Thursday, September 23, 2010

Can you believe it?

I swing both ways, but before you swear you will never sit next to me again, let me explain. I write fiction and non-fiction. And, I can write fictional non-fiction, but I haven't cleaned up my autobiography yet so I haven't had to nudge the truth too much yet.

There are some obvious differences: romance writers have to make up characters. Non-fiction writers and journalists don't. Trust me, there are more than enough characters out there to keep us pounding the keys. Both fiction and non-fiction call for precise research, because as sure as she gets the guy in the end, some turkey in Readerland will know exactly how many days Alphonse the Dumb reigned or exactly how many people in Japan are more than 100 years old, or, for that matter, who killed Cock Robin.

Romance stories start out quietly and end with a rousing romp in bed. Non-fiction starts at the end and every paragraph from there on is less important than the one before so that the editor can cut your would-have-won-a-Pulitzer story if the jerk had left it alone. For example: in fiction, we get two or three pages in before we realize Scarlett is NOT a nice girl. It ends with Rhett Butler leaving her. In non-fiction, say for The National Enquiror, the opening paragraph would start at the end. "Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara have parted ways! Our columnist heard Rhett say "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!" Those in the know realize this is not the end of the story....

Contests in fiction writing are not yet published but you hope to *** they will be. In non-fiction writing, the story must be published before you have a hope in ***.

Some non-fiction writers 'enhance' their stories by not letting truth get in the way of a good story. Fiction writers haven't a truth to fly by. They are expected to enhance the whole thing.

Some non-fiction writers fear rejection because they were self consious to begin with, but as reporters, they definitely won't be rejected. They are expected to fill the blank spaces between ads or else.

Speaking of rejection, here are some questions about fiction that have non-fiction answers that should make you either feel terrific or make you tape your mail box shut rather than face it.

1. Eight publishers said no to J.K. Rawlings first book. What was the British title?
2. TheMysterious Affair at Styles, this author's first book was rejected by six publishers, but she went on to write 70 plus novels. Who was she?
3. And To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street was passed up by 28 publishers before it became a childrens classic. Who was thew author?
4. What Frederick Forsyth novel was passed up by nearly 50 publishers before it became a best seller?
5. A book by Robert W. Pirsig was rejected 121 times before it became a big best seller in 1974. What was the book? (You have to love that guy).
6. This book, Tom Clancey's first, was turned down by more than two dozen publishers before it became a huge best seller. What book was it?
7. The author of The Thomas Berryman Number, which was rejected by 26 publishers, has since become one of the world's best-selling authors?

The answers will appear in the comments section.

Have you tried writing non-fiction? Have you tried freelancing (which pays quite well actually)? Do you feel better now? Hope so.

The easy way to avoid rejection is to never submit a manuscript. Clearly, all publishers don't know a good thing when they see it.


Stephanie said...

Hi Connie,
I had to google, but J.K Rowling's first book was Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in the UK. Fun quiz!

Jennie Marsland said...

Hello Connie, the only one of these answers I know without checking is that The Mysterious Affair at Styles was Agatha Christie's first book. I devoured her books as a teenager.

Helena said...

I have flunked your quiz for sure, Connie. Thought I might know the answers to three: 2. Agatha Christie, 3. Dr. Seuss, and 5. Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (or something like that). It was like doing the crossword puzzle in the TV Guide, don't know the names of the actors or characters if I don't watch the shows! Didn't take time to google.

I dabble in both fiction and non-fiction (including memoir). And my next novel will be the fictional version of what could have been written as a memoir. That's why Robin Hemley's book, Turning Life into Fiction is such an important fixture on my bookshelf.

Really enjoyed your post!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Fun post, Connie, but I'm not going to guess because I'd come up with blanks. The only one I knew was the first and even then, I thought JK had written something before that on a much smaller scale.

Anyway, I can't play today because I'm actually on a deadline for a report on one of the workshops at the conference for the Afictionado online newsletter. I guess that means I write both. I only got back 2 days ago and my deadline is - egad! - today. I have it written at 1200 words but need to pare it down to 300-500 words. Ugh!

Anita Mae.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Connie,
I didn't know the exact title of J.K. Rowlings first book, but thanks to Stephanie I do now. I knew #2 was Agatha Christie. Love her! 3. Dr. Seuss. Hard to imagine he faced so many rejections. I have to admit I don't know the answers to the rest. But you've piqued my interest. I guess the point is that even super famous writers have been rejected at one point.

I have written non-fiction and have been published in a few magazines. Actually, every time we write a blog post we're writing non-fiction. I would love to pursue a magazine writing career, because like you said, it actually pays. But finding the time and energy for fiction, non-fiction, the day-job and occassional laundry is beyond me at this point. I'm still hopeful however.


connie said...

Stephanie - Right. The UK title was Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone. Good going.

Jennie - you are right on the solution. It was Agatha Christies first book. I read everything she wrote too.

Helena - You have three right! Trust a librarian to leave us all in the book dust.

#3. Can you fancy Dr. Seuss not being grabbed up by the first publisher? Agatha Christie was #2. and Pirsig, #5. - it was indeed Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that was rejected 121 times. I read it 30 years or so ago and 122 wouldn't have been a bad thing I thought.

#4 Fredrick Forsyth - his Day of the Jackal was rejected 50 times!

#6. Two dozen rejections for Tom Clancey's The Hunt for Red October? Amazing - clearly it isn't necessarily us. Some publishers should go into another line of work.

#7 James Patterson has been giggling all the way to the bank ever since, and 26 publishers have been banging their heads against walls ever since.

We aren't the only ones to get a handful or two of rejections. So, next time you get one, sigh and say to yourself, the way I am going to overtake Patterson and his millions is to get 25 more rejections - and start posting them out!

Even Mark Twain had plus plenty rejections before somebody got his head on straight and published some of the most delightful stories around.

Jana - Writing for magazines fulltime would be great. Keep writing for them. I had no idea how many magazines there are for freelancers to submit too and they do pay.

Have you considered writing for Suite 101 on the web? Have a look and see what you think. They pay well on a royalty basis. The more it's read, the more you get and it has an amazing circulation.

Glad you all enjoyed the quiz. I feel better. How about you?


connie said...


Hope you are making headway with the report. Aarrgghhh.

Cicero left out adjectives and adverbs and put all the verbs at the end in one long line. Merciless reading but mercifully, fairly short by comparison to others.

1200 to 400? that one calls for scissors and tape I'm thinking.

Good luck