That’s all I should have to say for you to understand that what I am about to write may not be the most beautiful or moving piece of literature you have ever read. It will not bring tears to your eyes.
It is more like a rant. No, not a rant because I do not think it is particularly vicious. Nor may it be entirely true, though I think my observations based on what I see in bookstores are accurate. It is, most importantly, my own personal opinion.
And seeing how this is my blog I can say whatever I want.
I have read time and time again in books on writing (which I should stop buying) and writer’s magazines (which I should really stop reading) that the market wants something fresh. The publishing industry is a plethora of gatekeepers, all the way from the meticulously designed (and I mean that, designed) query letters to every individual agent down to the manuscript that had better look as though God himself wrote it if you want to get it published. I’m here to relieve all other aspiring writers of the worry of having a perfect manuscript, and no, I have yet to be published, but this comes from the fantastic source of things I find in bookstores right now:
The big secret?
You do not have to be a good writer to get published. Actually, you don’t really have to have a good story, or plot, which I see as two different things. Nor do you have to have any memorable characters. You simply must have something that people will latch onto for a while, spend money on, and then forget.
Now before I go any farther I want to take a moment to clarify that I am not a very good writer. In fact, it can be said I am a horrible writer. My characters are still flat and forgettable, my stories mirror that of other, much better, works without my realization and my prose is dull. BUT, I feel that if I come to realize my faults and work on avoiding the faults of a majority of books on shelves now days are doing, I can write something worthwhile.
Merging back into rant: I urge you to walk into a bookstore. This will only really work with the major chains like Borders, Barnes and Noble and the like because they carry the most recent literary market. I urge you to walk in. Meander around a bit. Get a good feel for the different sections. Old timey photographic colors for the history sections; over exaggerated, spastic images for the comics, and a sense of calm when you see the gardening and yoga section (I swear I was just passing by that one…)
Then walk over to the young adult section. What feeling strikes you? Somberness? Sadness? Me too. It’s as if a gothic painter came into each and every major bookstore and spilled black and dark purple paint onto the spines of the YA book section.
Paranormal romance, supernatural romance, romance romance. These are the hues of a market which has dominated since Twilight. Honestly, I never paid much attention to the publishing market or to the YA bookshelf until I really started writing almost five years ago, but I still don’t think the bookshelves were this drab back then.
Just tonight I went to my local bookstore and hung out with the rest of the bored college kids. Here in Stephenville, TX, the three main attractions are the Cinema 6 (Yay! They’re showing more than two movies!), Hastings: Books, Movies and Games (Yay! That’ll kill an hour!) and Wal-Mart (Yay! Don’t go there after 2 am if you don’t want to be scarred for life!).
Anyway, I picked up many of these books. Remember, the ones that are supposed to have unforgettable characters? The grab-you-and-never-let-go stories? The fresh voices?
Honestly, I could not tell a difference from one character speaking to the next. The same goes for the story/plots. Here’s a decent summary of how MOST of the books I picked up read like:
Melanie Imgeneric has never felt like she fit in. How can she with the strange voices haunting her at night, and the even stranger visions following her during the day? But all of that changes when she receives an (invitation, letter, guide, hot guy) who says she is a (witch, ghost hunter, vampire, insert any other paranormal or psychic-like person here). Now Melanie has entered a world more amazing and perilous than she could have ever imagined. Torn between two sixteen year old guys with seducing skills that would put James Bond to shame, Melanie must figure out what the danger is, and what her heart wants.
You get the idea, though I have to say this covers a little over fifty percent of the books on the shelf I was looking on.
Where’s the uniqueness between them, you ask? I don’t know. I couldn’t find it myself. Between the “I’m such an OUTCAST with unexplainable powers! Nobody understands me!” characters and sixteen year old Casa Nova boys described so handsomely they may as well be angels (and in some cases, are) there wasn’t really anything that stood out to me. And yet apparently that’s what publishers want.
What happened to the unforgettable stories? What happened to the books that made us love the main characters and legitimately dread turning the next page because the villain could do something monstrously horrible? There have been some great YA books over the last ten years or so, and of course before that. Harry Potter, Hunger Games, The Golden Compass, The Fault in Our Stars, Percy Jackson and many others.
And of course I am painting with a VERY wide brush stroke when I lump all YA books into this rut so many have fallen into. I don’t feel as though every book now a days is like this.
And I understand the books that stood out did so for a reason: the ideas were fantastic and the writing was even better. It was the marriage of two great things and the outcome was great. I understand there really are no original ideas anymore, but surely we can be trying harder.
Let’s make stories with heart, ones that make us love and sympathize with main characters, plots that keep us on our toes, stories that stay with us and echo a message. Or not; your story doesn’t have to have a message or theme to be a plain old good story.
Let’s get out of this rut.
Now…saying all that I have to, of course, admit that my own stories often threaten to fall into the very thing I claimed I disliked for the last three pages. No, I am not writing paranormal or romantic anything, but I do fear and watch very carefully so that my current book does not fall into the same rut with the same things the others do. I am really taking my time on this one. I want characters I can love, and characters I can hate; I want a story that feels fresh even if it’s already been done a million times and I want writing that let’s readers know the storyteller is in control.
I hope you all want the same thing.