I don’t doubt for a minute; the old adage that we all have a book, somewhere deep inside us just waiting to get out but, from what I understand of the way that the publishing game works, there are certain ingredients that you need to bake a successful cake.
The Cathedral of Wonderful Imaginings is usually ‘novel’ shaped for most writers and whilst many succeed in building a palace we are willing to visit, others create a shrine of obscurity that is devoid of any congregation and I began to wonder why that was. There seems to be something at work here between the pages of the very best (and worst) examples of these and I feel it’s something that any aspiring writer should at least be aware of.
It seems to me that ‘popularity’ does not always equal ‘quality’. There are far too many examples of current best sellers that are abysmally written and the same was true of the past. However, there is a common thread that unites the good, the bad and the ugly when they surface as popular and often recurring successes.
If you met a friend who told you that they had been to the cinema to see the latest blockbuster I am certain that your first question would be: “What’s it about?” Likewise, if you told your friend that you had just read a new novel, they would ask you the same question. Chances are, they wouldn’t ask you: “Was it well written?” A question like that would seem churlish or petty minded in ordinary conversation but it is the first thought of editors, publishers and academics alike.
For most of us, watching a movie does not involve a conscious critique of camera angles, plot development and edit points. We are (generally) looking to be entertained and are responsive to the unfolding of a good story. In the same way, most readers can forgive quirky grammar and the occasional hole in the plot as our suspension of disbelief is open to the spinning of an intriguing tale.
Without mentioning any names, there are plenty of currently best selling books on the market which the intelligencia say should never have appeared in print but for those who are gripped by the story, the construction of academically correct prose is of little interest.
Which leads me to believe that the single most timeless ingredient in any story is the premise - the actual ‘thing’ that it is about. If you can get that right then your readers will be with you. Unfortunately, the editors, agents and other gatekeepers feel quite differently and any aspiring writer should be well aware of that. The drive to keep every page tight and exciting is very important in such a fiercely commercial arena. If you can do both, the rich shores of literary fame are well within your reach.