Shannon Stacey

Feeling, the Anti-meh

I was reading Angela Knight’s most recent blog entry, Putting Punch in Your Prose, and one line really stuck out for me. The first thing to keep in mind is: you’ve got to feel it first.

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? But Diana wrote a blog entry called Meh in which she included a statement made by HQN editor Abby Zidle on the Writing Romance board, which said, among other things:

One of the “side effects” of RWA’s very effective teaching tools is that I’m seeing more and more mss. that are technically correct, but just kind of “meh” when it comes to storytelling.

In the first column I wrote for Romancing the Blog, I said the following:

Your manuscript is perfectly crafted to suit, not only the guidelines for a publisher, but that specific editor’s likes and dislikes. And it’s going to land on her desk, along with dozens of other perfectly crafted and targeted manuscripts.

I think Meh-ness comes generally from a lack of feeling. The author doesn’t feel the story. So why does she write it?

One question that I’ve seen countless times, in the eHQ community and on different loops, and it never fails to make me grind my teeth runs along the lines of: I have a book that’s about 70k, has one non-graphic sex scene, and two secondary children. Could somebody who reads the H/S lines tell me which one I should send it to? Just a hint here, but each line is distinctly different, and you can’t tell a damn thing about them without reading at least a few. And if it could fit more than one line, it’s not distinctive enough to be published by any of them.

But anyway, (back awaaaay from the rant), going too far the other way is, in my opinion, a major factor of Meh-ness. A hypothetical situation, using myself as totally fictional example (I’ve never targetted Presents): Let’s say I’ve done my research and found out Presents is the best-selling of the lines. I’ve read every Presents published for the last five years. I’ve made pie charts and multi-colored graphs dissecting the number and location of love scenes and the ethnicity of the Alpha heroes. I’ve jotted down the reasons given in rejection letters written to my fellow aspiring writers and made sure they’re not issues in my own manuscript. I know which editor honeymooned in Greece and has always wanted to go back, and just might like my Greek tycoon. I also know she doesn’t smoke, and hates the smell of cigarette smoke on the manuscript pages she has to handle.

And so on and so forth. Everything you need to know is on the internet–on websites, in chats, loops, discussion boards. I believe that anybody capable of writing a romance for publication is capable of crafting a perfectly targetted romance. And if you write it because that line’s the bestselling, or that’s the only editor who hasn’t rejected you, or because that’s what your friends are writing, it will be meh.

Now, I don’t buy into the Write The Book Of Your Heart thing. Not totally, anyway. If you want to write for yourself, then by all means, write whatever you want. But if you want to not only be published, but have a career, you need to know who’s buying what and how you can fit in, while standing out. With the variety of romance being published, I find it hard to believe that any writer can’t write a book that she loves AND that fits a market. (Unless you’re into some seriously twisted ideas. Within reason.)

I have a manuscript under the desk that I wrote specifically for a market, and for all the wrong reasons. And, while the editor told me later that she liked the story, ultimately TBTB rejected it–somewhat vaguely. There’s a good chance it was just…meh.

I have no idea what my editor sees in Roadtrip–what made her want it. But I do know that I enjoyed the hell out of writing that book. It’s a little…off the wall, but it was fun. And there were “rules” I had to keep in mind in order to give it a chance at being marketable, but like a bunch of scurvy pirates said, “we figured they was more like guidelines.”

So, if you’re writing a story only because you think that line will have the most openings, or this one makes the most money, or you know Publisher X is looking for a certain kind of story (even thought it’s not one you’d usually write), be prepared for a shrug and a “meh”.

5 comments to “Feeling, the Anti-meh”

  1. Diana
      · March 8th, 2005 at 8:45 am · Link

    I agree completely. Great article on the subject is Julie Leto’s “Ditching the Book of Your Heart for A Book of Your Voice” (available on her website). It’s all about writing something you believe in that you can also find a market for.

    I’ve heard this advice over and over again that when you decide you want to write for category, read at least half a dozen books in every line. See which line(s) you like best, that seem the most like something you want to write. Then read a few dozen more in that (those) lines. Then write your book.

  2. Shannon
      · March 8th, 2005 at 10:22 am · Link

    Then you have people who respond that with “Oh, I don’t read them.” Umm…okay.

    Or I very recently saw a writer post a request for a descriptive breakdown of the lines because she just kept getting told to “read the lines.”

    If you can’t bring yourself to read them, how the hell are you going to write one? They’re not connect-the-dots.

    Yes, they’ve been good career launchers for some bestselling authors. No, you don’t need an agent. That certainly doesn’t mean they’re for everybody.

    Another time you see this is the launch of a new line. Gee, let me give the heroine of this rejected Desire a gun and I’ll send it to Bombshell. I can’t imagine how many people are right now trying to write an erotic ST to send to Tor, just because they’re looking.

  3. cece
      · March 8th, 2005 at 3:40 pm · Link

    Shannon I had my erotic ST plotted before TOR announced they were looking but….I’m tired of writing erotica so I’m working on a mainstream…Ok seriously this was so dead on. To be honest, I can’t bring myself to read much, if any, category. Which is probably why I”ll *probably* never write it =
    (And that’s not a knock on anyone who does! that’s just ME.)

    Hey! Where’s the freakin Smileys?

  4. Shannon
      · March 8th, 2005 at 3:43 pm · Link

    I never take it personally when people don’t like to read category. I won’t read a medical thriller. To each his own. :)

    Smilies? I just realized I have Referral Spam! Blech. I wonder if there’s a cream for that.

  5. Sasha
      · March 8th, 2005 at 8:06 pm · Link

    Fantastic post! I’m a abig believer in writign what YOU want to write…but sometimes, I even froget it. It’s nice to get a verbal (or written) kick in the pants from another writer. *g*

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