Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Good Example That's Bad

I received an email from an old Bouchercon writer friend the other day. When I wrote back I asked her if she’d been writing as I hadn’t seen anything by her for a long time and I always thought she was very good.  This was her answer.

   I've been writing all along, but I haven't been published since 1995 (a non-fiction book) and  I haven't published any novels since 1992. Not that I wasn't writing them--no one was buying. I was at (name of pub. house) and then one day in 1993 my editor left to go to (name of pub house) swearing that I'd be in very good hands with my next editor. I never heard from him, and after five months I found out that he had just taken a job with (name of magazine) by reading one of the trade papers. The novel I was under contract for just disappeared into the void. And anything I wrote after that (about seven novels, I forget how much non-fiction) got a cold shoulder. I think my favorite rejection was "this book is too well-written to be commercially viable."  It's been pretty hard for me emotionally and psychologically--I was/am one of those people for whom writing was/is the be-all and end-all.

   The agent I had long ago retired from the business, and anyone I've contacted since has been willing to consider me as a client, but with one big codicil. I swear, every single one of them has said to me, "Write me the new Da Vinci Code!"  In the first place, I wouldn't know how to go about writing something like that, and in the second place, I can't write that badly. It's a knack, you know.
This breaks my heart.  Not just for her.  I know there are lots of good writers that were making it in the 80’s and the early 90’s who haven’t published a thing for years.  And I’m sure the reasons are exactly like the ones in the email above.
There was a period within that time frame when too many people were being published.  That may sound odd, but I believe it’s true.  This is what publishers do.  They get on to a good thing and then they do it to death.  I think it’s the same in all the arts. 
A lot of mystery writers who weren’t good got published during that second Golden Age. Some were unreadable.  Some were terrific and made it big.  They are, of course, still being published.  And some were good, very good, and there’s no room for them now.
I don’t know how many keep on writing.  I suspect the real writers do.  I hope so.  One day it may all turn around again. 
I do pray that The Da Vinci Code clones will disappear.  They aren’t real writers.  In my opinion they’re opportunists.  I don’t know what to call the agents who want/expect writers to imitate Dan Brown.  Maybe stupid is the word.


Bill Peschel said...

I wonder if your writer is on this list?

Sandra Scoppettone said...

Nope. But I'm glad to see Lyons and Valin on the list because I've been wondering what happened to them,

Kay Sexton said...

This is really awful, and we hear it in the UK as well. It's an indictment of a creative industry that seems to have ceased to be non-creative and just to churn out a tide of similar repetitious work.

westvillageidiot said...

Some publishers do take calculated risks . . . Donna Leon & Fred Vargas are finally being published here in the U.S.

Sandra Scoppettone said...

I don't think publishing either of those authors is a risk. In the mystery field they are well known. Leon has published about 14 novels in English and has won the Silver Dagger. Vargas has 12 books to her credit and is published in 22 countries. We're coming to the party a little late don't you think?

westvillageidiot said...

Coming to the party a little late -- yes AND no. Neither author has earned back her respective advances from previous English-language publishers, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

A sad state of affairs and it seems to be across most genres.

Bill Crider said...

I hear too many stories like that one. Breaks your heart.