The Book That I Haven’t Written Is Not For Sale

Let’s pretend that you’re a publisher.

Suppose that I send you a copy of Catskinner’s Book and ask if you’d be interested in buying the rights to publish it.  To be honest, I don’t need to send you the whole thing right away, the first chapter would be enough.  If you don’t like that, you’re not going to like the rest–it doesn’t get any better.

Anyway, it’s a pretty simple deal, I have written a book, I want to sell it.  You’re in the business of publishing books, either you want it, or you don’t.  If you don’t want it, that’s fine.  Some people like my work, some don’t.  I don’t take it personally.

Please don’t ask me for the book that you wish I had written.  That book doesn’t exist.  If you want to publish it you’re going to have to write it yourself. I can’t.

I’m fifty years old.  I have been writing for most of that time.  I know how I work, I know what I can and can’t do.

I write in a particular style.  I use the rhythm of language to achieve the result that I want.  I use punctuation and line breaks and capitalization and the layout of the words on the page to provide the music for the lyrics I write.

If you don’t like my style then the conversation is over, because it’s the only style I have to offer.  A lot of people do like it–in reviews of my work “readable” is probably the second most common word, after “strange”.

I’ll admit it’s not formal business letter style.  I don’t talk like that, and my characters don’t talk like that either.

What happens in my books is what has to happen in my books.  I am sorry if you are unhappy with some of the events or you don’t like the ending.  I told the best story that I know how to tell.

Maybe I am just flat out not a good enough writer for you.  I can accept that.  I do the best I can, but there is no guarantee that my best is good enough.  I think I’m pretty good, and getting better, and there are a lot of people who agree with me.  Still, you’re the publisher and it’s your business judgement that matters.  You say the book’s not good enough to publish, then that’s that.  I’ll move on.

I’m not going to change it to suit you.  If I could make it better I already would have.

Now, if we weren’t pretending, and you really were a publisher, no doubt you would be fuming at me right now.  I mean, who the Hell do I think I am? I’m just a guy tapping out words in a spare bedroom while holding down a day job to pay the bills.  I can’t possibly be a real writer, because real writers know that books have to be rewritten by a committee, with lots of input from real publishers and real editors, and that no book is ever good enough the first time around.

That’s fine.  No need for you and I to waste time with each other.  You don’t want what I have to sell.  Maybe nobody wants what I have to sell.  That thought makes me sad, but there are a lot of unhappy truths in this world.

But I can’t sell you what I don’t have, and I’m not going to pretend that I can.  What you see is what I’ve got, and you can take it or leave it.

Maybe–probably, even–everyone out there is going to leave it.  There’s nothing I can do about that.  Some people like what I have written, but it may not be enough people to interest a real publisher.

Fair enough.  I’ll keep writing what I write for the fans that I do have.


About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Publishing, On Writing, Who I am and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Book That I Haven’t Written Is Not For Sale

  1. tracycembor says:

    Huzzah! No one should write a story that isn’t what you want. Some changes can make it even more the book you want it to grow up to be. But if their vision doesn’t match yours, move on and sleep easy.

  2. kingmidget says:

    This is one of the reasons self-publishing has taken off. An agent asked for the first few chapters of Weed Therapy. I sent them. Her response was that the writing did not touch her the way she had hoped. Or something like that. I realized then that it’s not necessarily about what is marketable in the broad sense, but what is marketable in the narrow view of the individual mind of agent or publishing house employee doing the reading. I would dearly love to try for an agent or publisher when I figure out what I’m going to do with Northville but I’m not sure I see a reason to put much effort in that direction. It’s a complete crap shoot.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Self-publishing has shifted the balance of power in author’s favor, but despite all of the chatter about how publishing is changing, I don’t think that most of the publishing world really understands that. They still have this “my way or the highway” mindset, without realizing that the highway can be a darned good option these days.

      • kingmidget says:

        Unfortunately the highway is also littered with potholes. For instance, the promotional difficulties you and I have both come across. Unfortunately, most small publishers expect authors to do the promotion.

      • MishaBurnett says:

        The potholes are very real, yes. However, as you pointed out, traditionally published authors also run into them. The landscape has changed a great deal over the last twenty years.

        Once upon a time a publishers held enough power that they could demand that writers make extensive rewrites without offering anything in return except a change to resubmit a manuscript. Writers needed publishers and would jump through whatever hoops were presented to them.

        These days, we simply don’t need them enough to put up with that.

  3. I find it absolutely insane that someone would tell you (or any writer) to change their style. I mean, yes, if the person is just starting out writing, it’s perfectly legitimate that their style might need work. But once you’ve been writing for a few years, you do develop a style — a style that fits you, that fits your vision, that fits how you interpret the language, that fits how you tell stories. You can ask someone to change a scene, or a character, or — heck — the whole book — but you can’t ask a writer to change their style. I mean, you CAN, but you shouldn’t 🙂

    • MishaBurnett says:

      My style, according to a number of editors, is “wrong”. So they honestly believe that telling me to rewrite my book and follow all the rules of strict grammar is doing me a favor.

  4. I have never understood readers expecting writers to write the book the way the reader wants it written. If readers want it written a particular way, they should become the writer. I enjoyed your books and am anxious for the next book.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Readers, by and large, seem to like my work. (Or it could be that if they don’t they are scared to saying anything…) It’s publishers, agents, and editors who seem to think they have a right to tell me how to change it to suit them.

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