Friday, September 28, 2007

Manuscripts That Disappoint

Great questions on my post on whether the publishing business is personal. You definitely know how to keep me writing.

Kris Fletcher, who always keeps me on my toes, asked which is harder to turn down, a book that I love but know isn’t marketable, or one that’s totally marketable but doesn’t sing for me. Until I wrote this post I wasn’t sure and thought it depended on the book; after finishing, though, I came up with my answer. . . .

This summer has been very, very busy for me. I’ve finally caught up on my submission reading (thanks in part to the interns) and read at least 10 full manuscript requests over the course of three months. Of those 10 I only offered on one. Some just really fell apart after the first few chapters, but two in particular stuck with me.

One was a mystery with a great hook and really fun characters. The writing was good, but not mind-blowing (which is fine). In the end, though, I had to pass since I didn’t think the mystery itself was strong enough. I was disappointed. I really feel that I could sell this book without much trouble at all, if she’s able to fix the mystery.

The second was a historical that was beautifully written. The characters were so well drawn you believed in them, the plot was interesting, and the writing, again, amazing. In the end, though, I wasn’t sure what the book was. The characters had some real flaws, things that made some of them too unlikable (characters you should have liked) and the plot never took off for me. Throughout most of the book I was left waiting for something to happen. And in the end I’m not sure where this book would have sold or who the audience would have been.

Which was the greater disappointment? The historical. I think that you can learn to plot and create characters, but voice is something that comes from within. I’m not convinced you can learn to become a beautiful writer. How do I say this? I think that beautiful people are born. We can all learn to make ourselves look really attractive, but true beauty is something you’re born with. Beauty, therefore, is a rare commodity, and when you read something that’s really written beautifully you want nothing more than the rest of the book to flow. When it doesn’t you’re naturally disappointed.

In both cases I finished the entire manuscript, even though I knew halfway through that it wasn’t going to work out, and in both cases I wrote letters explaining my decision to pass and giving suggestions on what I thought could be done to correct them. And of course I invited both authors to resubmit.

Now I’m going to turn this around to you. Which is harder to read, a book that’s amazingly written but weak on plot, or a book that has an amazing plot but the writing is weak?