Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I Want To Be A Spark Plug.

by A.G. Howard

Note: Despite the title and the picture below, today’s post is not about spark plugs.

But it IS a fitting analogy for an epiphany I had early on in my writer’s journey. And now it's really hitting home, since my debut, Splintered, is being offered to reviewers on netgalley and in hard copy ARC form. I'm starting to get reviews, be they positive or negative, and the spark plug analogy is keeping me sane.

Here’s the definition of a spark plug taken from Wikipedia: A spark plug is an electrical device that fits into the cylinder head of some internal combustion engines and ignites compressed aerosol gasoline by means of an electric spark.

In other words … it magically brings the engine to life. Vroom vroom. But there’s more than one kind of spark plug. So you have to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for choosing the right one to ensure it’s a good fit, or it won’t work. A bad fit means the spark won’t ignite, and there will be no vroom vroom.

A couple of years ago, when I was in the submission trenches with my first agent and my adult literary romance, we received feedback from an editor: I enjoyed the unique storyline and heroine, and I thought the author put a fresh twist on paranormal romance. But as I read, I just didn’t feel a strong emotional connection with the story, so it’s with sincere regret that I’m stepping aside.

I could whittle that entire explanation down into one phrase. No vroom vroom. I wasn’t the right fit for her, and there was no magical spark.

Ouch! That started me second guessing. Where did I go wrong? Why can’t I make everyone connect with my story? Surely, if my characters or storyline can’t capture every single reader’s affections, I have no hope of being a best seller or of winning a loyal fan base. Right?

Well, shortly thereafter I read a best-selling book at the time — one that I’d been chewing on for several weeks — and something clicked into place for me. The book had tons of sales, was well liked according to the majority of the reviews, and the publishers promoted it relentlessly (quite possibly the very reason why it had such great sales).

But upon closing that last page, I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Meh”. I mentally gave the book a 2 star rating out of 5. I liked the concept, and enjoyed the author’s writing style. But for some reason … and I could never put my finger on why … I didn’t connect emotionally with the MC. Actually, with any of the characters.

Yet I read that book front to back, just because the premise and writing style drew me in and held my attention. So I guess there’s hope; even without the vroom, sometimes people are willing to shift it into neutral and push on to the end of the road, if only to take in the scenery.

Some readers may not like my fantasy worlds or my plots, or they may not like my characters for their decisions or actions. My characters are flawed and human; sometimes they make mistakes, or don't think things through and act impulsively like real people do. If I write them in such a way to try to fit everyone's ideal, they become nothing more than cardboard cutouts. So, I have to stay true to my characters and my story, although it will mean losing some readers.

But even if someone doesn't like one element of my book, maybe they'll like another enough to read it to the very last line. That's an accomplishment in and of itself.

Maybe the science of writing isn’t quite as precise as the science of automobiles. But it occurred to me that subjectivity can be compared to finding the right spark plug (book) to fit the right engine (reader). Not everyone will love my stories, or my characters, or even my writing style. But all three WILL appeal to some and I will be a perfect fit for them. There’s just too many people with differing opinions and interests for it not to.

So, my hope now that my debut novel is finally getting read? That most readers will like at least one thing about it enough to push through to the end. But even more, I hope to be the spark plug some reader has been looking high and low for, that they'll connect to the story in everyway, and it will ignite their imagination.

And then: Vroom vroom … let the magic begin.


Jordan Dane said...

I love this vroom vroom post. At Thrillerfest in NYC, bestseller Joe Finder said that an author must accept that no matter how much blood & sweat you put into your book that 20% of readers won't get it. Knowing Joe, he statistically analyzed this percentage. Great guy & talented author. But Joe's point is that going in, you have to accept that not everyone will like your book. Every author has to find a way to deal with rejection over & over, whether it comes from a new project turned down or a scathing 1-star review. If writing is important, you simply can't let that negativity stop you, so deal with it & move on. I've seen rejection crush authors where they stopped writing. I find it sad when a dream is so fragile that it breaks at the first naysayer, but that's not me. I'm proposing that the vroom vroom be in YOU, Anita--and FOR you. When you put that beautiful soul of yours into your work--like I read in your amazing debut SPLINTERED--you WILL connect with the readers that count. Write for them & for you. Vroom vroom.

Anita Grace Howard said...

Jordan, you're so right! All those years we spent getting rejected by agents and publishers was simply boot camp for this. LOL. And what interesting stats from Mr. Finder. I can totally live w/80% getting it. :)

And I need to print out your last four sentences and post them on my office bulletin board! So beautiful and inspirational! Thank you. :)

Jordan Dane said...

Aw. Thank you, Neets. Writing is the only thing we can control. The joy of doing it brought me to it & keeps me here. Wait until one young reader comes up to you & days, "I'm writing because of you" or sends you an early morning email gushing about your book, & you'll completely get your vroom on.

PJ Hoover said...

Love your post! It's so great going into it all with a sane attitude. Sure, reviews can still get you down, but looking at it all logically makes such a difference!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Thanks PJ! That's so true. It's all in how you look at it. And JD, I recently received an email from my publicist. A 16 year old girl (in a library group) had read the ARC and loved it so much it inspired her to write a poem about the book. BEST FEELING EVER! I'm printing that out and framing it for sure. :)

Jordan Dane said...

Wow. That is so cool. You should get permission to post it as a blog. I'd love to read it. Readers have no idea how much something like that can touch an author. We write in such solitude. One reader can fuel many books, for sure.

Bethany Crandell said...

Plenty o' vroom vroom in your book for me, honey! It's true that what appeals to one may not to the other. But I contend most (sane) people enjoy good chocolate, pretty-wrapped gifts and tasty adult beverages--or at least one of them. Your book is the literary version of all those things.

Jordan Dane said...

What Bethany said. Ditto!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Bethany, you make my heart sing! :)Thank you, although as my critter/bff, you *might* be biased. heheheh

JD, thank you again! And that's a great idea about the blog post! I guess I could ask my publicist to get permission for me...

Jordan Dane said...

Think what it might mean to your poet. I would love to read her work.