Recently over on John Scalzi’s Whatever there has been much discussion about an unpublished writer’s bafflement over not getting published because, according to the guy, the publishing industry has become feminized and he is a manly man and they hate it. It’s silly and sad. First of all, assuming it’s true, then there’s this big hole in the publishing market for manly man books that the feminized publishers won’t publish. In America, big market holes are filled by people who want to make money. That there is no counter movement to create a masculinized publishing industry means either 1) the feminized publishing industry also somehow prevents everyone who wants to make money with manly books from doing so and they agree not to, which is a doubled conspiracy or 2) no such hole exists. I think the second explanation is much more likely, no?
Now let’s move on to this guy’s writing. For what it’s worth, look at the first five sentences (read the rest if you care/dare to):
1. First sentence. Presents a parallel construction of childhood/adulthood but the sentence structure is not parallel so it reads awkwardly.
2. Second sentence. Uses both “it” (singular) and “their” (plural) pronouns to refer to “gentry,” a singular noun. That’s simply bad grammar.
3. Third sentence. “Was given” should be “had been given.” Wrong tense. Bad grammar.
4. Fourth sentence. “To” follows “destined” only in the form of an infinitive (one is destined to “do something”). For a destination, the preposition should be “for.” Again bad grammar.
5. Fifth sentence. A doozy.
a) “New York City, Fifth Avenue penthouse” is not a correct location form in any manner. You can have a “Fifth Avenue penthouse in New York City,” “a New York City penthouse on Fifth Avenue,” or “a penthouse on Fifth Avenue in New York City.” I’ve never seen the construction this author uses and, even if it were a correct format, it would probably need a comma after “Avenue.” (anecdotal observation: I also cannot recall anyone I know who lives in New York call the place New York City. It’s always just New York.).
b) This long sentence uses the most passive verb available: “was”
c) Check out that last prepositional phrase “in the middle of the night.” Meaning, of course, the distance is different at other times of day. Neat trick.
And that’s just the first 5 sentences!
33 of the first 40 sentences of this chapter begin with the exact same word: “He.” It makes monotonous reading.
For no apparent reason, the main character is not identified by name for two pages (a classic novice error) and even then, only his nickname, as opposed to his rather long, three-name amalgam consisting of an Italian first and last name and a Spanish middle name. A little odd on its face for someone to have such a heavy-duty Italian name, yet grow up in East Harlem, which is also known as Spanish Harlem. Somehow I doubt the oddness will be addressed further in the novel.
I don’t mean to tear into this guy, but he also has a classic lack of understanding of why editors say the things they do to people who don’t write well. Calling something “too manly” or “not appealing to me” or “interesting, but not for us” are polite brush offs. They are observations that the rejected cannot argue against (“no, it’s womanly” or “yes, it does appeal to you” or “yes, it is for you” are not viable counter-arguments). Telling someone they lack simple grammar and observational skills invites argument because the rejected writer thinks that is a subjective observation against which they can argue. Editors are not paid to explain to poor writers exactly why they are poor writers. They get paid do a different job: find good writers. It has nothing to do with their genitals.
Publishing is a tough business. Too many bad writers think they are good writers, so the percentage of people that actually land a contract is actually quite small. If that’s not believable to you because you’ve read a badly written book, you would be amazed at how bad the rejected ones are. And those badly written novels are not an excuse for anyone to write badly.
If you are a writer and uniformly get rejected, don’t blame the industry. Take it as a challenge to write better. Join a writer’s group to get feedback from other writers. The mistakes you are making are probably not the exact same mistakes someone else is making, and others can point them out to you. Learn grammar. You don’t have to write with perfect grammar–but you do have to understand what good grammar is and why you decide not to use it. In the above examples, I’d bet the writer was completely unaware of the bad grammar because a writer uses incorrect grammar for effect. The grammar above does not add anything to the writing. Every writer–including published ones–that I know has a grammar book and reads it occasionally to check themselves. Bad writers always assume they know grammar and never check.
If there’s a conspiracy, it’s to find good writers.