On Books, Ballerinas and Offensive Tackles
As for me, I need to clean out the lint trap:
My sister and I are going to be teaching a workshop at SleuthFest this year called "You Are Not a Writer, You're a Storyteller." We decided to focus on this because after years of judging contests, doing manuscript critics, sitting on panels and most recently, being involved in the MWA-St. Martins first novel competition, we think many writers are missing one major point:
If you can't tell an engaging, coherent compelling story, no amount of pretty writing is going to get you published. I can't tell you how many manuscripts fall apart on this simpliest of points. Yes, the writing is lovely at times. The similes sing, the description dazzles, the turn-of-phrase delights. But the story? It's too often anemic, stale, dull or wayward. Now I am not the biggest John Grisham fan in the world. God knows (and I think even Grisham does) that he's not the greatest wordsmith. But he's enormously successful because he knows how to tell a terrific yarn. But don't take my word for it:
Building a remarkable degree of suspense into the all too familiar ploys described here, Mr. Grisham delivers his savviest book in years. His extended vacation from hard-hitting fiction is over. However passionately he cared about the nonfiction events he described in “An Innocent Man,” his strong suit remains bluntly manipulative, no-frills storytelling, the kind that brings out his great skill as a puppeteer. It barely matters that the characters in “The Appeal” are essentially stick figures. What works for Mr. Grisham is his patient, lawyerly, inexorable way of dramatizing urgent moral issues.
-- Janet Maslin, New York Times.
Word of Mouth
Considering what happened up in New Hampshire with polling, you might take this next item with a grain of salt. But it just confirms something my instincts and anecdotal experience in the book business has long told me: According to a 2005 Gallop poll, 75 percent of readers rely on word of mouth recommendations from friends, family, librarians, and booksellers when deciding what to read. Only 13 percent relied on reviews. The trick, of course, is how do you get word of mouth going?
On Tutus And Tackles
Was perusing the New York Times this morning, lingering at my two favorite stops: sports and arts. In Sports, I read about the New York Giants offensive line (for you non-sports types, that's the big fellows up front who form a pocket around the QB). In Arts, I was reading about those dancers who labor in the corps de ballet (that's the tutu group in the back that forms a circle around the ballerina).
Strange how similar these two pictures look, huh? But then it struck me how similar their jobs really are when it comes down to it:
1. They both depend on teamwork and complete unity.
“Sometimes I’m blocking with a blind side and one of the other linemen literally has my back. We must rely on each other. We have to know each other’s personalities to coexist out there, and we have to know each other’s tendencies. -- right tackle Kareem McKenzie.2. They will never be the stars but without them, the show doesn't go on.
“Sometimes you feel like you are just part of the scenery...the military aspect — the discipline, the straight lines, doing everything at the same time, the lack of individuality.”-- Cécile Sciaux, Paris Opera Ballet.
“When you first get into the company, you don’t think you’re going to spend your life in the corps. Your dream is to be the lead, and at one level that never goes away." -- Dena Abergel, New York City Ballet.Well, you don't really notice them -- until they screw up. If a Giants lineman misses a block, Eli Manning gets sacked. If a corps girl's leg goes too high in arabesque during the Shades entrance of "La Bayadere," she shatters the whole lovely illusion.
“As kids, we all started out as quarterbacks or receivers, but then we got fat and slow so we became offensive linemen. We might try harder now, but who is going to notice a bunch of big guys blocking? -- Center Shaun O’Hara.
So, if you watch the Super Bowl this Sunday, pay attention to the fat guys up front. And next time you go to the ballet, watch the skinny girls in the back. There's artistry in their obscurity.
Which I guess can be said of many authors. The ones who may in fact have told a great story but didn't have good word of mouth, that is.