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.

16 responses to “Universal Appeal

  1. Oh I totally do that, “If X can get published, I can too” or “At least I know I’m better than Y.” And then I think . . . um, yeah, but they’ve already finished and published their book and . . . oh gee look, lots of people LOVE it. So maybe I should shut up and edit some more! I’m trying to get past that habit of comparing my work to everyone else and just do the best work I can. I found myself wasting a lot of energy looking at other people’s work instead of concentrating on my own.

    But I still do fall in to that trap sometimes. Human nature, must be.

    And there are some novels that I really hated that everyone else can’t stop gushing about, so yeah . . . I can’t think of a book with universal appeal. Good thing to keep in mind as we work.

    I am, apparently, very chatty this morning because yours is the second blog I’ve assaulted with excessively verbose comments. Oops!

    • You can chat as much as you want.

      I think you’re right about comparing ourselves to published material. It seems to be human nature to feel better about ourselves and what we have to offer by finding the flaws in others.

      I’m trying to take Elana’s lesson to heart. “Don’t compare.”

      If we do, we will come away with that which is not our own. I would rather write in my voice than try to mimic what worked for someone else. Hopefully, eventually, my voice will be good enough.

  2. I love your little word cross-outs. They always crack me up.

    I belong to two book clubs and I have to say, there is not likely to be a book in existence with ‘universal appeal.’ Although ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society’ came close. I think everyone liked that one. Honestly, you would not believe the wonderful books that people turn their nose up at. It makes me want to search their bags for crack. Then again, I am a self-confessed book slut.

    • Thanks for weighing in, Oh Wise and Most Holy Book Slut.

      I guess we can be thankful that nobody has written TheUniversal Book yet. It leaves the door open for us! I also makes me feel a lot better about the whole process. If there weren’t so many different tastes, we wouldn’t have a shot because all the great books have probably already been written. However, since our choice in books changes as we do, and there are always new readers on the scene, I am inspired to keep trying.

  3. I think that it’s easier to find books that are universally hated than loved. 🙂

  4. Somehow you have to shy away from the question, “Does My written piece have universal appeal?” Any kind of comparison you make, particularly when you are in the process of writing it, is no good: it splits your concentration. Any thing that does that is detrimental to your writing. This may seem obvious: but words are always one sided. There is always another point of view. Just state yours as openly and honestly as you can. Someone will want to read it if you have done your job well.

  5. You know I did a review on my blog on a picture book recently and I would have thought based on the topic that it would have universal appeal because it’s about a child being welcomed into the world.

    It’s beautifully written, loving and all around well done and who can have something bad to say about that …right?

    I was floored when I saw a negative review on Amazon where the reviewer basically thought the book was “creepy” and said in so many words that no parent should make their child believe that they are so special that even the moon and the stars celebrate their arrival.

    If a book like that doesn’t have universal appeal than yeah, I think you will be hard pressed to find one.

    Great post once again- thanks for sharing!

    • I like the real life example. I suppose not all people love kids as much as we do. Nor do they love them in the same way.

      Which is really what reading and writing are all about: appeal to those who share your interests and may have similar journeys to appreciate what you have written. Every one else can find another book to love, hug, reread and advocate for.

  6. No books yet with Universal Appeal, but still listed as the most sold book, the Bible, is trying. 🙂

    As for me, I’ve fallen into that trap too where I tell myself if this crap can hit the shelves, I can certainly write something worth publishing. It’s kind of a pride thing, which means, I better keep a sharp eye out, cuz I must be due for a fall.

    • We all are, Void. It’s called ego. Yet I’ve never been humbled more than when I read something I used to think was great and then think: how in the heck did I ever think this thing had merit?

      I guess we can walk away from the Bible example with a great lesson. Most of the time the things worth readiing, believing in and discussing are highly controversial. Maybe that’s why some authors feel a little pride when their books hit the Banned or Challenged books lists. They are in good company.

  7. I like this post a lot, especially the part about setting up the exercise room. — If I start comparing myself to the authors I read, I’m in trouble. I have to remind myself that the excellent novel I’m reading has probably been revised a dozen times, content-edited, and copy-edited before it hit the bookshelves. That helps a little.

    • This is true, Patricia. The books on the shelves had an editorial department. Our manuscripts, no matter how polished we think they are, remain rough drafts in a sense.

      I am learning that writing is a long process of writing, honing, submitting and more tweaking. Sometimes with a major over-haul in there for good measure.

      I know many writers who complain about the revision stage, but I am actually looking forward to the time when an agent or editor sends me back homework! It will be nice to have proffessional feedback and work on a whole new level.

  8. Nice analogy Cat!

    I’m kind of the opposite – I look at my fave books & think “Wow – how could I think I could do that?”

    Yet I also love the fact that no book has universal appeal. I love human diversity. That way I can indulge my love of all things “book” in my classroom without fear. I have many novels I might never enjoy myself, but they might be that “just right” book for one of my students. So, the more the merrier.

    • Jemi,

      You have such a cool head when it comes to your writing and how you fit in. I think you may not give yourself enough credit, however. You have obviously learned the craft along the way.

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