Funny thing happened on the way to judging contests... a phrase I'd heard time and again from editors and agents finally, and I mean finally, clicked. I thought I understood. I was sure I understood. Until I was hired to read 88 books in a row. And judge them. And Find the real winner. Yikes, that's quite the responsibility when it involves other people's dreams and career paths.
|Great life concept. Great writing and career concept.|
If at first you don't succeed, do it the way your mother told you to.
It's not about putting an author in a box, the publishing world standards, writing skills are about value and comprehension for the reader. A lot of writers just don't know. They don't know there's an industry standard and need someone to tell them. Others have a little rebel streak and want to do it their way. Some get impatient and try to publish too soon, before their skills are solid. It's like a person with a talent for calming animals in veterinary school. That's not quite the person you want treating your pet if they don't yet have the knowledge on what medications to use or how to safely perform surgery. Every industry has critical skills before professional practice happens.
I've found a few books by authors who've written a story for their own child or family and not understood how to edit. That's an entirely different skill set from writing. But since their child or family member liked the story, they were sure the rest of the world would too. Lightbulb moment. Everyone's friends and family tend to like our stories. They love us and so they encourage us. It's all about the dynamics of relationship. Agents, editors, job interviewers all have to choose from the very best available. They're going to choose the applicant with the highest skill level and the ability to perform with excellence.
But my next lightbulb moment came about 22 books into the 88. A few books stood out from the crowd already. One had an amazing story that intrigued me, but was riddled with errors. I knew it wasn't marketable in its current form even though I loved the story concept. Another book I'd started, knew it was really good, and set it aside for a time when I could read undisturbed for a few hours. But I kept thinking about that book. I suddenly understood what agents and editors meant when they said, "I know when I see it. I can't forget the book." But I still have three more books to read before I know if that book is the book moving from entry level to finalist. Then it will go up against steeper competition. Will it hold its place?
This is like an editor loving a novel, taking it to pub board (where they decide the final choice from all the editors in a publishing company), and winning the ability to be published by a traditional publishing house. The book has to not only stand up against the competition, but it has to be unforgettable in the face of other amazing books.
Think about this as a job applicant. Want the job? Be unforgettable and excellent. Don't try fancy tricks like pink paper for your resumé. Just be the best educated, skilled, and experienced and then talk to the interviewer in an enthusiastic, courteous, and confident manner. Make them smile and believe you because you're transparent and authentic. Trust me, that stands out!
It's highly unlikely an author will get their book past an entry level round when they ignore industry standards, haven't spent the time learning the craft, or rebel because they don't want to "follow the rules". That shows a writer's immaturity. Those writers hear things like, "needs to develop the craft" or "true promise, learn to polish".
Creativity in any craft isn't about snubbing the rules. It's about learning them so you know how to utilize them to your best opportunity. Think about an architect. If he doesn't follow the basic rules on foundations, no matter how creative and beautiful his masterpiece is, I don't want to be in that building when it crashes down—and it has happened many times in recent years. It's the same in any industry, we must build the foundation properly or our dream crashes down on us.
Like Mom tried to teach us, foundational life skills and social manners, writing a book still needs to follow industry standards in formatting, grammar, and point of view. Yes, there are a few more that take a while to learn. If you want to succeed in your dream, find out how to meet the foundational standards of that industry. They're like the foundation your mom gave you: Chew with your mouth closed, say please and thank you, let others have a turn...you know the drill. Without them, we are viewed as unruly, untrained, and raw undeveloped talent.
If you don't succeed, let the lightbulb moment happen for you. Go back to find out if you've missed the basics. Fill in the holes. Polish your craft or skills. And do it the way Mom told you in the first place. Then you'll set yourself on the road to success.
How about you? Have you ever thought you understood something you heard and then later found a deeper meaning?