Editors and agents - like everyone else - have their likes and dislikes, their enthusiasms and their prejudices. Some of these are longstanding, whilst some are fads. MiseryLit, for example. Or in the chicklit genre, any recent novel with the word ‘Wedding’ or ‘Shop’ in the title.
Apparently editors Don’t Like Books About The Media right now. Which is a bit of a bummer, since that’s my background and the background against which my novel is set. I’d read that so-called ‘glamorous’ settings appealed to readers. Only, it seems, if you’re writing about those who appear in front of the camera rather than working behind it. Same with the music business. Which is another bummer, as two of my characters are a musician and his manager. Oh, and writing. Yes - you guessed it: I have two writers in my book!
So, dear readers, I have compiled a list of ten Forbidden Subjects which I’ve heard, from various sources, it’s best to Avoid Writing About if you want to get an agent/be published. Please add a pinch - or a cellarful - of salt as required.
Thou Shalt Not:-
Write exclusively about older women
About 70% of the bookbuying public are middle aged women. Yet Transita – a publishing house set up to cater specifically for this age-group – aren’t accepting submissions any more, which doesn’t bode well. The received wisdom is that if you are going to have a middle-aged or older woman in your book, make sure there are a range of other-aged women in it as well.
Write about people who moan or are depressed
Characters must be interesting, feisty, spirited. Or, if they must moan, they should be funny about it. Think Bridget Jones. Readers don’t want to hear about people like themselves.
Write about what you know
This is a tricky one. Apparently if you write about what you know, it’s all too easy to be
self-indulgent and give the reader info-overload.
Write about what you don’t know
Also tricky. If you write about what you don’t know, you may risk doing too much research and, er, give the reader info-overload.
Write about disability
Interesting one. A participant on an MA course was recently told that people didn’t want to read about disability (he was blind).
Include a lot of internal processing or reflection
Thinking is OK in literary fiction, but not in commercial fiction.
Or, if you do, best not to actually call it a Prologue.
Tiring for the reader to try to decode – best to just hint at an accent in the rhythm of the speech.
Include song lyrics
Song lyrics cost money to clear – if they can be cleared at all – hence it’s better not to use them.
Write in present tense
There’s a divergence of opinion on this one – some editors apparently hate it. So is it worth risking their ire and rejection over a simple matter of tense?
I’ve done every single one of the above in my last novel. My characters are in their fifties, and one is mildly depressed. I’ve written about what I know (television and therapy) and about what I don’t (plastic surgery). One of my characters is blind. My characters tend to reflect on their lives. I have a prologue, a Scottish character, song lyrics (though I wrote them myself) and the novel is written in the present tense.
On the upside, it’s strangely liberating to have unknowingly committed so many crimes against fiction. On the downside, I wonder whether the themes of my new one – painting, magic and rebirth – will, by the time I complete it, be on that list of Things To Be Avoided…
Anyone want to add to the list?