What's Up with Form Rejection?

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polymath
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What's Up with Form Rejection?

Post by polymath » August 20th, 2013, 4:15 pm

You've poured your soul onto the page, written a monumental manuscript masterpiece, and followed all the advices and suggestions and forms that you know and anyone and everyone has advised you you need to do. So what the everloving heck and libel is the reason you get anonymous form rejections from every publisher and agent you submit query, synopisis, sample, or complete manuscript to, whether for short or long prose, poetry, script, whatever?

Answers are simple; solutions complex. First, the content didn't suit the house, thank you very much. Please try again.

Second, the expression or voice is the same everyday conversational dialects and emotionally lackluster attitudes as the other six million mansucripts in the pipeline; only 100,000 of which slots are available for, 20,000 or so for fiction, half of which are reserved for proven revenue performers, and those thousands of slots are slated for works that have exceptional mechanical style, organization and content (craft), expression (voice), and audience appeal that the other six million don't.

Third, every one of the six million also-rans to greater and lesser extents weakly imitate other recently published works that succeeded. They are copycat works that do not exceed their predecessors' appealing qualities and artistic merits.

Solution: Take a long journey through authonomy.com's offerings. The tens of thousands of manuscripts there have content that doesn't suit the publishing house, have everyday voices, and everyday lackluster craft, and everyday imitations of other successful works. It is no wonder only a select few countable on one hand have been picked up by authonomy-sponsoring publisher HarperCollins. Then after sampling a few hundred or thousand authonomy offerings, Don't write like that.

When I evaluate a manuscript, often within the first five words I have drawn a conclusion about the whole. Yeah, 100,000 words and the first five recommend or condemn the whole!? That absolutely rots! The shortcoming without fail I see first is static voice. Many writers struggle with passive voice; many writers overcome the complications of passive voice. But static voice is the everyday voice dialect many struggling writers write in. Static voice keywords are verbs and verb phrases. A verb ought in most cases be active and significant. Verbs are significant when they signal time and action, both physical action and dramatic action. Hence significance is signals of time.

Take this common, everyday opening five words: Katy sat on the bench. "Katy" is the subject, the doer of the action. "Sat" is the predicate and verb, signaling an action that took place some time in the immediate, recent, or remote past. When Katy sat is not clear or strong or dynamic physical or dramatic action. "On the bench" is the object of Katy's "sat" action. This opening screams for recasting in a more dynamic craft and voice.

First, the sentence is a summary of an action, a tell. Second. the voice is static from "sat" being static in time significance. Implying the immediate past of the present moment in time is one solution. Prose's strongest and easiest to access and appealing tense is what is known as past-present. Not a tense learned in grammar or grade school, past-present implies a present time though expressed in past tense. "Katy sat" doesn't imply when she sat, whether she sat recently and is an ongoing action that continues until she changes her posture, or that she sat and is now performing some other action, perhaps a static one as well, like looking, waiting, fidgeting, sighing, etc.

Third, "Katy sat" is not presented as a cause or an effect of anything dramatic, thus also static action and voice and lackluster craft. Might as well write that Katy breathed, Katy sighed, Katy's heart beat, Katy meditated, Katy blinked, Katy sweated. All summary tells; all static voice.

Instead, who is Katy? When is Katy? Where is Katy? What is Katy doing and what is she sensing about where, when, why, and how she's doing whatever? Why is Katy doing whatever? And how is she doing it; how is she emotionally feeling about it?

If the first five words artfully express Katy's circumstances, I might read past them and be caught up by a few hundred words, a few chapters, maybe even the whole.

Then how about five words in active and dynamic voice that express Katy sitting on a bench and work for me?

The splinter pierced Katy's butt . . .

I care right away about Katy, empathizing a little with her for sitting on a splinter. How will she react, an effect to the splinter's causing her a sensation, probably painful? I'm a little curious. Will she ignore it, cry out, weep? Then why? Meanwhile developing the setting, like the bench, that it's made of wood is already implied. How about whether at night or daytime, shaded or sunny, raining or whatever? If shaded, covered by foliage or pergola or canopy? Is she alone or among a crowd? Beside a roadway or in a meadow, forest, park, inside or outside. And so on.

But I'd want fairly soon for a major want and problem of Katy's to be implied or depicted. within a few hundred words, if not sooner, ideally in the first sentence. And in the splinter scenario, the splinter symbolizing that dramatic complication of want and problem in some easily relatable way. Dramatic complication is the engine of story and plot movement: dramatic movement. And antagonism between want and problem is the fuel of the dramatic action and complication engine. This is mostly a craft feature; however, without a dynamic voice, antagonism falls flat. So voice is in the mix as well.

Audience appeal is a whole other struggle. I doubt anyone really cares that a splinter stuck Katy. If the splinter foreshadows and represents Katy's dramatic complication, though, and that complication is depicted right soon, then maybe readers will care and be curious and read on. Like if the splinter is related to a love interest being a thorn in her backside, or the law, or criminals, friends, family, coworkers, or acquaintances, etc., or maybe the splinter is a piece of magic or technology that causes Katy a science fiction escapism or fantasy wish-fulfillment adventure. Audience appeal can be simply boiled down to circumstances that matter to a target audience, related wants and problems they have in their daily lives. Larger-than-life--larger than everyday daily life--circumstances. Though what publishers, and readers, want most of all are circumstances that transcend their immediate, specific, literal meaning and become globally and personally emotionally meaningful for many.
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Re: What's Up with Form Rejection?

Post by Hillsy » August 21st, 2013, 6:13 am

While I appreciate the sentiment, active and strong voice are real cornerstones of great writing, I've got to interject and temper what you're saying with a bit of realism. Why? Because I've listened and heeded advice similar to yours - I also now can't write because of it.

While I agree that learning why "katy sat on the bench" is inferior to, say, "The splinter pierced katy's butt" is imperative (I sometimes wonder if the explosion of YA is purely down to the tendancy of writing advice to counterpoint dry, passive language against slangy, stylised writing), I also think going into such depth on the importance of just a few words can be highly destructive. That's not to say they aren't important mind, only the micro-critical analysis of such can be counter productive.

Writing has similarities to fractals - on any scale you can always find problems. Thing is at a certain scale the issues just are not seen: the reader doesn't notice. You can take a good half hour looking at those five words and polishing them up so they iridesce with context, subtext and beauty. Half hour - on 5 words. Scale up. That's 240 words a day maximum. Realistically, 80 words. Ergo an 80K novel = 1000 days of editing.....assuming you haven't killed yourself by then.

There's a tendency towards the perfect in writing advice, instead of the "good enough" - and frankly saying that your chances of publication rest on 5 words being perfect is demonstrably false. Take for instance the first line "I could not see the street or much of the estate." Now while you could argue there's something there, as an opening line it's hardly Neuromancer, or Needful Things, or Moby Dick. And yet few people would argue that The City and The City is a rubbish novel. It's been published for a start and is widely acclaimed as a masterpiece. The better advice would be: "make sure your first five words aren't shit."

In short the principles you give are sound advice. Probably more than that - fundamental knowledge every writer should know. However, it's the application that can cause problems. Novels aren't meant to be perfect, because they'd all be the same. If anything the fundamental principles should only be applied to the poor bits; the average and great parts should stand on their own. The opposite of perfectionism is just the lightest touch of analysis, the broadest zoom possible, to identify where there are dips in quality and then bringing the arsenal of tools you have to bear on the problem.

I'm just saying as counterpoint to anyone reading your advice that while learning how to identify and correct passive/static writing, try not to overapply it. Only use it where it's glaringly flawed, rather than searching for imperfections to correct. Trust me, you'll find them. Endlessly.

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Re: What's Up with Form Rejection?

Post by polymath » August 21st, 2013, 1:09 pm

Hillsy,

I've been unable to write or read for pleasure. It was a time a few years back of misery, the writing and reading passions and companions of my life turned to fireplace ashes. I worked through it and came out the other side appreciably a better writer and reader.

Writing doldrums are a phase or a leg, maybe legs, on the Poet's Journey, more like a selection cut, where hobby writers are separated from determined writers. Many give up and turn to other creative outlets where expression is less solitary and less demanding. However, the doldrums are a sign of growth and, more importantly, a force to be reckoned with, overcome, and foster growth.

A doldrum leg is one where creativity clashes with developing writing disciplines and organization and writing stagnates from doubt and confusion. Diminishing confusiuon and doubt to the point a writer gets unstuck, stuck because of realizing creativity is not enough by itself, comes from synthesizing (melding) creativity and discipline and meaning making.

I worked through this last leg of doldrums by more discerning analysis of reading, advanced grammar study, not only grammar principles but their exceptions, and further deep study and development of craft, voice, and for audience appeal.

Writing for myself and for an audience became the filter and globe-shaking epiphany that overall made for the most appreciable cognitive leaps. Writing became work, became more fun, became appealing to audiences, which in the process I've been able to focally define. The journey has so far been more than worth the efforts and costs of burning the midnight candle.
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Re: What's Up with Form Rejection?

Post by LizV » August 30th, 2013, 11:15 am

Gotta agree with Hillsy here. If you go looking for something, odds are you're going to find it whether it's there or not -- and if you go looking for every nit you can possibly pick in a piece of writing, you'll end up in a Zeno's Paradox of revisions, never getting to the end.

What's engaging writing and what's not is also incredibly subjective. To wit:

"The splinter pierced Katy's butt" -- My first thought is, how stupid is this Katy person, that she's sitting on a splinter? Is this the sort of book that's going to keep telling me about somebody's butt? I wouldn't necessarily stop reading at this point, but those first five words have created a resistance in my mind that the rest of the story is going to have to work a lot harder to overcome. Yes, it's a strong response from the reader, but it's not a good one.

"Katy sat on the bench" leaves more room for possibilities. My first thought is, where is this bench? Bus stop? Outside the principal's office? Sports arena? Exercise room on a spaceship? I'll read on to find out. Yes, the rest of the that paragraph and the next one are going to have to do something with where that bench is and why Katy's on it, but presumably that's what they're there for. I'm willing to give them a chance to entertain me.

"The splinter pierced Katy's butt" is a shout in the face. "Katy sat on the bench" is an open door. As a reader, I don't like books that start by getting in my face and shouting at me. Some people do; that's why there's more than one kind of book in the world. But insisting that every book should start with a shout assumes that there's only one kind of reader in the world -- and demonstrably, there's not even only one kind of reader in this forum topic. ;)

Hillsy, sorry to hear you're feeling blocked. Hope it breaks soon.

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Re: What's Up with Form Rejection?

Post by polymath » August 30th, 2013, 12:40 pm

Critiquers, editors, and readers will find fault as much if not more than a writer. Writing growth develops from effort. Time and effort spent seeking out parts and parcels that don't work builds skills, until stronger and clearer writing becomes second nature. Taking the time and making the effort pays off.

I find much fault with "A splinter pierced Katy's butt." However, the only point I intend by that example is to recommend considering which subject is strongest. Katy? Her butt? Or the splinter? Writing choices are many. Which choice will readers find most appealing? That's a choice question I believe writers should ask about every word, sentence, paragraph, scene, etc.
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Re: What's Up with Form Rejection?

Post by LizV » August 30th, 2013, 3:49 pm

I'm still with Hillsy: That way lies madness, or at least paralysis. Make it good, sure; make sure none of it actively sucks. If it's not good enough, make it better. But analyzing and agonizing over Every. Single. Word. isn't going to make a perfect book (not that there is such a thing, anyway); it's going to make a glossily-polished half-a-corpse and a neurotic heap of an ex-writer.

There may be writers who work that way. I sure don't, and neither, as far as I can tell from interviews and conversations, do any of the published, successful writers whose work I admire.

I will agree, there's probably a better opening sentence than either "Katy sat on the bench" or "The splinter pierced Katy's butt". What it is would likely depend on where this hypothetical manuscript means to go next.

(Hmm. "Katy sat on the bench. It was a hard, backless bench, a little too high, a little too wide -- deliberately designed, she was sure, to make the penitent as uncomfortable as possible before her interview. The interview that would decide her fate, not that she wasn't pretty much doomed already." Not the best opening ever, I grant you, but strong enough that I felt compelled to write it down, at least.

Now I'm curious: What would your version be?)

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Re: What's Up with Form Rejection?

Post by polymath » August 30th, 2013, 6:16 pm

I think an area where our dissents lies is in how much deliberate effort any given writer makes to polish writing. I've studied many published writers: their lives, their processes, their stated methods. One thing I've found is their claims do not always match up with their realities. They make more effort than they say. After decades of learning and practicing, some of their processes are autonomous, second nature, instinctive. However, their reality is they struggle.

A first or tenth draft may be rejected after exhaustive revision. Maybe the prose is lackluster. Maybe the craft is exceptional but the voice is emotionless. Maybe the voice sparkles but the subjects are irrelevant or redundant, untimely, uninteresting.

I've also learned that any writing can be spiced up, given determination, an open mind, and an appreciable understanding of the tenets of creative writing. I have written lackluster craft, voice, etc., narratives. I was stuck there interminably. Now I know what I was doing poorly. My prose sings now from deliberate efforts. Not polish in the sense of mechanical style, but knowing the voices of my characters and narrators, their setings, their complications wanting satisfaction, the points of the narratives, the sentiments and sensibilities of my audiences. Minor adjustments anymore bring my portraits to life, larger than life glimpses into the unique lives of my characters. Tel est la vie d'escritur. Such is the life of writing.

I've found that many writers who publish think they've made it into prime time, only to find that no one wants the next project and the next, ad infintum. Decades later, they're wondering what went wrong. Donald Maass speaks to this in writing advices on his literary agency's website. The struggle doesn't end with a one-hit wonder. Staying ahead of an audience means constant vigilance.

In isolation lies madness, or creativity that reintergrates fractured identity and repairs damaged social connections. This is writing.
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Re: What's Up with Form Rejection?

Post by LizV » August 30th, 2013, 9:36 pm

Polymath, I'll choose to ignore the part of that that implies any author who supports my argument is either lying, self-deluded, or not actually successful.

I think an area where our dissent really lies is that your method works for you, and my method works for me. The same method does not work for every writer. If someone's having trouble, and they think your method might help, by all means they should try it. But if it doesn't suit them, or they give it an honest, sustained try and it doesn't help, they shouldn't feel locked into it, like it is The One True Way. There is no One True Way; there is only what works for that individual writer. Anything else is tools in the toolbox; insisting that everybody must write this one particular way is like trying to cut string, turn screws, drive nails, and clear blocked plumbing, all with a utility knife.

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Re: What's Up with Form Rejection?

Post by polymath » August 30th, 2013, 10:21 pm

Lying and self-delusion are strong words. If anything, I mean downplaying the writing struggle.

Same with methods. I mean if a method doesn't produce desired results after giving it an ample trial, consider adding on or doing something else. I suggested several avenues for further exploration.
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Re: What's Up with Form Rejection?

Post by bcomet » September 15th, 2013, 1:31 am

"It was the best of..." would never say it for me. Maybe, sometimes you can get a whole novel from the first line. But sometimes, many times, there is a build up. For what it's worth, I looked at the first five words in the beginning of this thread:

"You've poured your soul"

Then I even looked at the first five words in each paragraph of that first comment:
You've poured your soul

Answers are simple; solutions complex.

Second, the expression or voice

Third, every one of the

Solution: Take a long journey

When I evaluate a manuscript,

Take this common, everyday opening

First, the sentence is a

Third, "Katy sat" is not

Instead, who is Katy? When

If the first five words

Then how about five words

The splinter pierced Katy's butt . . .

I care right away about

But I'd want fairly

Audience appeal is a whole
Does that really amount to a thesis?

Perhaps it does. Perhaps it doesn't give it a chance.

I recently watched someone look at the first few pages of a piece and give up. It was a really depressing experience to watch a so-self-proclaimed "supportive contributor" to others' writing do that. Like they didn't even try.

Maybe it was the writing. But a GREAT developmental editor (or supportive writing group member for that matter) reads the whole thing to see where the holes are and trouble shoots how to help something become more of a whole and refuses to look at just the parts.

And, a LOT of the time, the "parts" don't make sense outside of the whole.

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Re: What's Up with Form Rejection?

Post by polymath » September 16th, 2013, 11:18 pm

Developmental editing and screening practices are two different processes. Developmental editing does indeed work on development of a work. Screening looks glancingly only in so far as a work speaks to a screener in very short order, sometimes as few as five words. Most screeners claim they will give a work an average of a couple hundred words unless something sooner screams No. Inundated with unsolicited mansucripts, screeners look for the earliest reasons to say no. The task goes down much faster when every word isn't read. The publication or house probably only has resources and real estate for a limited number of and outstanding unsolicited work. Screeners jobs are to screen for that rare one or two that might make it into a publication in a given year or two and reject the rest.
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