Ask the Agent: Writing by Committee
I’ve seen lots of published novels that read like they were written by committee. This doesn’t surprise me, because those immature in the craft (or just with less gift/ability, whatever you want to call it), DO write their novels by committee. Over a very long period of time, they take so many good suggestions that they cobble together something that meets the pattern. Then they network like crazy until it sells. My question is: how many published authors out there do you think are writing by committee, and how many are truly writers of their own work? I don’t mean to imply that anyone can do it without a good editor, or a critique group. The distinction I’m making is between natural ability to produce a good first draft vs. endless revising to compensate for lack of that ability.
(Fair warning… this post could qualify as a rant.)
As a person who reads a LOT of books, I’ve come across plenty I didn’t enjoy or even that I thought were really bad. But my overriding assumption is always that somebody must have liked it. And I try to honor the writer’s process, whether or not I think they’re loaded with talent. So this question rubs me the wrong way for a number of reasons.
First, it doesn’t fully acknowledge the reality that book publishing is truly a collaborative process, and rightly so. Sometimes it takes a good editor to see the brilliant diamond inside what looks, at first, like a plain old rock.
Second, the term “writing by committee” has such a negative connotation. I don’t think the term is meaningful or helpful, and I don’t think it describes a writer’s process.
Third, the question reminds me of a kind of passive-aggressive criticism I hear too often: The writer making sweeping statements about other writers’ lack of talent and complaining about all the “bad books” that get published.
Fourth, I don’t think it matters how many drafts it takes for a writer to get to a publishable book. Some people are good “raw,” others take more time and revision to get there. Individual writers take different paths.
Fifth, I don’t believe writers can “network like crazy” to sell an unsaleable book. If it sells, it’s because an editor liked it and believed people would buy it and enjoy it.
Sixth, to ask “how many are truly writers of their own work?” seems disrespectful to the thousands of people who sacrifice sleep, recreation, time with family and many other things to sit in front of the computer and squeeze the words out. Writing is primarily a solitary pursuit, and I believe most writers are attempting to truly write their own work.
Last, this is a blog that tries to advise and encourage writers, even though I rant here and there. A generalized statement like “those immature in the craft DO write their novels by committee” doesn’t belong here. It’s insulting, and I don’t believe it’s true.
I try to answer all the questions people leave on the blog. Maybe I should have ignored this one, but honestly, I didn’t want anyone to think I endorse the implications in it. I hope that by giving all the reasons I don’t want to answer this particular question, I’ve answered it.