Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Bring Back The Basics

Of late, I have seen an increase in submissions that demonstrate to me a need for some change. More and more, I am seeing submission packages that show hastily written stories, synopsis writing that shows little or no effort, and query letters that resemble text messages sent by my teenage kids. Please note, it has not been all of the submissions, but certainly a high majority of these projects show me that we need to go back to the basics.

I do wonder if our over-emphasis of the publishing side of this business has caused us to forget to learn how to actually create the documents we are publishing. In other words, blogs, journal articles, writing organizations, workshops and conferences seem to be focusing so much on how to get those books out to the public, or how to "do it yourself" that we are missing the key ingredient. Do we know how to write a story?

What am I seeing?

  • Novels the length of 3 single title books, or on the other end, novels that might only reach the level of a novella, and yet the authors seem to think this is a normal size
  • Query letters (both snail mail and e-query) that demonstrate nothing of basic business letter format or content.
  • Stories lacking basic elements such as theme.
  • Stories that don't seem to have a command of those basic elements such as the balance between dialogue and narration. 
  • Grammar and spelling issues beyond imaginable
  • Plots and story ideas that would never sell to the general market. 
  • Authors who don't even know what genre they are writing.
  • etc.
The issue is not so much that these authors cannot write. I am a firm believer there are a lot of great authors out there, IF they would just take the time to learn the basics.

I have to say, I am very proud of my authors here at Greyhaus. They all take the time to continually go back and learn new things about their writing and what to do to improve. They work to master some of the new techniques with the writing craft. Yes, they do also find new ways to get market, but they also focus on those basics.

I understand the argument many organizations make as to why they are not pushing the basics and focusing on the other side of the business. They claim, "But this is what the people are asking for." Why are they asking for it? Because there is an underlying message being sent that publishing is all about the marketing and the platform and not the writing. Yes, I get that this is circular. Presenters talk about it, writers ask more questions, therefore there are more presenters talking about the same thing.

But, cycles can be broken.

I am not calling for ignoring education on how to market books. What I am calling for is the increase of some of those basic skills. I do believe, if we can start writing those great books we grew up with again, we might bring in a few more readers, and find more success for our writers.


  1. As always, a good, thought-provoking post.

  2. Love this. While I am guilty of asking for more information on marketing, platforms, and etc., I do recognize the importance of having a story to tell and knowing how to tell it. I've always been a student of writing and I make it a point to return to the basics often. I've seen and am sad to note the general decline in others who do the same.

  3. Hopefully, the chapters of RWA still offer classes if the organization no longer does.

    Also, newer writers can find excellent writing courses online like at Savvy writers.

    And, then, there are the tried and true writing blogs.

  4. I've noticed there's a subset of writers who are deficient in their knowledge of the basics and it shows in the quality of edits I'm asked to do and sometimes makes it difficult. For instance, I'll ask for a synopsis and I'll get back a vague twitter pitch. I wonder if they've ever googled 'synopsis' before. I'll admit that I've passed on a couple of projects solely because I think working with someone who can't bother to learn publishing 101 wouldn't be pleasant for me. Thank goodness I'm freelance and can pick and choose. I realize we've all got to start at the beginning but there's a difference between ignorance of a certain rule or two and just flat out ignoring all the rules because you can't be bothered to take the time to investigate and learn.

    Sometimes it's communication that's cold, rude, and entitled. Whatever happened to the good old fashioned business letter? There's got to be a happy medium somewhere between progressive text and warmth of communication, we've just gotta find it :)