Though I realize the term “wall-banger” sounds decidedly filthy, it’s how avid readers describe a book that frustrates them to the point that they hurl it across the room.
Each reader has something different that might prompt them to chuck paperbacks at the wall. For me, what sets my throwing arm in motion is a character stuck in victim mode.
Everything happens to this character. The character doesn’t actually make anything happen.
I’m not just talking about a string of bad luck, either. Plenty of authors expertly throw all manner of atrocities at their characters, from famine and pestilence to a bad case of jock itch. But how the character responds to these things makes me decide – usually within the first chapter – whether I’m willing to stick with the character through 400 pages, or if I’d prefer to do something more pleasant like unclog the hairball from my sink.
The reason I’m thinking about this isn’t because I’ve had a recent wall-banging experience with a novel. It’s because I feel some obligation to remind authors at all stages in their careers that agents and editors don’t like victims, either. Not just in your manuscripts, but in authors.
Every time I see someone taking to the interwebs to lament a rejection or setback, I cringe. I totally understand the need to share experiences with other writers and to gather support. Believe me, I get it.
But it’s the tone that can be a red flag.
Pop quiz, let’s pretend you’re an agent. You aren’t dumb, so you know an author is querying widely. You know there have been some rejections along the way.
But if you see something like this on a writer’s blog, what are you going to think?
I got three more rejections this week. Obviously they don’t understand my vision. Whatever, I don’t want an agent who isn’t willing to take risks.
I’m not quoting anyone directly there, but I’ve certainly seen similar diatribes. The statement smacks of victimhood. Woe is me. I’ve been wronged.
How likely is it that an agent or editor will want to work with someone who has that attitude?
My amazing agent and I had a pretty bumpy path to this current three-book deal. But no matter how many roadblocks we hit, I made damn sure I never fell into victim mode. Oh, sure – I might have muttered quietly about my own crappy luck and even placed curses on several editors’ genital function. But I didn’t do it publicly, and I sure as hell didn’t mention it to my agent.
The fact that she had the same approach made me admire her all the more. Maybe she screamed at her computer or got out her editor voodoo doll in the privacy of her home. I’d be surprised if she didn’t. But the tone of her interactions with me was always this:
It sucks, but here’s what we’re going to do next.
That approach in the face of setbacks is the #1 thing that kept both of us committed to plodding forward together.
I guess what I’m suggesting is that you pay attention to the tone of your public declarations of rejection. If you do decide to share your setbacks, do it in a way that suggests you’re capable of getting back up and marching forward instead of wallowing in a pool of your own bodily secretions.
What do you guys think? Have you seen the sort of thing I’m describing? Have you done it yourself? Do you disagree about what’s OK to vent in public? Please share, I’m very interested in a discussion.
I’m also very interested in knowing how to repair a paperback-sized hole in my drywall. Hypothetically speaking, of course.