While reading a thread over on AbsoluteWrite about the old adage: “You should pitch your book as a standalone-with-series-potential” I finally made the connection to a trend a lot of dating blogs talk about: trying to game the system. Pick-Up Artists spend a great deal of time marketing–and I assume selling, or they would get a new gig–tips and tricks and even full-fledged systems for getting laid.
There’s all sorts of different people peddling different ideas, but the major idea of PUA is that women are gate-keepers (usually for sex), and that there are sure-fire ways to trick/convince them to unlock those gates. If you aren’t getting laid, you just need to get more game, and the PUA masters can sell it to you for ten easy payments of $9.99. These systems occasionally include good information hidden in the dross, but their main suggestion is that you need to lie, cheat, and trick women into liking you, and there are scientific reasons why and for how to do it. In fact, you can even convince someone who doesn’t want anything to do with you that what they actually want is nothing else but you. Hopefully you agree that that’s total bullshit, and dis-respectful at best, possible rapey at worst.
And after reading some of the response to that thread on AW, I’ve come to realize that a lot of publishing advice tends in this same direction, although it tries much harder to present itself as education and understanding of what publishers want than PUA tries to pretend it cares about women’s feelings. Obviously gaming publishers into giving you a contract is morally incomparable to the sorts of rape-tastic, misogynistic, creepy bullshit that is most PUA, but while the degree differs greatly, the pattern of thinking is remarkably similar:
If you just do the right things, say the rights things, have the right timing,
women publishers will give you a blowjob contract, and the reason you’ve failed so far is because you just haven’t learned the rules. Even if you’re ugly/poor/an asshole your book has some issues, you can greatly improve your chances to get laid be published, if you just learn these ten simple tricks/pick-up linesbody language cues query rules/grammar tips/plot structures.
But that’s not really how
dating writing works. These ideas teach you to lie to women compromise your story on the basis of a few trends or anecdotes coming from a small group of people, many of whom don’t really have the knowledge or experience to back up their claims.
The issue that inspired this post was about querying series vs. standalones. And how you should pitch a standalone-with-series-potential, even if you wrote the book you’re pitching as a pure series/pure standalone, and some fairly significant changes would have to be made to fit this “rule” of querying/publisher’s desires. Otherwise you’re committing serious publishing faux pas. And this is just one example from a long list of writing and publishing truisms, such as “show, don’t tell” that don’t reflect the reality that much. There’s a whole mythology behind this type of thinking, and it’s being perpetuated even more now that the writing community is so interconnected and interactive. Someone, no matter what their platform, spouts off about these rules, and the people who hear them take it as gospel and repeat it to everyone they know. I’m not saying anyone is doing anything intentionally malicious here. The fact that 99.99% of this interaction is in good faith makes it all the more insidious and damaging.
I have a problem with this type of thinking for a few reasons:
A) A lot of it is just plain untrue, or misunderstood from legitimate/contextually specific suggestions and advice.
B) Not every situation is the same, nor do all agents/editors/authors/readers agree on every little detail.
C) It perpetuates an idea that the rules are what get you published, explain why bad books get published/accounts for why your literary masterpiece is still seeking representation after five years and forty rounds of increasingly desperate querying.
Much like the great majority of PUA philosophy, it takes the responsibility off the shoulders of the
AverageFrustratedChump author, places the authority in the hands of a few misogynist assholes merely lucky/misguided/well-meaning-but-misinformed authors/agents/editors.
That’s not to say that these people are lying, or stupid. Just that success doesn’t necessarily equate to understanding of that success. Eeveryone’s experience in
dating writing/publishing is different, and you can’t apply every little thing to every single person. Sometimes you just have to admit you’re boring/an asshole/have bad timing aren’t quite ready for publication/this book will never be published.
I wish I had some answers. Some way to remove this fog of misinformation. A sure-fire route to publishing success. But just like everyone else, the process is always going to be just a bit beyond my full understanding, and I’ll have to take some risks, indulge in some trial and error, and eventually work my way there by hard fucking work or a bit of lucky coincidence, just like everyone else.