How a lot of Aspiring Writers are like American Idol Contestants

I'm sure you've watched American Idol at least once, right? If you have, you can't help but notice how some contestants (and their supportive families) often boast about how great they are, how great they sing; how all their friends and family think they are the BOMB and should win American Idol hands down! Yet when it comes times to show their stuff in front of the judges they are...in a word...AWFUL. And when they are told so, they argue with the judges; successful professionals who have been in the music industry for years. When the camera follows them out after their disastrous audition, most of them are cursing at the camera and telling everyone how stupid the judges were not to pick them. These contestants are, in a word: DELUSIONAL.


By contrast, the contestants who truly do sing great are, as a general rule, humble, self-effacing and in no way braggadocios. They are grateful for the opportunity...they don't tell everyone how privileged they should be that they have deigned to share their talent.

Now, I am not a literary agent (but I have a couple of friends who are) or an acquisitions editor for Christian publishing but I often hear from them about numerous aspiring authors who frequently tell them that "God told them to write this story". They have commented that is the number one thing they hear from them. However, there is usually one big problem; a lot of these people can't write - they can't put a coherent sentence together and it's sheer agony for those who are tasked to edit it to get it into a format that is readable.

Some of these authors genuinely think that they have been handed down the manuscript directly from on high. Well if that is truly the case, then someone needs to tell the Lord to take an English Composition class. Why are people like this? Do they honestly think that it carries any weight with a literary agent if they tell them that? If anything, it has the exact opposite effect; they end up thinking the delusional author is nuts.


I was once asked to read a manuscript by a person who had been traditionally published a lot who had written a different kind of book under a different pen name. It was AWFUL. The characters behavior made no logical sense. By the time I got through 1/2 of it I was screaming with frustration. I then went and bought a book by this person under their traditional pen name and it was filled with the same unrealistic behavior by the main characters. (The heroine meets a stranger and immediately begins wondering what would happen were she and this person who comes from a different background to marry ten minutes after meeting him). Who thinks like that?! Only people who don't have a firm grip on reality. This author sold a lot of books - it just amazes me the editors never brought this kind of stuff up as something to be fixed because it was so out of character for the type of person they were writing about. If someone I had only met only briefly began to wonder about marrying me I would run in the opposite direction...fast.

Why are people so delusional about the things they create? Do you think it might be insecurity? I often wonder about my own writing journey, if I was under a delusion as well. I felt inspired to write my first book, The Victor, by an Amy Grant song called Fairy-tale 30 years ago. I even asked the Lord after I began writing it to give me a scripture to confirm that the idea was from Him. My heart's desire with the book was to share the Gospel with people who were like I used to be: didn't want to be witnessed to, wouldn't go to church, and wouldn't read the Bible. I came to the Lord as an atheistic Jew after seeing Jesus of Nazareth on television in 1977. I wanted my book to do for others what the television movie did for me. Immediately after I requested the scripture, into my head popped "Psalm 45". I looked it up and was flabbergasted because the first verse said this: "My heart overflows with a good theme; I address my verses to the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer." It just floored me. I ended up using the rest of the Psalm in the book because it was perfect. I even put scripture references throughout.




My definition of success with The Victor was that people would come to the Lord as a result of reading it but since it was released in 2009, I have never heard that this ever happened and with a name like mine, I'm easy to find. A lot of non Christians have bought this book, Jewish and Muslim included. Of course, I had my own delusions of grandeur too. I hoped that word of mouth would get out and it would sell lots of copies but it didn't. It is still selling after five years and I still get a lot of positive feedback by those who have read it but nothing like what I was hoping for....so I wonder. Was I delusional too in thinking that the Lord wanted to use my book to reach the lost? Guess I won't really know until I get to heaven. I just know that I have been as faithful as I could possibly be with the talents He has given me. I just want to glorify Him in all I do...and that isn't delusional.

Good Writing vs. Having a Platform

I am a Christian author. I have self-published three books. 

In the five years since my first book, The Victor, came out. In that time I have learned a lot about the publishing industry and it's not what you may think. As a self-published author I have had a tendency to think of myself as a second class author. I did have several big name publishers come very close to giving me traditional contracts for my books because they liked my writing and the stories I wrote but declined to do so. The reasons cited were: haven't sold enough (5,001) copies on my own - they would only jump in after reaching that magic number in order to "get a piece of the action." Other reasons were: too many people have already read the books. One publisher who was looking at In Plain Sight, my Amish/paranormal fiction who was looking for more cutting edge fiction.  They took a vote among the acquisition team and the outcome was 50/50. In the end they were too scared to publish something so different. Very discouraging.

Getting a book published nowadays seems to have evolved into more about who you are and how big your"platform" is than writing a well-crafted story. I have a friend who is an agent who tells me that some pretty big name Christian publishers will no longer accept submissions from unknowns - no matter how good the writing is. You have to be already famous. Have a platform. I understand that the book industry is suffering on many different levels. Book stores are disappearing (LifeWay Christian Bookstores is the latest) and that it all comes down to staying in business. Therefore, many publishers only stick with their already known authors and want them to keep churning out more of the same (Amish Fiction is a biggie). Once a book makes it big, all the copycats start getting published (think Vampire and Dystopian society genres). Even their book covers look similar.


 

New and unknown authors, no matter how good they may write, if they don't have a platform, are not welcome. Too big of a risk. I bet if Tolkien were to submit The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings today, it would be rejected by all the publishers for the reasons cited above. He broke all the rules of book writing; his only platform was as an Oxford professor and he didn't self-promote. Oh, and new authors have to keep their word count down to 85,000 words - bigger books are too expensive to take such a risk on...unless you're already famous. 

This is why Fifty Shades of Grey got a big publishing contract and movie deal. It started out as a blog where the author, E.L. James, took the characters from Twilight and changed the story into a S&M Soft Pornography jaunt. The idiom unfortunately is very true; sex sells...even among those who self-identify as Christians. It's a sad commentary on the church today that so many Christian women bought this book and paid to see the movie. Everyone I know who read the book said it was POORLY written (same with a lot of reviews on Amazon, etc.) The movie bombed after the first weekend because word got out that it was awful. So, the author couldn't write but that didn't matter - she had a BIG blog following/platform and that is all the publisher cared about. 



I wonder how many good books we will never have the privilege to read because of how the publishing industry works nowadays? Snookie from The Jersey Shore has a better chance of getting a traditional contract than I do. What are your thoughts on this?