Daily Archives: January 15, 2010

Universal Appeal

By now some of you have met my DH.  You know he manages an ag dealership and hunts small, helpless animals.  Ostensibly to feed the family, though I’m not sure how Mr. Hare fits into that.  DH’s also a fitness buff.

Two years ago, he insisted on having his own work out room in the basement.  I’m pretty agreeable so I helped design the room and carry the stair master, the treadmill and the rowing machine down the stairs.  I stopped at the Universal Gym. Mostly because it was heavy, but also because I dislike them. 

Which leads me to the question: why do they call it universal?

It has no bicycle saddle, I can’t climb stairs on it and the last time I tried to sprint on it, I fell off and broke my nose.  Okay, that didn’t really happen, but you get the picture.  It is not universal.  Nor does it have universal appeal.  For every ounce of love DH has for it, I equal it in hate.

Literature is no different.  Not one novel in the history of writing has universal appeal.  For every advocate, there is a dissenter.  And yet aspiring writers continue to judge themselves by the books they do not like. 

As much as I like to pretend otherwise, I have fallen into this trap.  Tucked inside my desk drawer is a hideous picture book that I do not like.  I keep it because it inspires me. 

“If ABC got published then surely my XYZ will,” I say as I stuff the book into the far recesses of my desk.

Does this make me a snob?  Maybe.  Most definitely.

But I’ve been trying to change.  Over the years I have learned that the publishing industry is highly complex.  It is not a solo jog on the treadmill.  Rather, it’s a lot like those pulleys and weights on DH’s universal machine.  Everything is interconnected in ways I don’t always see or can’t begin to understand.  Yet my lack of comprehension does not change the fact that these systems must all work together to create the end result.

In writing, I must have talent, ability and perseverence just to get my story onto paper.  This is closely followed by motivation and honesty.  Yep, honesty.  I have to assess my writing with a discerning eye. 

Instead of dragging my old nemesis, The Picture Book, out from the drawer and comparing it to my work, I have to look at my writing indpendently.  They are two completely different pieces of literature.  Someone already believed in that book.  Mine has yet to wow the Publishing Gods.  And, inevitably, my writing will have faults too.  Who knows, it may be tucked away in another aspiring writer’s desk drawer for inspiration.

I hate the reality of that, but it doesn’t stop me from trying.  Sometimes years go by before a manuscript is ready for a serious work out–the one it will get by agents and editors and marketing departments and design staff.  At any stage in the process, someone can decide that my proposed, next best-seller hits them like The Picture Book hits me.   

No writing has universal appeal.  I loved the Bartimaeus Trilogy, my brother didn’t read past the first five pages.  Yet it made the rounds and can be found in a book store near you.

For a manuscript to journey from rough draft to end caps, it must undergo a rigorous work out on the universal machine.  We must provide the best work possible.  Our agents must love, love, love our book enough to gamble next year’s mortgage on it.  Editors, marketing managers and designers must believe in the project enough to put their sweat and ink into it.

If writing is a quick stint on the Stair Master, publishing is a work out on the Universal Gym.  I can tone my manuscript solo, but without the pulleys and weights, my writing will remain in my desk drawer next to The Picture Book.

It’s not to say everyone will love my books after purchasing them with their hard earned money.  I’m smart enough to know that.  However, somewhere along the way, I must have a team willing to pull for me. 

I’m sure that has Universal Appeal!

Do you find yourself comparing your work to published pieces?  If so, what do you take away from the experience?  Does it help you move forward or simply fuel your frustration?

Have you ever found a book with Universal Appeal?  If so, I’d like to know about it.