been, no offer to pay to send us there for setting research, pretty well guarantee we can't capture the essence of the place.

That's been my little bugbear. I thought it would be easier if I went with a Canadian agent, and found he also wanted me to move my new manuscript south of the border. The biggest problem was that the premise for the whole book was such that even in some cities in Canada it couldn't work: it needed a fire department that operated on a certain system. I'd done my homework. As much as we all take some fictional liberties from time to time, moving the book would have compromised it's authenticity to the point of making it a joke.

And what nobody seems to understand (maybe because I'm odd?) is that I'd rather make less money than sell out.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying anything against the learning curve involved in improving your writing so that it's sellable. But I see so many stories being touted as a 'highly original' when they're the same old recycled themes from B movies last decade.

And don't misunderstand - I'm happy to work with an editor. I pray more for a great editor than anything else - the friends I know who have them can't say enough about how fortunate they are. I'd consider all revisions suggested for valid reasons. For example, naming characters is a tough thing for me but I'd rename without question if an editor wanted me to - stuff like that doesn't bug me, but just relocating a story for the hell of it does.

Consider this: This was my attempt at a big conspiracy-theory novel, set partly in the USA (a country I'd never visited) and with a lot of humour. It involves space shuttles and spy satellites and all that sort of thing. Unfortunately, my editor of the time didn't like it, and had me make masses of changes - taking out the humour and the US settings, for example - by the end of which I felt the book had ceased to be mine; it wasn't the story I'd wanted to tell in the first place. I don't think I could bear to read it now... and it's out of print anyway. Ian Rankin, speaking about Westwind.

Have you ever thought about what price is too high for being published? Any of you who've had to make a difficult decision? Any chance that stifling some of the originality of talented authors is contributing to a decline in reading - people turned off by the same old, same old? (I certainly know that when I get something that's predictable and boring me to tears I start playing Mahjong.)

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suppose this is why more of us are trying to support the independents, such as Bleak House, Hard Case etc. I do see it as a contributing factor to the rise in ezines. One of the main short story magazines in this country isn't even available in the bookstores for sale (you have to subscribe) and they have stringent policies including no swear words, even mild. I'm cheering for projects like Out of the Gutter, that are pushing the boundaries and daring to do something others won't. If we keep churning out same old, same old I think the genre will stagnate and marginalize itself.
So... if you had a four book deal, and the first two didn't sell up to expectations and the publisher came to you and said, "We want you to do something different, more mainstream" and the writing was on the wall to either compromise or lose the balance of the deal, I guess you'd kill the deal?

And if the result was a situation like Anne mentions below, where it hurt you to the point of being labeled difficult so that you couldn't get your stuff published ever again you'd keep writing and just do it for yourself without trying to get it published?

Just curious. And trying not to be flippant, because it's hard enough to find a publisher, so switching on a dime is much easier said than done - especially if you're already in a book deal.
i often wonder if female writers are considered more disposable in this business. or maybe just more pushable. it's almost always male writers who shrug and say they simply wouldn't make the requested changes. i really wonder if females experience more pressure to change their stories.
Ah, thanks Ray. I think I understand what you're saying. One thing about finding another publisher after killing a deal, though - I know someone who was in that situation last year and the verdict was that once a book was pulled it was often (not always, but often) considered tainted. The author was offered a new deal elsewhere, but that book was completely scrapped.

I don't know how I'd feel about that. I can certainly understand why some authors compromise - because they've had a taste of fulfilling their dream, worked on this baby, sold it, and it's about to come to life. Then to lose it. I can see why it's hard for people. Of course, it may also boil down to experience...
First of, I'm highly flattered to be quoted. I think I probably shoot my mouth off too much and lately complain a lot about the business. I have learned some painful truths about being published and am currently angry. No doubt, I 'll settle down in time and accept that that's the way it is.

Now, for my first two books there were no changes and no editing. I would have loved editing and don't believe for a moment that the books were so good they didn't need it. Since then I've had some editing, been grateful for the fact, but have refused to make certain changes. I'm blessed in that my editor leaves the decision up to me in the end. Generally, I'm open to changes because I invariably wonder how the suggestion would work. I enjoy revising, in other words.

But I could not write a book that went against the grain and would refuse to do so. I'd just mothball the rejected novel and write another for a different publisher. But then I'm no longer willing to make myself miserable. I love writing and cannot write to formula and enjoy myself. Being published is not an ego-thing. It means that I can go on writing and it gives life to my protagonist. That makes it important, but not to the point where nothing matters but the contract.
Well IJ, if you shoot off your mouth too much, at least I'm in good company!

Sounds like you have a good working relationship with your current editor though. That's great.
The more mainstream the author is, the more they see this happening.

I am aware of an author who wrote a book who his publisher refused to publish in its current form. So he took it somewhere else and it came out to huge acclaim.

A number of publishers fought to get his next book.

So what the first thing the new publisher did? Despite the success of the last book and the reasonable belief that this author's work has an audience for this style and subject matter, they asked for massive changes before they would publish it.

I seems to me that the larger the publisher, the more likely they will try to push you into a mold.
I had a reply, but I think it came off wrong. I do know some larger publishers that will take risks and support more innovative work if they believe in the writing, although I get what you're saying as a generalization and in general it could be correct.

I suppose it hits the mainstream more because that's where sales are expected. People who write fringe stuff that has less mainstream appeal will undoubtedly be writing for love, because they aren't going to sell as well anyway.
It's a tough one. I think all authors should be able to write exactly what they want. If you want to write it then it stands to reason that someone will want to read it. Sure, there are subjects that I prefer not to read about. I mostly choose not to read books about international terrorism because I find them just a bit dull and they take themselves too seriously. I choose not to read books about fake illnesses, because that's too science fictiony for me. I'm not a big fan of conspiracy theories. However, if I wear to read a rip-roaring conspiracy theory book about terrorists who invent a new disease, and it has great characters, a superb plot and brilliant writing, I would love it. Interesting characters and stellar writing - those are my main criteria - give me those and I will read about anything.

As for having to change stuff to make it sell, well, I don't know whether I could change anything major - just because I'm not a good enough writer, and if I don't like what I am writing then I think that comes across. My one (and possibly only) book was really bizarre and out there and not to everyone's taste but I had great fun writing it. The lovely Al - genius editor and all round top bloke - made suggestions that made it a much better book and I was happy to make the changes he suggested. However, had he said, "Donna, I think you need to change your heroine into an elderly man who collects stamps, make it a stamp collecting cosy/medical thriller, take out the bizarre stuff, and please, let's have more seriousness", I just wouldn't have been able to do it. Simply because I wouldn't enjoy it or believe in it. I know nothing about stamp collecting, care even less and couldn't summon up the enthusiasm to do that. Nor do I have the skills.

I LOVE really dark books, am a big fan of noir, and am in awe of writers who make such a great job of it. But there's no way I can do it myself. I've tried. It just degenerates into farce within one paragraph.
"If you want to write it then it stands to reason that someone will want to read it... Interesting characters and stellar writing - those are my main criteria - give me those and I will read about anything."

Of course, if only every reader felt the same! But generally, I agree. If the writing is there, there will be a market for the story.

Although I'm disappointed to hear that the stamp collecting novel isn't going to happen. ;) But you would have needed to make up all those medical conditions and that's just too much work. Hypochondriacs would be emailing you night and day, asking how to get diagnosed and if there's treatment... Although someone with fewer principals could probably make some money selling snake oil that way.
Sorry about the stamp collecting novel Sandra, but I just don't have time - what with working on the new manuscript about a traffic warden who's off work with a nasty case of Phalangical Sarcoidophoditis who collects used matches and is spending his recovery time making lifesized statues of Queen Boadicea out of hardboiled eggs while solving crimes from his living room with the assistance of his pet beetle Aristotle.
Well, at least the new WIP has caught my interest! Can we buy replica statues?


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