TO BE OR NOT TO BE—PUBLISHED, THAT IS

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Writers have a lot in common with whores.

Too blunt?

Well, consider: In terms of longevity, telling stories has to rank side-by-side with the world’s oldest profession. And, like those other professionals, we are engaged in selling ourselves. (What else is this matter of “platform building” all about?) What’s more, if we want to sell—or continue to sell—we have to meet customer demands to some degree.

Two very talented members of my writing group find this latter concept difficult to comprehend fully. Both are capable writers, often showing downright brilliance in a given turn of phrase or image.

I think they both really want to sell their work.

One of them is a very devout Christian woman who is writing a novel based on a Bible story. She is doing a terrific job of fleshing out details and characters where the Bible gives us only rudimentary outlines. The problem is that she cannot separate herself from being a “witnessing Christian” to get on with her novel. Her preaching at the reader keeps interrupting the flow of the story.

Try as we might, members of her critique group cannot convince her that if she will just tell us the STORY, the characters will convey the message more effectively—and with far more subtlety—than when she merely beats us over the head with Bible passages. Her book has great potential, but I think she underestimates both her own characters and her readers.

The other writer is a young gay man. (Our group is nothing if not eclectic!) He is writing an experimental novel on the gay experience that is truly extraordinary. Unfortunately, because he goes overboard in salacious sex and graphic torture scenes, the book will probably have only limited appeal.

Several of us have posed the “less is more” argument, but he seems to feel that modifying his content for a mainstream audience will somehow violate his artistic integrity. Perhaps he is right, but as it stands now, if the work finds a publishing home at all, it is likely to serve only a small niche audience. Which is really too bad—because there are elements of this book that simply soar on a universal level.

As writers we must ultimately be true to ourselves, but sometimes it seems difficult to see the forest when certain trees are so mesmerizing.

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