Reeeeeeeally interesting interview with Benjamin LeRoy, founder of Bleak House Books, a US publisher of crime and dark literary fiction. Not only does Mr LeRoy talk about books in a way that makes you think he really loves them, he offers a no-holds-barred analysis of what he expects from an author. For example:
As soon as I see awkward prose on page one, I reject a book. You wouldn’t trust a clumsy surgeon with a scalpel. I don’t trust authors who aren’t in complete control of their environment. Sloppy work is sloppy work. Doesn’t matter the profession, I don’t want it.
When I read this, I thought, wow, he’s a hardass. But with the glut of badly-written fiction around, and believe me, there is so much out there, isn’t it refreshing to know there’s someone out there not publishing any old trash? And when I thought about it some more, I wondered why on earth a writer would expect to send ‘sloppy work’ to a publisher and expect to get anywhere with it.
If you’re thinking, but writing can be edited, right? I think you need to step back and ask yourself exactly what you’re doing. If you’re sending your stuff out there with the expectation that it’ll be polished up by someone else, think again. Never, ever send out a manuscript you haven’t pored over with a fine tooth comb. You might as well send out your first draft. (And please tell me you haven’t been doing that. NEVER submit a first draft anywhere. First drafts are always awful.)
How do you tell the difference? How do you know if your work is ‘sloppy’ and ‘awkward’? Compare and contrast. Read read READ! Read authors you admire, authors other poeple admire. Try to pick apart what’s so good about their writing, but it’s amazing how much you’ll pick up by osmosis. And, worst case scenario, take a refresher course in grammar and punctuation, to make sure your comma usage and sentece structures are being all they can be.
You see, writing is a job. It’s something you have to work at. To excel at it, like in any other job, you have to commit to it, and take professional development courses, and study what’s going on in your field. Sure, it pays a hell of a lot less, and you’ll probably have to work hard, but that’s what it takes.