So, Linda, what is this conflict you've become aware of between editors and authors?
I actually think they are out of touch with what readers want and they often lag behind the trends now being set by indy books. Editors' choices are now being driven by retailers (and in the UK that means the big supermarkets.) Something that the average reader doesn't grasp is that publishers aren't marketing to readers, they're marketing to retailers. If the book chains and supermarkets won't take your book, it's dead in the water. Retailers like genre fiction, with everything very clear cut. They want to know what shelf to put it on.
You're right Denise. I write about spiky, awkward, real women and most of them aren’t young, pretty or thin, which only compounds their felonies. The heroine of STAR GAZING is middle-aged, widowed and blind and she’s not too happy about any of that. (In fact the Scots hero describes her as "crabbit".) Over the years my heroines’ bolshy behaviour has led to some editorial conflict as I’ve resisted attempts made by patient and longsuffering editors to make my female protagonists nicer.
Do you consider 'nice', boring?
It’s not just that I think, in fiction, nice is generally boring. It’s that I’m steeped in the classics and know niceness is not necessary; that many a book has stood the test of time despite the heroine’s lack of social skills.
Can you give us some examples from the classics of the type of heroine you're alluding to?
Let’s face it, Jane Eyre is not exactly Miss Congeniality. And I'm surely not the only one who’d like to slap Emma Woodhouse. Cathy Earnshaw is a minx at best, demon at worst. Becky Sharp, Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary, Scarlett O'Hara, Tess D'Urberville … none of them would have made Head Girl. Even everyone’s favourite, Elizabeth Bennet, is tricky. At a time when marrying for love was just a fanciful notion, turning down Collins' marriage proposal was a selfish act that would rebound on her large and impecunious family. But we love her anyway.
These problematic heroines haven’t exactly blighted the books in which they appear. On the contrary, they are the reason we read and re-read. We relish their complexity, their guts and their moral ambiguity
Why do you think our concept of the ideal heroine has changed?
Times have changed. There seems to be a belief now among editors of popular women's fiction that female protagonists must set some sort of example. They mustn’t drink to excess or swear; they mustn’t desert or even dislike their children; they mustn’t have casual sex and should always be kind to old people and animals.
Do you think editors and publishers are guarding our morality?
It’s not that publishers see themselves as moral arbiters, rather they’re convinced readers won’t like a woman who is less than perfect, and if they don’t like her, they won’t like the book. I can see why they might think that. I'm astonished at the number of Amazon reviewers who rate a book according to how much they liked the heroine or whether she behaved the way the reviewer would behave.
Linda, do you have an example of an anti-heroine from one of your books who connected with readers?
Yes, I think about this too. Sometimes I wonder how the Brontës’ novels might have fared in today’s slush piles. In an idle, possibly vengeful moment, I composed an imaginary rejection letter sent to an aspiring Charlotte Bronte. I tried to emulate the tone and content of the kind of helpful editorial feedback that many authors receive nowadays…
Dear Ms Brontë
We enjoyed your manuscript JANE EYRE. You write well and most of your characters are believable, but I'm afraid we found your plot relentlessly downbeat and depressing. Does Helen Burns really have to die? Does Rochester have to be blinded? A disfigured hero is not appealing and spoils your otherwise feel-good ending. We wondered whether superficial burns and a partial loss of sight would serve just as well?
We found Rochester himself problematic. He isn't likeable, nor is he physically attractive. He is wealthy (a point in his favour) but you fail to clarify whether or not Adèle is his illegitimate daughter. In short, he just isn't hero material.
Sadly, Jane herself is not very appealing as a heroine. She’s feisty, but physically unattractive and a little prissy. There's little for a female reader to identify with here. Something more upbeat is required for a romantic heroine. Readers might forgive Jane rejecting Rochester's immoral proposal, but to reject St John Rivers as well makes her look priggish and ungrateful.
You might want to think about demoting Rochester to a subplot and upgrading Rivers to main hero, perhaps dropping the unappealing religious aspect of his character. (No one loves a do-gooder.) You could then dispense with your frankly unconvincing plot device of Jane hearing Rochester call to her after the fire. (We don't think paranormal romance has a future.)
You write well and with passion, but JANE EYRE belongs to no clear genre and this would make it extremely difficult to market. Sorry not to be more encouraging, but in a fiercely competitive field, a romantic novel has to have stand-out qualities to be commercially viable.
Thank you for letting us read your manuscript.
A N Editor.
Thanks so much Linda for visiting my blog today. If you want to check out Linda's books, follow the links below. Don't miss her new release, 'The Glass Guardian'.
Ruth Travers has lost a lover, both parents and her job. Now she thinks she might be losing her mind...
When death strikes again, Ruth finds herself the owner of a dilapidated Victorian house on the Isle of Skye: Tigh na Linne, the summer home she shared as a child with her beloved Aunt Janet, the woman she’d regarded as a mother.
As Ruth prepares to put the old house up for sale, she’s astonished to find she’s not the only occupant. Worse, she suspects she might be falling in love...
With a man who died almost a hundred years ago.
You can buy Linda's books on Amazon $2.99
- Don't forget that next Wednesday, October 10, is Alex J Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.