While I haven’t really talked much about it, I had a novel rejected by Dreamspinner Press last month. After the initial “WHY???” response, and then the “What do they know? I’ll send it to someone else.” follow-up, I put it to the side and set to work on my NaNoWriMo novel. And after several weeks, of actively not thinking about it, I had a revelation right in the middle of one of the conference calls I was working on. I knew why it got rejected. I understood why it was not the sort of writing that will fly with publishers. It was still essentially fan fic.
Let me just say right here that there is nothing wrong with fan fiction. Nothing. I love it, I have always loved it. I always loved writing it. It extended the universes that I was involved in in myriad satisfying ways through the use of familiar, universe-specific tropes. As a writer it not only allowed me to engage in the construction of those universes, but in a larger sense it taught me the very beginnings of how to write for an audience rather than simply for myself. I say all this because I don’t choose to be misunderstood about what I’m about to say, okay? I don’t want to be accused of turning my back on fandom and saying that fan fiction isn’t a great thing. Anyone who implies it in comments is going to get treated to a new orifice.
That said, I also have to say that if you want to market to a larger audience, you have got to stop writing fan fic and start writing pro fic. Oh I know all the stories about fan fiction taken pro and wow what a success those authors achieved. The woman who took a Twilight fic and turned it into “Fifty Shades of Gray” will be cited in such discussions. Woo hoo, good for her! But I wouldn’t bank on your Star Wars, or Ripper Street, or Vampire Diaries-based fic hitting the best seller lists, or even getting picked up by a publisher because what they’re looking for is something that will appeal to a wider audience than any single fandom. A fandom’s tropes are meaningless to the average reader. They can be confusing because they’re shortcuts, or even seem trite because they feed off of so much that has gone before.
The novel that got rejected began life as a fan fic. No, I didn’t just change the names and send out a fan fic; I know better. What I thought I had done was to take a situation, an idea, and rework it to create a wholly new story. What I didn’t realize was that unconsciously I was carrying the universe-specific fannish tropes over as well. In spite of thinking that I’d written something entirely new, I was retreading ideas I’d worked with a decade or more ago. It was a lazy thing to do.
I am often a lazy writer. And I’m going to make a confession here: I knew there was something wrong with it. I tried to convince myself it was this scene or that one which didn’t quite work, but the truth is that I think I knew that the whole thing was weak. Dreamspinner was quite right to reject it. They did me a favor, actually, since I do know that in a year or two I would look at this story and cringe that I’d ever let it out of my hands in that condition. They also did me a favor by not telling me why they rejected it so that I could figure it out for myself, I could do the work, find the weak spots. Fix them. Because I’m going to fix them. I am going to rewrite it and when I know it’s the book I want to have represent me, then I’ll send it out again.
I already write in a niche market for the most part, I don’t want to limit myself any more than I need to. It’s important to me that I work to go beyond artificial boundaries. I can’t ask people to pay for stuff that they can get for free online.
So thank you, Dreamspinner. It was a good, hard lesson, and I think I’ve learned a lot from it. I think you’ve made me a less lazy writer.