{write it slant}

Tell All The Truth

Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise;

As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.

~ Emily Dickinson

Rejection sucks. Even the smallest ones, from well-meaning friends who say, “Oh, I like your writing, but I hate science fiction, so I won’t bother reading yours if you publish any,” constitutes rejection-before-the-fact. When you’re rejected by an editor or a publisher, it’s some days enough to make you long to give up and go to bed with a book.

That sounds so good right now.

And yet, that’s sort of a turtle-response, retreat and withdrawal and the licking of wounds. There really are no wounds, not really. No one is rejecting my writing – actually, I get so many compliments about lovely turns of phrases and well-chosen words and such. It’s the saleability that’s at issue. “I don’t quite know what genre this is,” my agent usually says, and there’s that worry in his voice, which lets me know what my editor will say. “Oh, I like it, but I don’t think I can sell it.”

Which is… a conundrum. Am I working with people who have no vision? No. Am I working with people who know the market? Yes. Is the common denominator of this issue me? Again, yes. I am possibly more than a little out of sync with the world as it stands, and thus, I write things which probably will languish on the shelves, if the publishers take the chance on them. They don’t want to sign reams of midlist authors; editors are still looking for the next JK Rowling, the next Suzanne Collins.

And maybe I don’t know yet who the next “me” is meant to be.

I am feeling pretty rocky right now, true. But, I’m also trying to be clear-eyed. I never wanted to be a person who studied the market, who poked at it and tried to see what people wanted. I wanted to write what I wanted to write, and find the place where it fit. I remain convinced that there is a place… but, I am also wondering if I have been too stubborn for my own good. Maybe this is what we’re meant to do – to tell the truth, but tell it slant. To write to that market, but somehow, to keep hold of our own selves. I am in less doubt as to whether or not this can be done, and more doubt about whether *I* can do it.

Off to think and to reboot. Something good will come of this latest setback – it simply has to.

5 Replies to “{write it slant}”

  1. Not sure what more to say that hasn’t already been said. I have a lot of the same worries. Just the idea of balancing writing-as-work with writing-as-personal-creation is a difficult one to hold onto, though, like you, I feel that there must be a happy medium somewhere. (Sometimes I feel like fiction writers should form publishing collectives like the poets do…for mutual support if nothing else.)

    Oh, and hold on to that stubbornness. Sometimes it’s the ONLY thing enabling the writing to even continue.

  2. Tanita, I am glad that you are stubborn. I know it is scant comfort that many an author before you has heard variations on the theme of “I like it, but I don’t think I can sell it”– only that, when a book becomes successful despite those projections, the agents and editors that turned the book down get to experience the jeering of the masses. (Hindsight itself is a best-selling, mass-market paperback.) I trust that something good will emerge from this challenging spot. C.K. and Charlotte have wise words, too.

  3. As the poet said, “if winter comes, can spring be far behind?” Which I myself find both seasonally apt and hopeful. But I don’t see how giving up on any of your stubborn-ness would necessarily make you happier, especially if it didn’t work out…so I will hope that you can find a way to instinctivly write something very markatable that is also what your heart wants.

  4. I’m in the same place and it’s, um, challenging. The shrinking of the midlist is a terrible thing because there are so many wonderful books to be found there. I dread the thought of less variety. And I want to write the books I want to write, not the ones a publisher *guesses* will be smash hits. But I do want to spend a lot of time writing and financially it’s tough to have a hope of doing that without leaning into the mark. Sigh. Hang in there, Tanita. Here’s to good things around the corner!

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