Sunday, January 15, 2012

Writing is Like Puppies

The common consensus seems to be that when a journal or agent doesn’t want to work with a work, it means it’s bad. After all, it is called “rejection.” This, for many reasons, is simply not true. Good things get denied constantly (Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul was rejected over 30 times) and terrible things get made constantly (Valentine’s Day had over a million dollar budgets and celebrated celebrates swarming all over it).

Pleading for funding is like adopting a puppy. The agent is the potential owner, your work is the dog.

1) Just because an owner doesn’t want you doesn’t make you a bad dog.

Millions of beautiful, fun, and loving animals are euthanized each year because there are fewer owners than there are puppies.

Agents can only handle a few clients at a time, and get thousands of different choices to choose from. Which means:

2) Owners can only go off of first impressions.

If the dog is dirty, injured, sleeping, shy, or has any temporary problems, he will be over looked. When at the pound, a person can have up to 100 dogs to look at with a little amount of time to do it. When an animal isn’t obviously playful, when he’s sleeping, the person isn’t going to stand around and wait for him to wake up, they’ll move onto the next cage and play with the leaping Labrador.

Novels often start out sleeping, not obviously playful. Few people will give wait for a tired puppy to wake, and even fewer will read a slow moving entrance, despite that the work may be far better when it hits its energy than the jumping hound.

3) Cleanliness is like grammar.

There are charities whose only function is to pay for cleaning services for pound puppies. Dogs who are groomed have an extreme benefit in getting adopted over those who weren’t. There is a story at my local pound of one collie who had been in a no-kill shelter for six months. After a cleaning, he was adopted within one week.

This is why a typo-free draft is so stressed upon. The cleanliness of the dog does not reflect his personality, his loyalty, or even the actual cuteness.

Nor does the spelling change the ideas, the flow, the tension, or even the intelligence of a work. But it sure sounds like it does.

People realize that the way a word isn’t spelled doesn’t actually change the meaning. Not adopting a dog or giving a story a change based on appearances is superficial, and so many beginning authors will eschew it.

However, though we can clean up a puppy, we don’t really know what he will look like afterwards, if he was attractive, if he’d be the dog someone would still choose. Again, the owner can only pick one, and where there are many options that are fairly equal in “quality,” then every element, superficial or not, becomes important. Choices out of millions is often made by feel, and feel comes from the whole package.

Grunge can often be a sign of disease (yes, not necessarily, but not out of the question); typos are often a sign of laziness. If a person didn’t take the time to fix the obvious, then it’s unlikely he took time with anything.

The place where this analogy falls apart is that a dirty dog takes a lot less energy and work to fix than a sloppy story.

4) Breeds are like subject matter.

Certain people look for certain things, and it varies from person to person. Therefore, most aspects are not actually qualities or flaws, just characteristics. One owner may only be looking for a small dog; the big ones are out of luck. Some are only looking for golden retrievers. Some Chihuahuas. If a dog had the choice of changing his breed, size, coloring, and shape, it doesn’t mean he should. Just because one person didn’t want a terrier because they were looking for a guard dog, doesn’t necessarily mean that the next person will be.

The genre, the idea, the format, the style, the images: all of these are the breeds of a work. When reading the submission pages of literary journals, especially the poetry guidelines, this becomes very evident. Often times they will be definite about rhyming, but some will only accept rhyming poems, and others refuse to. One of the number one reasons stories get rejected is because of the content that does not appeal to the individual judges.

An agent’s blog told the story on when she was judging a writing contest. She had three piles for the definitely-nots: cliché, dull, and a male hero who carries around a classic novel.

Why? For some reason a large number of people had included it. If only one had, she wouldn’t have noticed, and he may not have gotten rejected.

This is the most important idea to remember: not everyone is looking for the same thing.

5) Potty training is extra work.

A dog that needs extra training gets him a great deal of negatives. He is still a wonderful animal, but, like I said, there’s a hundred of wonderful animals to choose from.

Books with severe problems take extra work. Even if they are far more interesting, once someone realizes, “I’m going to be spending the next few months trying to edit this,” they’re not going to give them the chance. Not when they have the cute fuzzy Shiatsu to turn to. They’re not going to take the time to realize how smart this Border Collie is.

6) Most bad dogs just need a lot of work, only a rare few are doomed.

The sick, the vicious, the chewers, the biters, the untrainable: there is no such thing as a lost cause. All dogs should be able to live happily in a nice home, and most dogs can. It is a rare dog that is irredeemable. The time and effort varies, and it takes a diligent and passionate person who really wants to see that dog in a home to do it.

Ideas are the same, in that it is a singular story that is so terrible that it is worthless. The difference between the two is, of course, it doesn’t matter if a story is forsaken.

It is just important to remember that if it truly is a “bad dog,” it is your dog and you can help train it to be a viable option for owners everywhere.