Necessary losses

Most of us who work in publishing are passionate about books.  Duh.

We are also passionate about the written word in its myriad forms and about the primacy of the creative process.  Even when working with prima donna “authors,” celebrities who are barely literate, and writers of all stripes whose work should probably be hurled across the room in homage to the great Dorothy Parker, many of us are easily star struck.  All it takes is a brilliant turn of phrase, a well crafted, ambitious novel, a surprising and daring narrative gambit and we’re in love.

But, most of us in the business know with utter certainty that there are books that should be shelved, put in a drawer, sent through the shredder or, in the case of the truly great writers, consigned to footnotes in fawning biographies.  In this era of e-books and the voracious need for content, whatever its worth, it’s hard to defend the position that some books just should not be published.  And yet, some books should not be published.

Reading this short piece in the HuffPost about “lost” early efforts by renowned authors, later found and brought out under the guise of offering additional glimpses into those authors’ psyches, reinforces my opinion that not everything deserves to be in print.  My contention that someone should have told Shakespeare to put aside Titus Andronicus and turn his talents to somewhat less bloody family dramas has gotten me in trouble in literature classes as well as cocktail parties but really, would that have been such a loss?

I think all of us need to recognize, especially now when it’s so easy to self-publish, when something is not ready for public consumption and be able to move on to the next project with an eye to applying the lessons learned and producing something stronger, better…publishable.  What do you think?  As writers, can you make the call on your own work?  Can you make the call on other peoples’?  Should everything be published, the good, the bad, and the badly written?


8 Responses to Necessary losses

  1. I think it’s hard for a writer to make the call on his or her own work, in large part because of all the time a book takes to write, all the life that could have been lived, but for its being spent in the protracted labor that resulted in… that? It’s especially hard when the writer starts to engage in comparisons to other, lesser, though nevertheless bestselling writers. “Well, at least it’s better than,” we think, cutting ourselves a great big helping of slack. Of course, the work we need to be comparing ourselves to is our own, best work, and what the current work will do to it by comparison. Ultimately, the writer needs to pry him or herself away and start something else. After all, the best way to get over a doomed love affair is to start another, hopefully less doomed one.

  2. Ah, but I have more than one drawer full of not-ready-for-primetime-but-definitely-for-the-shredder works of “art.” While I believed in each of them initially, it took a combination of time, rejection and honest comments from beta readers and agent to help me see that I would not be doing myself or the world any favors by pushing to have them published. Of course, looking back, I’m grateful for the necessary learning process, and I like to think the stories that failed to launch are now helping me create ones that will.

  3. Tamara says:

    Exactly! In the heady love affair that is the creation of a book, how does one know that they’ve kissed a frog, rather than a prince?

  4. Oh, I certainly agree that some of my work should not ever be published, and I’d be willing to argue this is the case for most writers. The problem is that these writers aren’t usually sending the “lost” volumes out for publication themselves; some family member or scholar is doing it long after the fact.

    I want to believe that writers can make the call on their own work. However, that ability is certainly honed by time and perspective.

  5. Kaitlyne says:

    I agree 100%, but I’m not sure how easy it is for a writer to judge his/her own work. I remember when I first started writing and the sheer love of the characters and world I’d created were enough for me to think it was worthy of publication. It was hard for me to see past that love and recognize that the book had major problems. Looking back now it’s easy to see the many flaws in that book .

    I also went through a period where everything I wrote was crap, even if others told me otherwise. I doubt I was publishable at that stage, but I do know that I tended to be incredibly hard on myself. Nowadays I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. I think my writing is pretty good, but I fluctuate between thinking it’s at least as good as the other books on the shelf and that it’s still not there yet.

    Even with friends and family giving opinions, heck, even with objective beta readers giving opinions, I think it’s hard to really judge how good something is. We’re just so close to it.

  6. Julia Pierce says:

    I think that is a really hard call for a writer to make, especially an unpublished author. There are so many contradictions assailing you while you are laboring over your work, that at times you don’t know what to believe. For example, if I love my novel, my beta readers loved it, my critique group loved it… but agents aren’t interested in it, should I seek out a self-publishing route? Or should I confine it to the drawer (a.k.a. Pit of Despair)? Sometimes I find myself swinging between the highs of getting good feedback from readers, and the lows of getting very few bites from agents… how do you find objectivity in all that? I’m new, so I don’t know yet just when you should give up. If I can’t find an agent for a work that I feel in my gut is a good story, then I would probably seek out publishing on my own (terrifying as that might be). I don’t feel that I have enough objectivity to put a work away (barring my first couple attempts… I mean, really). Maybe I’m just too new, and that shiny optimism hasn’t worn off yet, but I would like to believe that if you put in the work, you will eventually get a good (a.k.a. salable and interesting) product. However that’s not going to stop me from moving on to the next project in the meantime!

  7. ryan field says:

    If you check out reviews on goodreads for books that are classic you’ll find that some readers didn’t think some of the best literary works of all time should have been published. I just think we should all embrace the choices writers have been given thanks to technology and continue to read what we love most. It’s not hard to vet self-pubbed books anymore and no one is forcing anyone to read them.

  8. Ohhh, hard call. Yes, there is work out there that might be better under the bed. But then fiction is subjective. Can an author tell if their work is flawed. I think they can. They might look away and publish it anyway, but I do think they know that there is something wrong with it.

    It’s easy to point to a self published book and say, “That shouldn’t have been published.” But again, I’ve read big name authors, with big name books that, IMHO, shouldn’t have been published. And if a different name was slapped on the cover, it wouldn’t have been.

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