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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Write for the market

   
Author Topic: Write for the market
Kent_A_Jones
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Way back in the day I entered a nice little Science Fiction story for publication in my college literary magazine and it was rejected. They welcomed speculative fiction, so I asked my professor why my story hadn’t been accepted. After all, it had received an A- in class (Usually a cinch for inclusion) and was well received by the writers therein. The first reason was that printing costs had placed a size restriction on the magazine.

The second reason was that a poem of mine made it in, and two representations from the same author would be unfair.

Thirdly, my professor added sadly, the editors had excluded my story from the magazine because it was not representative of the emotion or situations they expected from a writer my age. When asked what they did expect, he told me that my piece wasn’t angry enough. The editors expected a young man to write about the strife of growing up, the unfairness of a restrictive system, being beaten down by overbearing parents, etc. He regretted the situation, but it was the real reason that my upbeat little Sci-Fi number had bombed. He had been told this by two faculty members he wouldn’t name.

I was furious. I stewed about it for ten months, knowing I would make them pay. Finally, I typed out a nasty story about an angry youth. It was bloody and emotional, full of crap that I had heard my peers whine about ad nauseam; the boy didn’t get the girl. It was a thinly disguised metaphor for the college magazine acceptance process; I even titled the story after the magazine. Alas, it was not accepted.

The reason, however, was that I had entered it in the short fiction contest held by the association of colleges to which my school belonged. It could not be published while still in consideration for the contest. That damned nasty protest story took second place in the contest. Partly by way of award, I received a nice little note from R.V. Cassil (The final judge), that it was a good representation of the emotions and situations found within my age group.

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wetwilly
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Of course. Everybody in their late teens or early twenties is angsty.

As a high school teacher, I find this stereotype annoying. When people find out I teach high school, they always react with either (A) awe of my bravery for being willing to deal with those violent little hoodlums, or (B) pity for me because I have to deal with those violent little hoodlums. I'm not sure why adults fear youth so much, but many do. I think they're picturing a classroom full of gang-bangers and junkies, a la "Dangerous Minds" or "Stand and Deliver" or any other movie set in a high school.

Teenagers are people. Some people are bad. Most are good. Some teens do drugs. Most do not. Some are violent criminals. The overwhelming majority are not. What is much more common among them are intelligence (mixed with ignorance, granted), creativity, humor, and talent.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Kent_A_Jones, that story would be funny if it weren't so sad.

I find it interesting that anger and angst (which, if I remember correctly, is German for fear) are the expected emotions for teenage writers now.

I remember reading my younger brother's high school literary magazine (after I'd gone on to college) and finding it full of death poetry and suicidal fiction (not so much anger and angst back then).

I asked him why that was so, since I didn't think high school had been that dreary for me (even though I hadn't enjoyed it particularly). His response was that the literary magazine was supposed to contain serious fiction and poetry.

So death was the only thing they could think of as serious? And now it's anger and angst that makes something "serious"--interesting.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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And on what wetwilly had to say, I taught for a while at a drug rehab treatment program where the kids were tightly restricted in order to help them get off drugs.

They were just kids. I hated to leave when the time came for my stint to end (due to things that were happening with the adults who were in charge or their education--about which I will not say more). It was an experience I remember fondly when I think about my students. They were kids who had made mistakes, but as wetwilly says, they were people. And I liked them very much.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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One more thing. Several years ago, I participated in a special workshop for people who wanted to write for younger readers.

There were several different sections, with published authors as the teachers, and each section was geared to the kind of age-group each teacher had written and published books for.

As part of the workshop, each evening the teachers would read from their works-in-progress, and it seemed to me that without exception, their works were downers and depressing. (By the way, none of the authors were writing science fiction or fantasy--they had such authors in later years, but not that year.)

So it wasn't surprising to me for my section to be given an assignment to "finish this paragraph." Which paragraph, as I recall, involved a kid coming home to find Mom sitting on the couch weeping her eyes out. When asked what was wrong, Mom replied, "It's your father!"

I thought about all those downer stories the published authors had read from to us, and I just couldn't do it. (I about decided that I must not be cut out to write young adult fiction after that.)

I had to submit something, though, so when it was my turn to read to the others in my section what I had written to finish the paragraph, I said, "He's inventing again!"

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extrinsic
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Anger is an emotional attitude. Attitude generally is part of so many writing principles. Tone, emotional mood, tenor, register, voice, narrative point of view, attitude toward an implied audience. Tone, though, is attitude toward a topic, subject, theme, etc., and standing toward an implied audience, either situational or extended. A conversational or imperative attitude, for example, is part of tone.

Anger--angst--as part of an emotional cluster, for tension's empathy or sympathy's sake, is certainly a young adult emotional attitude, though not universal nor limited to youths. Ennui, as an anger counterpart is as well, though more about boredom emotions. Older adults suffer less ennui than young people, in part because adults are more at liberty to resolve boredom. Much drama ensues therefrom, though. Young anger is partly from externally imposed impediments preventing resolving ennui as a young person desires. Let's go angrily tear something up, take some substances to still the boredom, bust some gash, steal things, have at it harrassing someone vulnerable--or, you know, like, okay, do something meaningful instead, or save the planet from a bug-eyed monster invasion (anrgy, bug-eyed parents invaded privacy) or save the kingdom from the evil overlord, (angry parent dictator)!?.

Creative writing is about a pattern and sequence of antagonizing events that want problem satisfaction, which is dramatic action. Like boredom causes anger, anger causes problems, proactive anger causes want satisfaction. Anger unsatisfied is a watched pot boiling. Ennui doesn't move plot either. Attitude and proactive action and reaction and progress and setback are called for.

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Robert Nowall
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Anger, angst, and sarcasm---that's supposed to be the stereotype of the young.

I read once---and I might be misremembering details, so anybody who knows better, correct me---that Dean Koontz submitted a horror story to his college writing class, a large amount of guano was heaped on it in discussion...and, when he submitted it to a literary contest (a class requirement), it got a mention in the final lists. And he eventually sold it.

I wish I could have had revenge that sweet. I once needed to hand in something for a high school writing assignment, and pulled one of my old rejected stories and handed it in. (I admit freely it was a lousy story.) I got a number of corrections on the MS, and a note at the end saying "See me." But by then I pretty much hated that teacher's guts and I never did. Don't remember what my final grade was, but it probably wasn't good.

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Owasm
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I'm not so sure that stories that don't bring out a darker side are any more popular today. Readers look for contrast and that contrast is often the darker side of things, anger, angst, evil doings.

Frothy, happy, positive, dare I say innocent?. Those are passe, these days.

I don't things have changed all that much.

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Kent_A_Jones
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Kathleen and the rest,

Thank you all for participating in this thread. It has grown away from where I meant for it to venture (Write for the market). I didn't know the market with my first story.

I believe that the prevailing attitude toward younger writers remains rooted in the notion that emotional 'growing pains' are a natural thing to write about. I rebelled against this notion back then with my first effort, feeling that the written word is a means of escaping one's troubles for a while; it certainly was an escape to author such work (things that my father sternly dismissed as Dream-World Ideas). But my rebellion got the rejection it deserved. After all, I was not submitting my Sci-Fi story to Analog Magazine, I was submitting it to a college literary revue. Furthermore, it was Science Fiction set in a whiz bang future and not a more general Speculative Fiction.

My response was to write what the powers-that-be had wanted in the first place (In one poem that previous year a young woman compared herself unfavorably to IO and a young man's short story had his arsonous main character self mutilate while his paarent's home burned down around him). I wrote a tortured, but expected piece. I wrote it too well, only to find out that the wider market of colleges thereabouts also held this as their ideal.

I wish to point out that when, even for a misguided attempt at revenge, I adhered to the market parameters, my story was accepted and rewarded. On a happy note, the college association had no funding to publish the top ten stories of that year, which was the norm, so the nasty little story went unpublished there as well.

One lesson I take from that episode is to research and know the market to which I am submitting. The second lesson, not quite so obvious, is to try markets that I am not necessarily comfortable with, because it may be that discomfort which brings out an extra spark.

Now, to the points at hand. Young authors, I believe, still have that roadblock in front of them. On the one hand, teachers, professors and them who dictate rules from on high about writing miss a great deal of what it means to be young. I have terrible memories, but I also have wonderful memories. But by the same token, I don't believe the elements of Story are well explained to younger or new writers.

Upbeat, feel-good stories must have conflict to be good stories. Soul sucking despair that leads to thoughts of suicide has built-in conflict that is put there by the reader. I think dark themes are also prevalent for the same reason that fires lead the television news. Nobody slows down for a lone, perfectly intact car, but everybody gapes at the wreck. Tragedy attracts our attention. Conflict is necessary to our stories about ourselves, even the happy ones.

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extrinsic
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Write for the Market is akin to write for the audience. Guidance about young adult genre or early adult is about audience. Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea is about an aging fisherman's late adulthood crisis and the twilight dusk age, not much meaningful about it for youths with a long life ahead.

Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War, J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, and S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders are decidely about young life complications. Maybe they're outdated though, still relevant but out of touch with today's youth crises. Today's youth crises are far more edgy and controversial than those bygone eras' youth crises. A challenge is how to write about those crises without overdoing the edginess of real life in public schools nowadays.

The Bachman Books by Stephen King published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman used to contain the short novel Rage, originally published separately in 1977, about a fictional school shooting event. King took the novel out of print because of students copycatting it for school attacks soon thereafter. That's just a little too edgy and controversial for young adult fiction but a fact of school life.

How to tread the fine line between a socially responsible publication yet be true to life has occupied my meditations for some time. Write to the market and the audience!? The closest I've come is a metaphoric allegory somewhat similar to George Orwell's Animal Farm but closer narrative distance. More like Pony Boy from Hinton's The Outsiders in that regard. I think I want to move a step farther yet from the literal than either of those. A step closer to an underlying ironic commentary that is nonetheless accessible. I guess Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games somewhat remotely goes there. Say the age of leadership in this dystopia is between sixteen and twenty-five? Older folk indentured servants to the capricious will of the young?

Folkloristics holds profound insights about how youth culture copes with life crises. Similar to other age cultures yet with patterns, sequences, motifs, and features unique to the age. The sorts of maturation rituals, for example, are unique to the age.

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JSchuler
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quote:
Originally posted by Kent_A_Jones:
Thirdly, my professor added sadly, the editors had excluded my story from the magazine because it was not representative of the emotion or situations they expected from a writer my age.

It's a nice vicious circle they've set up. They expect angst-ridden stories, so they reject any that aren't. Young aspiring writers look at the publications, see that only angst gets published, so most of the submissions are angst-ridden, thus confirming the magazine staff's bias.
quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
So death was the only thing they could think of as serious? And now it's anger and angst that makes something "serious"--interesting.

I don't think it's so much that it's "serious," but that it's safe. Cynicism is easy, as you don't have to stake out any ground to defend, don't have to open yourself up for attack, which makes it attractive for many teens. The form the cynicism takes--anger, depression, detachment--is just the fashion of the day.

Anyway, that was my theory back when I was in high school.

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rstegman
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When my nephew was in high school, he did an assignment. He was bored with what everybody else was doing. The officials wanted to make him go for psychological testing because they thought he had problems.
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Robert Nowall
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Wasn't that the plot of an "As Told By Ginger" episode? The teacher begged Ginger to submit something for a contest; Ginger submitted a poem the teacher and everybody else took to have something to do with Ginger's life and feelings, and gets referred to the school psychiatrist.

I don't know about her, but if it'd been me, that would've been the last time I turned in so much as a class assignment to that teacher...

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extrinsic
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In terms of Write for the Market, I recently reseached term paper writing services' and their caliber of work. These are college papers written for student clients--egreggious plagiarism, plain and simple.

The paper writing for hire industry gets around legal issues by claiming the papers are intended for legitimate reseach purposes and as ideas for following up through original work. Nonsense, of course. At least $16 regular delivery and up to $50 per page for expedited delivery, who'd pay for that? A student who uses one, though, commits the crime.

Corruption scams and quality issues plague the industry. Writers who do the writing claim underpayment or no payment is common, as well as charging registration fees and penalties for shoddy work that leave writers owing more than they can repay from earnings.

The caliber of the work is typically far below par and as likely to earn a student a failing grade anyway, not to mention exposure to school sanctions and possible litigation. The writers claim their work is exceptional, having no clue about term paper standards and conventions in the first place, let alone how to adjust faulty grammar and style.

They claim they provide service to Western English language students, U.S. and British, in advanced degree programs: PhD, master's, medical, legal, engineering, science, and education, etc. They also claim their clients are mainly native English language users.

Most of these services are offshore bureaus where no law prevents their criminal enterprise. Most of the services' business addresses and writers are Kenyan, Nigerian, Ukrainian, generally East European and sub-Sahara African ESL, English Second Language, writers. Their actual clients are largely ESL and resident aliens studying at Western colleges on student visas.

That preamble background to say this is a write for the market phenomena. If, say, I were to write term papers for foreign ESL students--I absolutely won't--the degree of grammar and style proficiency would be an immediate tipoff to any halfwit professor or grading assistant that the paper was not written by the student.

The clumsy, cluttered, confused, awkward, faulty grammar and style of those term paper mills is exactly in the language of students who use those services. The papers are written for the market and the immediate consumer audience, ESL students. These papers are close enough to the language skills of the consumers that they don't notice the glaring faults.

Never mind that it's plagiarism, lying, cheating, and stealing; mind that the mindset of these students is that it's perceived as a legitimate way to learn, that it's perceived as a legitimate way native English language students cut corners, that it's perceived as a conventional study strategy by all students. Mind that most any professor and grading assistant can determine that these types of papers are not students' work. Savvy cheaters know to rewrite the papers and confirm research sources, still plagiarism though. And thank Providence they return to their native countries after--if--they graduate, with their flawed educations and ideas. The ones that don't return home--Time wounds all heels. They will be caught out.

I recently read a bar committee character and fitness hearing transcript. I've read quite a few of them over the years. About half that I read are identical circumstances, too. The nonnative bar candidate had graduated law school, modestly passed the bar exam, and was denied entry to the bar for being caught cheating. The candidate submitted an undergraduate term paper for a required ethics course that was deemed plagiarized by the course's professor and the college's student honor committee. The student admitted wrongdoing to the college, made up the deficits, served community service for the infraction, eventually graduated and went on to law school, to which the cheating infraction wasn't disclosed.

The candidate was nevertheless denied bar entry by the bar committee hearing and on subsequent appeals. An aggravating factor was the candidate failed to disclose the cheating infraction on the bar application and justified that oversight by claiming ignorance. The candidate is now banned from practicing law in the U.S. Once a cheat, always a cheat.

Speaking of missing the market and the audience targets.

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