Apr 18 2009

Susan Boyle and First-Time Authors

Published by at 8:08 pm under Getting Published

Susan Boyle is a 47 year-old, unemployed singer that is on the latest season of Britain’s Got Talent.  She is astonishingly talented.  Watching her compete in this contest will probably be like seeing Michael Phelps– or an alligator– participate in a high school swimming meet.

I bring up Doyle because I think that first-time novelists and comic book writers, especially young ones, face similar challenges.  Doyle doesn’t look like a singing sensation; teens don’t look like they’re worth publishing.  Doyle doesn’t have singing credentials; young authors are unpublished and often lack a college degree. When a publisher’s assistant reads through a young author’s query, there are twenty different sirens going off in his head, all screaming “this guy has no talent.”

Your window of opportunity to demonstrate your talent is exceedingly brief.  If your query is forgettable, the publisher will reject you without even looking at the sample.  If your first page is forgettable, you are done.  Etc.  If you have any reservoir of freakish talent, tap it sooner rather than later.  If your first paragraph is poor, it doesn’t matter how awesome your ending is because no publisher will read that far.

Finally, I’d like to draw your attention to something Simon asked Susan.  “Why hasn’t your singing career worked out so far?”  That’s similar to the question on every publisher’s mind: “do you have an audience already?” If not, why not? If you were good enough to have an audience, wouldn’t you have one already? Publishers would much rather work with an author that has already established he is good enough to draw readers.  Who would want to spend (at least) ten thousand dollars publishing a book by a completely unproven author?

The two easiest ways to build an audience are to either start a blog and/or write for some professional outlet (like a magazine or newspaper).  That will help you prove that you are worth reading and that you are already producing at a professional level.

18 responses so far

18 Responses to “Susan Boyle and First-Time Authors”

  1. B. Macon 18 Apr 2009 at 8:15 pm

    For the love of God, please don’t make your book sound like a cheap knockoff of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or Twilight or (ick) Eragon. Susan Boyle sang an unusual and bold piece from Les Miserables.

  2. Wingson 18 Apr 2009 at 8:22 pm

    I was wondering when someone would bring this up. Personally, I take this as a triumph.

    Take that, shallow universe! A blow to the nose!

    The Shallow Universe is one of the many things that bug me:

    1. The Shallow Universe (obvious)
    2 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (This song/movie has a HORRIBLE message! Basically, everyone hates him because he’s different. Then, when someone important gives him the time of day, they all love him. “Then all the reindeer loved him”. Parents, don’t show this show to your kids!
    3. Friends who stab you in the back/ditch you for popularity. (*growls*)
    4. The Shallow Universe (yes, again!)

    -Wings

  3. ikarus619xon 18 Apr 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Young people (like me) are always thought less of. Sometimes it makes sense; young singers don’t have developed vocal cords and young athletes can’t compete with the pros. Young authors, however, are fully capable and deserve a fair chance. You can’t be too young to dream, and certainly not too young to share your dreams.

  4. Holliequon 19 Apr 2009 at 1:34 am

    Ha, Susan Boyle. Did anybody watch her audition? I didn’t at the time, but I watched it on YouTube a few days ago. The look of utter astonishment on the judges’ faces is priceless. If you can get that look on an editor’s face, you should get a medal. Or at least a book deal. 😉

  5. B. Macon 19 Apr 2009 at 4:52 am

    Ikarus said: “Young people (me) are always thought less of. Sometimes it makes sense, young singers dont [sic] have devolped [sic] vocal cords and young athletes cant [sic] compete with the Pros [sic]. Young authors, however, are fully capable and deserve a fair chance. You cant [sic] be too young too [sic] dream, and ceartainly [sic] not too young too [sic] share your dreams.” (Note: I edited the comment above, but not here).

    Hmm. I’ll preface this by acknowledging that I’m 21, which is preposterously young for a how-to writer. So hopefully this doesn’t sound like nagging from a holier-than-thou senior editor…

    I’m inclined to disagree with you on this one. Adult authors that are good are rare; young authors that are good are freakishly rare. When an author begins to write, he rarely has a well-developed style or an excellent grasp of language.

    If you look at some of the first posts on this site, from July 2007, you can see that my writing style has grown quite a bit over the last two years I’ve been writing on my own. Right now, I think I’m on the cusp of publishability. Two years ago, I would not even have been in the running.

    Finally, there is one other problem that absolutely destroys young authors: grammar and punctuation. Publishers are looking for any reason to reject an author, and poor grammar/punctuation are the most obvious mistake he can make. If there are more than (say) 1-2 typos per chapter, the manuscript will crash and burn.

    When you submit a query to a publisher, your most serious competitors will probably have…
    –99.95% perfect grammar and punctuation (at most one typo per 2000 words).
    –Some sense of style.
    –A smooth and interesting concept for the book.
    –An audience, either through their day job or their website or through self-publishing.
    –Experience/credentials, like a Masters of Fine Arts or at least a bachelor’s degree. This may include a job that will help them sell their book.

    If you are thin on experience and credentials, you really have to run the table on everything else. You need to be more styish, more interesting, more polished, and ideally have a larger built-in audience than your competitors.

  6. ikarus619xon 19 Apr 2009 at 10:31 am

    I sure made a lot of mistakes. I wonder what the average age for a comic book writer is? I guess it depends on the genre. I would expect a how-to author to be old because an older person would have more experience (but not necessarily better experience).

  7. B. Macon 19 Apr 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Nat Gertler was 39 or 40 when he wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Graphic Novels. Peter David was 50 when he wrote Writing for Comics with Peter David. I’m not sure how old Danny Fingeroth when he did the Rough Guide to Comics or How to Create Comics, from Script to Print, but judging from his picture, I’d say 40-50. So, umm, competing authors in this field tend to have 20 more years of industry experience than I do.

    Needless to say, this is a concept that will be really hard to sell. There probably isn’t any kind of book that depends as much on authorial credibility as a how-to guide. To the extent that I have any credibility, it’s my audience. “Yes, I have 20 years less experience. However, I’m 25 years closer to the age of my readers and I already have about ten thousand committed readers and a few hundred thousand total readers.”

  8. Tomon 19 Apr 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Also, it would be much more friendly to show a 21 year old on the back cover than a 45 year old, makes them seem more relatable.

  9. B. Macon 19 Apr 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Ack. Tom, I think your idea about using my picture on the back-cover is an interesting way to show “this is a different kind of author.” But I can’t guarantee that they will use mine.

    1) I’m not particularly attractive. I do, however, look like a hardcore geek, which may make me look relatable for this target demographic.

    2) I look several years younger than I am. I sometimes get carded for rated-R movies (17+). Posting an actual photograph of me might inadvertently make it seem like my target audience is significantly younger than it is, 18-25 year-olds. [UPDATE: I’ve since moved the target age down to 13-22.]

    Speaking of which, it wouldn’t surprise me if a publisher told me “we like the concept, but we don’t think you’re credible enough to compete for an older audience. Would you be willing to market your book for high schoolers?” I’m not keen on dumbing down my voice, but it seems like my standard writing style (big words, short articles, easy concepts) has played well among teens without feeling condescending. (A lot of the books in this area do feel condescending; “do you know what a comic book is?”)

  10. Gurion Omegaon 19 Apr 2009 at 1:36 pm

    I think that teen authors actually help the book industries. One major reason I read Swordbird was because I looked at the back (unconscious habit of mine) and saw a kid. It excited me to see that a teen had successfully published a novel. Even if a kid doesn’t read the book, learning that it’s written by a 14-16 year-old will impact them in some way.

    Yeah, the ”Do you know what a comic book is” kind of thing addressed to teenagers is patronizing. I wouldn’t have purchased the blasted thing if I didn’t know what a comic was!

  11. B. Macon 19 Apr 2009 at 1:50 pm

    “I wouldn’t have purchased the blasted thing if I didn’t know what a comic was!” Exactly!

    But that nugget of wisdom appears to have escaped the publisher of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Graphic Novels. According to the table of contents, the Idiot’s Guide spends 13 pages discussing the following: “What is a graphic novel? Where did it come from? Why? and Who? Those questions are answered here.”

    As I mentioned in my query, I think it’s really important to focus on useful details that will help the audience. Will learning about the origins of graphic novels help prospective authors? I doubt it. In short, my book is aimed at people that aren’t idiots.

  12. Wingson 21 Apr 2009 at 9:19 am

    Heck, I’m almost 14, and I understand nearly everything you write, B. Mac.

    Well, except references to pop culture. I never get those. *laughs*

    Then again, unlike many people I know, I’m not a complete MORON.

    – Wings

    Gurion: Is Swordbird a ripoff of the Redwall series? It feels uncannily familiar.

    If it is, then perhaps I can become the youngest published author.

  13. Gurion Omegaon 24 Apr 2009 at 8:44 am

    Uh, well no not really. It does have a few similarities, though. Anthropomorphic animals, not just birds inhabit Redwall, so it’s actually more like Narnia.

  14. Wingson 24 Apr 2009 at 8:58 am

    Really? The cover would have fooled me. Anthropomorphic animals, a sword…

    – Wings

  15. B. Macon 24 Apr 2009 at 8:59 am

    Hmm. I’ve never read Redwall or Swordbird, but my impression is that both are more similar to each other than the Narnia books. For one, they’re mostly limited to kids (particularly Swordbird).

    If I had to describe either one in eight words, I’d say “conventional fantasy with talking animals.” I wouldn’t even use the last three words. In contrast, I think Narnia is substantially different because 1) its religious angle is unique and 2) it’s substantially more adult-friendly and 3) the protagonists are all humans.

  16. Gurion Omegaon 30 Apr 2009 at 8:11 am

    I actually just looked Redwall up in Wikipedia. Never have I read it before.

  17. Stefan the Exploding Manon 30 Apr 2009 at 8:29 am

    The accents in Redwall are a chore to read. Different rodents have weird accents, the words of which Brian Jacques insists on spelling the same way they’re pronounced. I would smile at more of the jokes in the dialogue if they were easier to read.

  18. Holliequon 30 Apr 2009 at 9:00 am

    I think the hares have good accents (they speak like the stereotypical British gent), but I struggled to understand the moles some of the time. And this is an accent I hear. I have a feeling Jacques is doing it because he likes the idea of people struggling with the mole-speak. At least, I thought he was hinting that when he introduced a mole character in one of the books who spoke normally.

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