“The writer who can’t look into another person’s heart, and find some kinship with it…” might as well go on to Congress. Or join the nooze media.
So what does it take to write believable fantasy?
Writing Believable Fantasy
I only get to see books that are actually published; and a lot of those are bad enough to dry up a good-sized pond. After many years of studying the matter, I don’t know why that should be. Unless it’s simply that so very few people can actually write a good novel, the supply can never catch up to the demand and a lot of pfud gets published because they don’t have anything better.
Stephen King once bragged that he could get his laundry list published, if he wanted to–a singularly insensitive comment, given the heartache of so many struggling authors who can’t get published at all.
But the fact of the matter is that a lot of cow-flop does get published.
So How Do Bad Books Get Published?
This is fantastically frustrating to those who are still trying. We rack our brains over it: how does litter-ature like this wind up in print, and why in the world does anybody buy it?
Well, that’s what we’ve done to our culture, isn’t it?
Back in the 1990s, when the implosion of the paperback horror market stopped my career as a horror writer, I was desperate to get back aboard that sinking ship and decided I needed a literary agent. I’d had one years before, a famous agent in New York City, but he did nothing for me. I set out to find a new one.
I wound up with Perry J. Browne, who, with his wife, ran the Pema-Browne agency. He wasn’t able to resurrect my career, but at least he always had time to talk to me and I learned a lot from him: mostly about trends in the literary marketplace that were making him think it was about time he retired.
Perry’s chief source of discouragement was the changes in the marketplace, with editors being hired whose best asset was a willingness to work for peanuts, and corporate bean-counters replacing editorial directors whose only concern was to publish the best books they could find.
Remember Tony Hillerman, who wrote a series of Navajo police mysteries? These were highly successful. But Perry knew what Mr. Hillerman’s first editor had to say about these books: “They’d be pretty good if only he’d leave out all the Indian stuff.”
He also knew that my last editor at a certain New York publishing house had a habit of losing manuscripts and fumfering around with the ones he didn’t lose, sloppily “editing” them at the last possible moment–which made for some pretty sloppy books getting published that shouldn’t have been published at all. It was the sort of thing that made retirement seem increasingly attractive.
Perry, you couldn’t get my books published but I’ll never forget your patience, your gentle but necessary criticisms, your stories of the inner workings of the publishing world, and, most valuable, your friendship. You were of the old school–and that was a mighty fine school. I’m proud to have been one of your clients.