Since I specialize in memoir/biography, I get a TON of queries from writers whose lives run the whole spectrum of fascinating to humdrum yawn-ville. The yawn-villes are easy to weed out. But the fascinating ones can drive me to drink when the stories are fabulous, but the writing is abysmal. Quelle frustrating.
A great story isn’t enough. And yet I fear many writers think the exact opposite and believe they can pretty much screw it up and it’ll still sell because…well…it’s a great story. For an editor, it’s like sitting on an electric fence. I have to weigh the benefits of burning my bum against gazing at a fabulous view. The ultimate outcome may be that the view wasn’t worth a burnt bum because the fog rolled in and I ended up not being able to see anything.
The metaphor I’m going for is that the fog is the writing quality. I may sign a new author whose writing skills aren’t up to par in hopes that the story will outshine the negatives. I’ll also pray that the author is able to do the rewrites to my satisfaction.
But who am I kidding? It hardly ever works out that way. If the manuscript is that abysmal in the first place, then what makes me believe it’ll improve during rewrites? The only way that’ll happen is if I have a very heavy hand in those rewrites. And I just don’t have that kind of time or interest to teach someone how to write. At some point, I have to say no.
The Breaking Point
Ok, that said, I am a story whore and there is a point at which I’ll decide that the view is definitely worth a very singed-to-cinders backside. But it has to be so huge that every cell in my body is twitching and pinging. Most don’t come near my breaking point, and it’s relatively easy to walk away.
Aim for success
So what do you do to avoid this? Well, learning how to write is a grand start. Just know there are very few natural writers, so you need to learn the elements to good writing. That means understanding the rules of writing (so you can become adept at breaking them in the future). It means appreciating the nuances of voice, pacing, flow, development, fluff, backstory, how to effectively use a prologue – and deciding if you even need one. And yes, Gertrude, this takes time. Lots of it.
Or consider a ghostwriter. I talk to many folks who are in hurry and don’t care so much about the writing aspects as they are with getting their story out. Why struggle with what you don’t know? There are very good ghostwriters who can do this for you. ‘Course, if you’re in that category, chances are very strong that you’re not reading this blog.
Always keep at the forefront that a great story isn’t enough. After all, if you can’t effectively communicate it, then what’s it worth?