J.A. Konrath’s Unreproduceable Phenomenons

J.A. Konrath has a nice post up on the magical science that goes into selling a book. He coins the phrase “unreproduceable phenomenon” to describe how the same elements can go into two different books being published at the same time, and one sells while the other does not. I agree with his premise and his conclusions, and think that it points out a grave weakness in the whole “learn to write” industry. Let me rephrase that… the whole “learn how to get published” industry.
I’ve recently read Donald Maass’ “Writing the Breakout Novel.” (Hi, my name is Sean, and I’m addicted to ‘how-to-write” books.) While I think that Mr. Maass covers a lot of ground that is very good for a writer to consider before submitting a book to an agent or publisher, I thought the book had two inherint weaknesses. First, it implies that most every element he discusses should be considered if not prior to then at least during the writing process. To me this is lunacy. He discusses theme, plot, characterization, character development, tone, genre, style, and everything in between. When I’m writing my only concern is what word should follow the previous one. I build word towers and hope they don’t collapse on me or get knocked over by a tangential plot line or a sudden gust of weak writing. I am not thinking, “This sentence really needs to build on my theme while also showing my character’s spritual ennui.” I’m thinking “Does this word fit here? What the ####?!” The questions Mr. Maass presents are, for me and I hope for many other writers, for revision, where the heart of writing takes place. And to be totally clear and fair to Mr. Maass, I do think he knows this. It’s just a little too subtly mentioned and his book unfortunately takes on a tone of “When you have pen on paper, think of these 12 things at once.”
The second weakness in his book is the same weakness in every “get published” book I’ve read. It’s a formula. He is very supportive of finding your own voice, and he’s very keen on pointing out that there are a thousand thousand ways to write a story, but at base he’s still promoting the idea that plugging into the collective consciousness is simply a matter of X+Y=Z. This simply can’t be the case. That brings me back to Mr. Konrath’s premise. You can have success, and the other guy doesn’t, and no one may be able to tell you why. Like the cold fusion experiments which pop up every once in a while, someone screams “EUREKA” and then everyone runs around excitedly trying to repeat the results. Unfortunately, for a writer, that attempt at repeating results takes years of our life and a thousand thousand word towers, and so, so many of them end up collapsing onto our heads.

One thought on “J.A. Konrath’s Unreproduceable Phenomenons

Leave a Reply