[This is an actual email I’m sending to another writer today. I’m removing their name, of course, to respect their privacy — all you really need to know is they have sold a shit ton more books than me in the same genre, and I’m a moron for not listening to them.]
Good afternoon, XXXXX.
I’ve been intermittently agonizing over this email. You gave me some excellent advice and feedback on my novel The Riddle Box and went out of your way to assist me. Now I’m trying to come up with the best way to tell you I’m ignoring your advice even though I agree with it.
Of course, I just told you. But there are provisos and navel-inspections below. You are successful and busy, so if you don’t want to clog the mind-works, please stop reading here with my compliments, my thanks, and my undying respect.
Will it help if we imagine a more appropriate setting? Perhaps if we were sitting in leather chairs in front of a roaring fire as we sip tea? No, too patriarchal – how about at a deli counter in New York, enjoying bagels and coffee, trading different sections of the Sunday Newspaper. [Apparently this is set in 1987.] The jukebox is playing Elton John and the morning sun is slanting across the white tile and the rye bread.
First, your advice is completely correct. To make the book more marketable, to make it an easier access point for the reader, I should make the revisions that you suggested. I should forego the ‘joke’ , the ‘TV open’ and begin with the main characters. Asking the reader to slog through the prince’s monologue before the reveal, before the first murder, before even grounding the reader in a firm setting is stupid. Any editor worth their salt would tell me the same and be just as right. It demands patience from the audience — a fool’s gambit in any piece of writing — nowadays more so as there is so much media jousting for every bit of mental bandwidth we humans can muster. Not making these revisions is harming my chances of success in a quantifiable and significant way.
I take a bite of my bagel. Just to blunt the tension.
Second, I want you to know that I attempted to make the revision. I pulled that whole chapter apart, wrote a couple thousand words restructuring it, putting my main characters front and center. I got to write some new jokes, it even fixed some confusion in later chapters when I had to time-hop a bit to describe their arrival at the Manor. It was a good revision, it worked. And I hated it. I hated working on it, I hated making the changes. I hated you for being right, in a perfectly urbane, respectful way.
It’s just then that I realize I don’t have my wallet with me. I’m being rude to you professionally and I’m going to have to get you to spot me for lunch. I brush the crumbs off my chest in despair.
These kinds of revisions are a reality. They are necessary and good. If I want any chance of success in traditional publishing or even in the Wild West of self publishing, I need to get used to it. I need to accept it.
Now cue the Special Snowflake Defense. But my vision — but my art – but my blah blah blah. I know it’s crap. You will never meet a greater cynic than I, not in any imaginary diner in the world.
Ah, but still. But still. From the Cavern of Idiocy it arises. Of course I’m different and special.
I have to be the writer I am. If I stop listening to my Muse, then there’s really not much point to this whole enterprise. At this point my success is not renown or anything remotely financial. My success is my mistakes, my success is the stupid, weird, wrong-thing I wrote that would never exist anywhere else, under any other auspice. What I like is writing my weird story. What I don’t like is chasing an incorporeal finish line.
Maybe it comes down to this: If I’m chasing money and success I’m clearly losing. If I’m chasing weird art I’m always winning. And just about the only true fringe benefit of self-publishing is I can make the mistakes I want as often as I want.
You are folding up the Comics section in a most displeased manner. I consider going to the bathroom and jumping out the window.
So, there it is. You are an exceptional human and you’ve done me a solid. And I’m going to ignore it and be stupid. I make no claims that I’m doing it for the right reasons, or that one day people will compare my oeuvre with the Grand Masters who began their novels with history lessons, minor character slaughter, or songs.
Thank you so much for taking the time to help. You have led me way up into the water and even passed me a straw.
And can you cover my bagel?
With completely unfeigned sincerity,
G. Derek Adams