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Monday, August 26, 2013

Writers' Etiquette: Lesson One

Dear Miss Rosie:
As an author of still unpublished literary works, I am appalled by the number of inferior books that are published and consumed by mass audiences. I would love to publish a long, angry blog post decrying the taste of contemporary readers and wondering aloud how a talent such as mine is unappreciated. May I?

Dear Not So Gentle Reader:

Only if you have a publishing Death Wish, my friend. While you are neither alone in your feelings nor in your observations about the reading market, they do not become you. And you are sadly misguided if you think to bolster your own work by denigrating the work of others. Particularly in a Public Forum.

But let us look more closely at your complaint. You see yourself as a Serious Writer, a person of Literary Tastes whose work is sadly hidden from public view. You look at other writers, perhaps those who work in Genre Fiction. You watch their works climb the venerated lists of the New York Times and you sniff and harrumph about the silliness of glittery vampires and rakish dukes and magical cats. Yet those same vampires, dukes, and cats are making their creators pots and pots of money, and that sticks in your craw like a bone from last night’s halibut.

For an example, let us consider Miss E.L. James. Miss James had an idea for a story that resonated with millions of women (and more than a few men). Miss James has sold millions of books and earned millions of dollars. And while this story is not to everyone’s taste, Miss James found Her Audience. Now, while Miss Rosie has her own opinions about Miss James’ stories, she keeps them to herself. And when Unscrupulous Gossips attempt to draw her into an E. L. James snark fest, she merely smiles and says, "But I so admire what she's achieved." Which, by the way, is quite true.

For if Miss Rosie were to mock Miss James, or turn up her splendid Sicilian nose at her books, what would it gain her? Would she garner more readers for her own Modest Efforts? Would she be any closer to the Venerated List? Would she see even one copper penny of Miss James’ prodigious pile of money?

She would not. She would instead be perceived as a writer of Resentful Temperament, one with whom agents, editors, and publishers would be loath to work, and one for whom other writers would hesitate to provide those lovely words of advance praise that decorate her covers.  (Miss Rosie bears in mind the lesson of another writer named James—Mr. Henry, who grumbled publicly about the fact that Miss Edith Wharton’s “popular fiction” earned much more money than his Ponderous Tomes. Mr. James, a writer of Serious Fiction, failed to see that his work, while brilliant, was not nearly as readable as dear Miss Wharton’s.)

So instead of feeling yourself ill-used and shouting it to the rafters, Miss Rosie suggests more productive pursuits. Read widely. Accept praise modestly. Be gracious about others’ success. Write the best book you are able, and perhaps you, too, will one day find Your Audience.

In the meantime, Not So Gentle Reader, behave yourself. Or Miss Rosie will find you.

A Jersey girl born and bred, Rosie Genova left her heart at the shore, which serves as the setting for much of her work. Her new series, the Italian Kitchen Mysteries, is informed by her deep appreciation for good food, her pride in her heritage, and her love of classic mysteries, from Nancy Drew to Miss Marple. Her debut novel, Murder and Marinara, will be released October 1. An English teacher by day and novelist by night, Rosie also writes women’s fiction as Rosemary DiBattista. She lives fifty miles from the nearest ocean  in central New Jersey, with her husband, two of her three sons, and an ill-behaved fox terrier.


Ash Krafton | @ashkrafton said...

Great advice, Rosie...and with enough humor to brighten this Monday morning! Loved all the capitalized Very Proper Names...


Rosie said...

Yes, Miss Rosie has an Unfortunate Propensity for upper case letters, perhaps due to the influence of the letters of Miss Jane Austen.

Angela Brown said...

Very good post.

I've found myself having to understand my opinions are my opinions but that the market can speak volumes for itself, as it did in the case of sparkly vampires and shades made of grey :-)

Angela Brown said...

Very good post.

I've found myself having to understand my opinions are my opinions but that the market can speak volumes for itself, as it did in the case of sparkly vampires and shades made of grey :-)

Rosie said...

Quite true, Angela. Miss Rosie has learned the hard way that the market is an Unpredictable Beast whose appetite runs to all manner of works. ("Speaks volumes" indeed! Well done.)

Mirka Breen said...

"Be gracious about others’ success."
Absolutely, sister.

But beware of never ever having the slightest whiff of a critical thought in your public utterings, also. This hurts credibility in unexpected but understandable ways.

Think generously. That's one guidepost that works for me.

Unknown said...

I agree with thinking generously. Otherwise a snark might slip out or a tone of voice belie the words. Thank you, Miss Rosie, for this timely reminder to play nice!

Rosie said...

Mirka, you are so right. Miss Rosie agrees that in a public forum the behavior of writers must be above reproach. No matter how difficult that may be at times.

Jan, a sharp observation regarding Tone of Voice. Just think of what our dear mothers were able to convey with it!