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New Authors Who Make Way Too Much Money

May 31, 2016
Title Tip #1- Take a compound word and reverse it.

Title Tip #1- Take a compound word and reverse it.

Most writers struggle to make money, so it’s news when relatively unknown authors get huge advances for their debut novels.  Writers such as Stephanie Danler and  Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney have received huge advances for their recently published debut novels, Sweetbitter and The Nest.

I’ll admit, the phrase “huge advance” is subjective.  To me, if it’s enough money to live on for a while, then it’s a huge advance.

Giving out a huge advance for a debut novel is a risk for publishers.  The publishing companies want to lock down a potential money-making writer, but if the public doesn’t respond, then the company is stuck with an overpaid author.  A part of me thinks it’s impractical to give an unproven writer way too much money.

Then again, I don’t have a problem with some young writer making so much money up front.  I’m jealous, but I don’t have a problem with it happening.  If a publisher offered me 2 million dollars for my first piece of fiction, I wouldn’t say, “It’s way too much money, and I haven’t proven myself yet.”

An aspiring author like me has to be careful when writing about how much money another writer makes.  It’s none of my business how much another writer makes.  Another writer’s contract doesn’t affect me at all.  If these young authors hadn’t been offered anything, it wouldn’t help me.    Plus, griping about another writer’s financial success can come across as sour grapes.  But as an aspiring author, I can’t ignore what makes other writers successful.

I began reading The Nest just to see what made publishers so eager to fork out money for it.  Maybe I could learn something from this new author’s writing style.  What did this new author have that I didn’t (besides talent)?  I began with an open mind (When somebody else says that, I usually think “No, you didn’t), but I couldn’t get far.

Below is the first sentence (not first paragraph) of The Nest:

“As the rest of the guests wandered the deck of the beach club under an early-evening midsummer sky, taking pinched, appraising sips of their cocktails to gauge if the bartenders were using the top-shelf stuff and balancing tiny crab cakes on paper napkins while saying appropriate things about how they’d really lucked out with the weather because the humidity would be back tomorrow, or murmuring inappropriate things about the bride’s snug sating dress, wondering if the spilling cleavage was due to bad tailoring or poor taste (a look as their own daughters might say) or an unexpected weight gain, winking and making tired jokes about exchanging toasters for diapers, Leo Plumb left his cousin’s wedding with one of the waitresses.”

I have to give the author credit; I’ll always remember that sentence.  But if I had tried to write a sentence like that in high school or college, my writing instructors would have criticized me.  None of them would have appreciated that sentence.

Instead of such a long sentence, I would have been encouraged to write something more like:

“As the rest of the guests wandered the deck of the beach club under an early-evening midsummer sky, Leo Plumb left his cousin’s wedding with one of the waitresses.”

A sentence like that is easier to read, but nobody would remember it.   It ticks me off when the stuff that I’ve been taught in school turns out to be wrong.

The other new novel from an unproven author was Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler.  This author also has received a huge advance for her book.   I thought, maybe I could learn something from this novel as well.  Again, I paused after the first sentence.

“You will develop a palate.”

I felt betrayed by my writing instructors!  I was taught not to use the word “you” when writing.  If I had begun any kind of writing with the sentence “You will develop a palate,” my instructor would have told me to rewrite the sentence.  A better alternative (according to them) would have been:

“Everybody will develop a palate.”

Personally, I like “You will develop a palate” better than “Everybody will develop a palate,” but my writing instructors would have disagreed, and they were the ones with the power to grade my papers.  But if Stephanie Danler had written “Everybody will develop a palate,” her manuscript might have been tossed aside.

In college, I wrote a short story in 2nd-person.  I knew it was frowned upon, so I tried it, and then I got lectured in front of the class for trying it.  All the students in the class nodded in agreement with the professor when he said that 2nd-person was inappropriate for fiction.  Six months later, Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney became a best seller.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t use it to bolster my case because it was a new semester, so the class was over.  I hate it when I’m right but I don’t get the proof until after the argument is over.

To be fair, my short story probably sucked, but not because it was written in 2nd-person.

When it comes to 2nd person and long sentences, I don’t know who is right, my former writing instructors or the publishing industry.  These rule-breaking opening sentences had to be approved by literary agents, editors, and publishers, but not by writing instructors.  Maybe my writing instructors were correct, and the publishing industry is simply rewarding bad behavior.  That happens all over society today.  The law abiding rule-followers get punished while those who break the rules get rewarded.  Maybe that’s the case here.

I’m not sure what to believe anymore.

*****

What do you think?  Would you continue reading a novel that starts like Sweetbitter or The Nest?  Are publishers making a long-term mistake giving new authors huge contracts for their debut novels?

*****

The first sentence isn’t very long, but I used the word “you” a few times later on to make up for it.

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Now available on Amazon!

20 Comments
  1. I would not keep reading a book that started with the first sentence of “Sweetbitter”. The author takes way too much time to tell me nothing that I want to know. What it does tell me–that some guy picked up one of the catering staff at a wedding–lets me know that at least one character in the book is going to be someone that I don’t like. Given the rest of the overwrought description, I’m pretty sure that I won’t like the other characters either. Unless the next sentence is “Then the cyborg zombies swooped in on their pterodactyls and began slaughtering the entire wedding party”, odds are I wouldn’t get as far as the third sentence.

    Interestingly enough, I had an editor complain about me using “you” in the first paragraph of “Catskinner’s Book”. I was describing a business and my narrator used the phrase, “If you come in when we’re open” and the editor said it was improper use of the second voice.

    The problem with large advances for a first novel is that it puts a lot of pressure on the author to sell very well. Publishers tend to offer contracts on later books based on whether or not a novel earns back its advance. A first time author who gets a large advance and then has mediocre sales may not be able to publish a second. Just something to keep in mind.

    • Oh, I got the books confused. My comment was about “The Nest”.

      • 😄😄😄😄 I was going to say much the same. I don’t need to know about the rest of the party guests. Unless Leo Plumb just escaped being eaten by a nest of giant crabs, or something, I don’t even care if he was at the party at all.

  2. One thing I learned is to take everyone’s advice worth a grain of salt. What instructors say is right I especially look into because it is usually outdated or wrong information. Nevertheless, the answer to your question is yes. I read not for grammar but because I enjoy it.:)

  3. That first sentence of The Nest gives me a headache. I don’t know what that sentence is about. Your version is better. I know what yours is about. The real first sentence of The Nest might make me throw the book across the room. Your version would make me want to keep reading.

  4. To me, the first sentence of The Nest, was a run on sentence…I would have placed it on my table never to be picked up again. I enjoy similies amd metaphors, but I like them “sprinkled” through the paragraphs, NOT all in the first sentence. Jst sayin’.
    xx
    Sooz

  5. Do you know you sound like BR Myer?

  6. Frustration is the only word that comes to mine whenever I try to find a new book to read and I wouldn’t be eager to read either of those. They must have good agents to get big money in advance.

  7. I might keep reading the second one, but not the first. As a writing teacher, when the subject of a sentence is the 108th word, it’s just not worth it. That sort of thing enrages me too much, since if nothing else, it seems like a gimmick. Did you keep reading them? Were they any good?

  8. The only question I have is, how big of an advance did your writing instructors get for their debut books?

  9. I agree with everyone else who felt the first sentence of the nest was beyond irritating. Whatever happened to being clear?

  10. I add my voice to the chorus of voices annoyed by the first sentence of The Nest. Then again, it has a certain MFA quality to it – which probably doesn’t sell books, but which sounds comfortingly familiar to publishers so they are willing to bet on it. I wonder how many of the books which got big advances then went on to sell really well – and whether that helped the author to secure a contract for a second book.

  11. Well this is embarrassing. I just posted a rant about cracking the code and getting past the literary gatekeepers on my blog but I think your rant might be better.

  12. Reblogged this on Glass Planet and commented:
    In case you think it’s just me…

  13. I wouldn’t be put off reading by that first sentence of Sweetbitter, though I can see that your instructors’ sentence would have been easier to digest..quickly. But a novel isn’t the same as a newspaper, you’re not ‘doing’ journalism. People read novels to be sucked in, bemused, amazed, not to digest facts. I suspect Sweet bitter may not be to my taste, but not because of the writing style.

    I really think its best not to get hung up on rules and to remember the old adage ,Those who can do – those who can’t teach’. There ARE no rules; language is a plastic medium, like paint, like music. That’s creativity – making the medium into the message, making it work for you and not the other way round. IMHO , anyway.

  14. The rules for writing are passed down to students who don’t know what they’re doing. The rules keep them fenced in. It places them in a box where they can learn the basics. Once they’ve mastered the basics, then they can break the “rules.” Technically, there are no rules. I teach my high school students never to start a sentence with “So” and then go home an hour later and start a sentence with “So.” So once you learn all the rules you’re good enough to ignore most of them.

    By the way, those writers both have one thing in common: They’re women. Women are taking over the literary world because females comprise a large majority of readers. You have the wrong genitalia to get a huge advance. Surgery can fix this problem. It just depends how dedicated you are to your craft…

  15. I would most probably continue reading The Nest. The first sentence is powerful. It draws in the reader with an unusually descriptive style and the attention to detail helps in creating a very real place in my mind. Even if the author hadn’t given so much detail, it wouldn’t have mattered.
    . Though however if the rest of the book doesn’t follow the same structure, i would most probably leave the book.

  16. That first sentence is the devil. I shouldn’t have to stop to take several breaths while reading a first sentence like that. I would hurl it against the wall.

  17. I am a 10 year old boy living in India. I have just started writing short stories and have a new blog. I am trying to learn more about writing better. My parents have introduced me to the world of blogging. I dont knowif ever I will be able to earn money with writing. You can read my short stories at https://shortstories4kids.wordpress.com/ Please let me know what you think

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