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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Promises and Capital and Newbies

   
Author Topic: Promises and Capital and Newbies
babooher
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In the last 6 months or so, I finished China Meiville's Perdido Street Station, and I remember thinking that if the book hadn't been publish, like if it had been given by someone on here to critique, I never would have made it to the end. While I loved the language, I didn't care about the diverging plot lines that didn't seem to have anything much to bring them together. I only continued to read because it was a published work so I had faith that somehow this guy was going to pull it all together. China Meiville had what I'd like to call Reputation Capital. And for the most part, Mr. Meiville earned his by the end of Perdido Street Station. But even before Perdido, he had already won some impressive credentials.

I don't have much Reputation Capital, and neither do most people on this forum. That isn't a dig, it is just where we are. I recently received a lovely critique about my baby novelette where the reader basically said he stopped trying to care at page X. I know what the reader is missing if he stops on that page because it isn't until later that all of the Chekhoff guns are fired. I can't blame the reader, because my story didn't offer enough promise and I don't have the Reputation Capital to buy the reader's attention for longer.

Reputation Capital also differs for each reader. I might have more with one person than another. It is simply a fact of life like tornadoes and sunshine. Someone is bound to mention that it is all subjective, and that person will be right, but that doesn't mean it isn't real. I just think learning to recognize the issue and working on how you handle it all can help push you to be a better writer.

I've got edits to think over, but I thought quite a bit about this on my walk to work. I wondered if any of you all had any insights to this.

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Robert Nowall
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Well, there's nothing like having the whole work in your hand, knowing it's got an ending to help you make it to the end. (Unless it's one of those books that's first (or later) in some endless series...but that's another beef.)

I worry about that while writing. I care about my characters and what they're doing...but I just don't know if I'm making the hypothetical reader care about them even a fraction as much as I care. I wish I had a solution to it...

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genevive42
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When I was a kid, I read everything I started all the way through. When I started to get to some books that really bored me, I decided to set a fifty page limit. If I wasn't interested fifty pages in, I could quit. A little later, it became thirty pages. Now, I can probably do it in ten. I have yet to find a book that I've forced my way through because it was an award-winner, or because it was by a certain famous author that I didn't like in the beginning become something I found myself liking in the end. Even if it came off better than I expected, it still never made it to a favorite.

None of this means I won't give a slow starting book a chance. Windup Girl is a very slow start; it takes easily the first third of a (long) book before it gets going. But the quality of the writing was such that I had confidence it would go somewhere meaningful. Yes, the recognition it got gave it some credibility/curiousity with me, but if I hadn't liked the writing I would still have put it down.

So for me, Reputation Capital might get me to take a look, but if the product doesn't deliver for me, I don't give a hang who wrote it.

I will say also, that if it's an author I've read and enjoyed before that would also give me confidence in continuing on a story that wasn't entirely grabbing me at first - but only to a point.

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Osiris
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I acknowledge that reputation capital plays a part in an author's success, but at one time, China Meiville didn't have reputation capital. At that time, he only had some skills and ambition like the rest of us.

I sometimes wonder why some authors seem to write their best work early on in their career, and I suspect its because they've become too reliant on reputation capital later after they've made a name for themselves.

As for your point about readers sticking with a story based on reputation, well, it depends on the reader, but I know I won't continue to read a book based on reputation alone. I recently quit the last two books I've read by two different authors I admire simply because they didn't do enough to keep my interest. Both of these authors wrote previous books that had me completely riveted, and when I compare the reviews of their recent books I put down to their earlier works that I finished, the reviews for the older works were more favorable in both cases.

Something about what you said about your baby novelette does concern me, though. You said you didn't have enough Capital to buy the reader's commitment. You also said the story didn't offer enough promise, and I think that is the real issue.

Relying on Reputation Capital is like banking on sub-prime loans to pay out - its risky business. To abuse the economic metaphor a bit more, consider instead relying on the ever-valuable gold of page-turner story-telling mechanics. I learned this from Ben Bova's website and am applied it to the outline of my WIP novel:

Chain of Promises

In other words, perhaps you can string along some of your Checkoff's Guns so they fire at regular intervals, thereby keeping your reader motivated to keep going.

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babooher
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"Something about what you said about your baby novelette does concern me, though. You said you didn't have enough Capital to buy the reader's commitment. You also said the story didn't offer enough promise, and I think that is the real issue."

I'm not discounting the advice. In fact, I was pleased to get it. I was too close to see it because I knew what was going to happen. I am looking at how to make some of the clues more apparent and how to make character motivation a little more concrete.

It all just had me thinking about Reputation Capital. I know I've given more leeway with some authors because they're published. I hated one popular novel but I stuck through for 100 pages. On page 99 (no hyperbole here) something finally happened. I gave it another 20 pages and then threw the book down. Everyone I know was reading that book and I hated it. I never would have given that much time to someone who wasn't published. 20-50 pages would have been it for me.

And if I can't get my story to work out differently, I might try trotting it out once I do have some more capital.

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BenM
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I think there's two things.

The first is that the notion of Reputation Capital is very real and can be considered 'existing readership'. I read China Miéville's City & the City and loved it, then read his Kraken and... really didn't. The same can be said for a number of other authors I've encountered. Just as getting an agent/publisher for a first novel is hard due to lack of platform, getting work published if the earlier work sold well is going to make it easier, because the publisher can count on possible sales. Mind you, there's plenty of examples of authors careers tanking because they kept putting out work with poor sales, so I'm guessing the phenomenon only goes so far.

And I suppose the other thing is that an author like Miéville isn't really my cup of tea - while I quite like the very literate quality of his writing, his particular style - the New Wierd - I generally don't gel with. So I end up realising that while I do read widely, there are some things I don't enjoy which still appeal to another demographic of readers.

So now when I pick up a book and don't enjoy it, I wonder if it's a poor example of the author's work, or if I'm not the intended readership. I suspect the usual reason is the latter.

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Wordcaster
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Perdido Street Station is a wonderful book. In the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast, China Mieville recognizes how loose the plot was in that novel and his more recent works are much more tight. Yet the complaint about the divergent plotlines is what a lot of people liked about the book. There are no borders. Aside from structure, there are cactus people and humans having sex with bug people, daring the reader to continue.
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History
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I'll add that some of my favorite books like THE LORD OF THE RINGS and DUNE and Dave Simmons' HYPERION took me a few tries before I finally completed them. It was a transition for me as a youth. Comparatively light fare (in style and length) like the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and early Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov (THE FOUNDATION TRILOGY being the exception)were quick and simple reads.

Yet I learned to love "dense" novels with more fully realized worlds and more "literary" sf/fantasy works. This was more a change in myself, a maturity as a reader, rather than any "Reputation Capital" of the author.

I've only had one slush-pile reader respond with the dismissive note: "Didn't keep my interest." Oddly, another reader liked the same story very much "but it (was) not the right fit for (them)"--I suspect either too long or too Jewish. [Wink]

Here at Hatrack, I try not to offer anything but a well-(and often-)revised draft when I swap full stories for critique. Nothing harms a reputation more than a manuscript poorly formatted with numerous spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors, in my humble opinion.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob
(who is finally writing works of my own again) [Smile]

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Denevius
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i kinda think that the number of books we never continue after looking at the cover, the title, reading the description or first paragraph/page, far out-numbers the books that we began to read and slog through because of reputation capital. for me, the books that i try to finish because i started at some point genuinely interested me, either because of strong word-of-mouth, or i thought the idea behind it was good. but even though i consider myself an avid reader, i still only finish on average thirty or so published novels a year, but i hear about significantly more than that that i never bother with.

i think the mistake we make is thinking that if readers gave the beginning of our stories more of a chance, they'd really get into it; but in reailty, readers don't give most of every story they hear of a chance, and it's only a small minority that they opt to take the time to read and finish.

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Merlion-Emrys
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I wasn't going to say it's all subjective...rather, I can't really relate to the concept personally. I can count on my hands all the times in my life that I've started a book and not finished it. And even in those cases, I attributed that to myself, not the author...usually I was either in the wrong mood or something else came along that I just had to read and distracted me.

While I'm sure it exists I don't think the concept of "reputation capitol" is hugely important for most people. If they are enjoying a book, or desire to see how it ends, they finish it. If not, they don't. Now I have had a few books that didn't captivate me as much as others but that because I knew and liked the author, I assumed it would become more interesting...but I wouldn't have stopped reading them even if that weren't the case.

I also fail to see, honestly, where the concept is especially important for us. Regular readers aren't the ones that get us published and until we are, in a commercially successful manner, we won't have any "reputation capitol" for readers or editors anyway so I just don't see the relevance...unless it be the idea that since we're "competing" with authors who do have this "capitol" we have to try to be that much "better" to hold readers attention, but again readers aren't the relevant group for aspiring writers, editors are.


quote:
I gave it another 20 pages and then threw the book down. Everyone I know was reading that book and I hated it. I never would have given that much time to someone who wasn't published. 20-50 pages would have been it for me.
This statement strikes me oddly. Where would you be reading unpublished works, other than in the context of doing critiques here? And in that circumstances, wouldn't you feel somewhat obliged to complete it?


quote:
And I suppose the other thing is that an author like Miéville isn't really my cup of tea - while I quite like the very literate quality of his writing, his particular style - the New Wierd - I generally don't gel with. So I end up realising that while I do read widely, there are some things I don't enjoy which still appeal to another demographic of readers.
To me, "New Weird" is more of a sub-genre than a style, so I'm not entirely sure what you mean...the literate quality is more what I'd call style. You might consider checking out the Bas-Lag novels, like Perdido Street Station. They are somewhat dark in a way, but have more in common with so-called "Steampunk" (though most of these sub-genres and other such terms are largely meaningless to me anyway, or simply describe an aesthetic.) I haven't read "Kraken" (though I plan to) but I get the feeling its more or less his homage to Lovecraftian/Weird Tale style stuff and I can see, from what I know of your preferences, where it'd be less appealing to you.


quote:
Perdido Street Station is a wonderful book. In the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast, China Mieville recognizes how loose the plot was in that novel and his more recent works are much more tight. Yet the complaint about the divergent plotlines is what a lot of people liked about the book. There are no borders. Aside from structure, there are cactus people and humans having sex with bug people, daring the reader to continue.
I'm glad somebody said this, both about that book specifically and as a general concept. For me, to a large extent, content and atmosphere are the kings of a story, the elements I care most about. When I read PSS I wasn't even thinking about the plot...it was the creatures/races, the world itself, and the ideas (like Crisis Theory) and the odd characters like the Weaver and Yagarek that kept me turning pages like crazy. Not to say plot isn't or can't be important but...there are all manner of draws and areas of interest.
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BenM
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quote:
You might consider checking out the Bas-Lag novels, like Perdido Street Station.
Good suggestion. Maybe that's another thing I should consider on this subject: If I can be tempted to assume all of an authors work will resemble what I just read and therefore miss the stuff I might really like - how much more will readers tend to pigeon-hole my work based on whichever example they read first.
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babooher
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I stumbled across an interview of a well-known band that has been around longer than I have, and they said they didn't think they'd be able to get a recording contract today if they were just starting out. They have a pretty large fan base, I can't fault any of their albums as lacking, but even they realize they aren't exactly mainstream and that it is their reputation that keeps the business side interested. I thought it was a pretty good example of reputation capital at work.
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Denevius
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in a way, i feel like the argument you're making puts the blame of not being as successful as a writer would like on some external factors. kind of a, "It's not me, it's circumstance."

i think we could say that about a lot in life. if someone had been born to a rich and connected family, would their lives have turned out more successful? if someone had been born in a rich and prosperous country, would they have more opportunity?

the question isn't so much the capital we, as writers, have now. it's what we do with the situation we currently find ourselves in as writers. we can bemoan in a, "If someone would just give me a shot" sort of plea, but that's not how it works, and it's not how it is.

i don't know, it seems like a bit of a plaintive argument. i think the best one can do is keep writing, and if your writing catches fire, it catches fire. if it doesn't, at least one can say they've put forward the effort in a serious and meaningful way.

wow, i hope this doesn't come off as blunt. it's hard to regulate tone online.

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babooher
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I think to deny that there are external factors would be foolish, but I wasn't bemoaning anything. Quite the opposite. I was clumsily trying to say that we can't rely on the argument that So-and-So did this in his book so why can't I get away with it? So-and-So has reputation capital or contacts or the right celestial alignment and I don't, so I better make sure I use what I do have.

I write. I revise. I submit. I learn. I talk. I listen. I hope. I dream.

I don't have time to make excuses.

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InarticulateBabbler
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Let it cool off.

Write something else. What worries me about your "baby novelette" is that you're obsessing by thinking of it that way. Writers write, that's what we do. Write something else--be a writer--and then come back to this with a fresh mind. Also, and more importantly, what one reader thinks is not what every reader thinks.

Recently, I began reading The Praise Singer by Mary Renault. It's an international bestseller. A lot of writers I respect love her and this book. To me, halfway through was a struggle, and it never got more exciting. I picked up Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding (for use during a bathroom visit) and ripped through the first chapter. I realized that the difference was because of how it was written, not the author or even the subject matter.

Relevance: I've been a slush reader, a critiquer and a fan--and some of the worst prose I've read has been by established writers. What being in print does for me is give the writer more than one chance (meaning I'd pick up another book, not I'd try the same one over and over). I may not like a particular story, but if the writer displays knowledge of the craft, I'll give their work another shot. (Obviously if the work reads like an outline every time, I'm not interested.)

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Merlion-Emrys
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I think we're more likely to create "reputation capitol" (if there is such a thing) for ourselves by "getting away with things" (that is, "breaking" the "rules") than by allowing ourselves to be limited by them...or by the idea that there is anything like "reputation capitol" or somehow "superior" abilities separating us from "So and So."
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rcmann
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I figure I am going to write anyway. In the larger picture, it doesn't really matter to me if I sell anything or not. I seriously intend to self-publish whatever I can't sell, under the theory that if I make nothing I won't be any worse off.

I have posted a fair amount of amateur fiction and gotten good response for it. I suppose that counts as rep capital, since several people have already offered to buy anything I write commercially, sight unseen. So far though, I can't find any commercial editor that will touch my stuff.

Does that mean that it's not really any good? Maybe. Or maybe the places I am submitting my work to are in the position of taking a chance every time they buy a story. It costs at least a couple of hundred for the story, plus they are risking their magazine's rep with subscribers and advertisers. Whereas a private person is out nothing, or at worst a buck or two, if they buy an ebook that sucks.

Either way, I don't figure it matters. I am writing for me, not for anyone else. If someone else likes it, so much the better.

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