Friday, 28 September 2012

Do editors know what readers want? Author Linda Gillard channels Jane Eyre. Do you prefer heroines or anti-heroines? Naughty or Nice?

Hello there!

Not so long ago I did a post on all of the fantasy books I've read on my holidays in Fiji. One of the novels was The Glass Guardian which I thought was amazing. I caught the author, Linda Gillard on Talli Roland's blog. Linda popped up in the comments which I thought was pretty cool. I returned the favour, and did a troll of Linda's blog, to find that she had some very strong opinions on creating heroines.

Linda was very happy to appear on my blog to talk about how she feels about her heroines and how her opinions may conflict with an editor.

We all know it's difficult  being a writer looking for publication. Well, according to Linda it can be hard for an author seeking publication - again and again. There are many frustrations along with the exciting stuff, but one thing that can cause conflict between writer and editor is that their agendas are different. 
So, Linda, what is this conflict you've become aware of between editors and authors?
A writer wants to write a great book, a bestseller would be nice, but the publisher's agenda is of course to sell as many copies as possible of that great book. Sometimes this leads to creative loggerheads over what readers want.
Don't editors know best?
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. 

I think it's probably just conservatism. Editors don't like taking risks with female characters in women's commercial fiction. Heroines have to be likeable. Ideally, they must also be morally spotless. It's a given that they should be youngish, thin, gorgeous (or at least pretty!) but it's also expected they should be good. A nice mix of Pollyanna and Mother Theresa, with the addition of sex appeal.
Linda, how would you describe your heroines? From reading 'The Glass Guardian' I suspect you reject the accepted stereotype of accepted heroine.
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?
 Sure. In my second novel, A LIFETIME BURNING, my anti-heroine Flora, a clergyman’s wife, commits every sin apart from murder, but when she dies, some readers cry their eyes out. I know because they've told me. They don't like Flora, but they do pity her. 
Now call me old-fashioned, but I think evoking readers’ compassion is a higher goal for novelist and publisher than avoiding readers’ censure.  What I discovered when I went indy and put my books on Kindle (books every UK editor had rejected) was that readers loved my conflicted older heroines! The romantic heroine of HOUSE OF SILENCE has to choose between two very different men and she behaves in a way that some readers will find problematic, but HOS quickly became a Kindle bestseller and has brought me thousands of new fans.
I often like to think about some of our classics of the past and how they'd go about finding a modern publisher. Would Moby Dick find a publisher? The Great Gatsby? I somehow think not...
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.

Yours sincerely
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

Linda Gillard lives in the Scottish Highlands and has been an actress, journalist and teacher. She’s the author of six novels, including STAR GAZING, short-listed in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and the Robin Jenkins Literary Award (for writing that promotes the Scottish landscape.) STAR GAZING was also votedFavourite Romantic Novel 1960 - 2010 by Woman's Weekly readers.  

Linda's fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE became a Kindle bestseller, selling over 20,000 copies in its first year. It was selected by Amazon as one of their Top Ten "Best of 2011" in the Indie Author category.



This challenge is to celebrate the shared birthdays of your hosts. Perhaps you share an October birthday too? 

Have you ever been to a birthday party that was so extravagant it actually made you jealous? Create a story or poem in which a character goes to a birthday party that is completely out of his/her  league. This especially includes the present that you got this person. Totally inadequate :).

Get penning your 400 words of prose/prosetry now!

CHALLENGE NO 47 - Friday October 19

It's Halloween!

Another FW/RU Challenge

We’re looking for chilling stories of ghosts and haunted locations – and maybe even love from beyond the grave. 
A romantic element is essential, but we’re looking for stories with a thrilling edge of fear to add to the romantic tension building between our Hero/Heroine.

Have fun with this one! 
Don't forget the Romantic Element!

Let your head go! 
You can write up to 1,000 words of prose/prosetry!

  • Don't forget that next Wednesday, October 10, is Alex J Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.


J.L. Campbell said...

Interesting interview, Denise and Linda. I would agree that there is a perception that female leads have to be crafted a particular way to be published. Give me different any day. Much more realistic and appealing. The heroine in Star Gazing sounds intriguing to me.

Hope to get something in for RFW.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I believe authors want to write a story that resonates within them. Editors want to keep their jobs: which means what you say, Linda, greasing the skids under book sales by having the most likely to be bought books in their array of titles.

I want a heroine that would be a fun (not necessarily safe) companion on a road trip. A wry, perceptive stand-up heroine that has depth and grit. Same for my heroes. But then there are cobwebs on my ebooks, so what do I know?

Great post as always, Roland

Shallee said...

What an interesting post! I like characters that feel realistic-- one book that I loved recently had a heroine who did some pretty awful things, but I still enjoyed the story, especially because of her complicated character. Thanks for bringing up this point!

Suzanne Furness said...

Great interview really enjoyed reading this especially your query letter reply! Star Gazing sounds like a great read I will have to check it out.

Jai Joshi said...

The Glass Guardian sounds exciting, Linda! and I totally agree with you that editors are out of touch. That's a brilliant insight that they're marketing to retailers, not readers and I think it reflects in how disastrous the publishing industry has been for the last several decades before indy publishing became so big.

As for my heroines, I don't think about whether mine are naughty or nice. I think about making them real. That's what matters to me.


Denise Covey said...

Hi Joy. I think you and Linda have something in common re heroines! I hope you make it for RFW!

Denise Covey said...

I think that query letter reply is priceless!

Denise Covey said...

As for real, Jai, that's the only way to write characters isn't it, but what is real to one isn't real to another.

Linda Gillard said...

Thanks everyone for your positive responses to the interview and thanks Denise for the questions.

Jai, I totally agree with you about characters. They have to be convincing, first & foremost, then they have to be fascinating! Flawed characters are so much more interesting than the goodie-goodies. Think of those Bennet sisters in PRIDE & PREJUDICE. The ones we love are Lizzie and Lydia, the rebels. Jane Bennet is a thoroughly nice person but I get the impression even Jane Austen thought she was a bit dull.

Denise Covey said...

Thanks for coming by Linda, and for extending the conversation. Jane Bennet, yes, well, I agree...

Yolanda Renée said...

I like strong characters, but do not like the full out 'let's get even' attitude that seems to permeate the air waves, 'mean girls'. Some sass, yes, but nasty, no thanks. I loved the book Gone with the Wind, but while Scarlett wasn't lovable, she was real and someone we all know. Melanie, too sweet, and also real, combine the two and we have the perfect woman? :)

Denise Covey said...

Good point Yolanda. I wanted to give them both a good shake. GWTW is up there with my favourite books, favourite characters. Even though Rhett was a bad boy, he was very real, too, and who doesn't love him for his loyalty to Scarlett. And his last lines are an all-time best - 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.'

Charmaine Clancy said...

I think editors and writers need each other to produce the perfect story, they're the yin and yang, opposites, but complimenting and supporting each other's skills. Editors want to be safe, they real the author's crazy wild imagination back in, this can be important, but it's up to the author to say no when there's something they really believe in, because great fiction must break some moulds and take risks.

Looks like we should have that cemetery excursion for the halloween prompt!

Linda Gillard said...

I don't think I can agree, Charmaine, having spent my professional writing life arguing with editors who wanted to make my books simpler and nicer because it would make them more *commercial*.

When my publisher rejected my indy Kindle bestseller HOUSE OF SILENCE it was because it wasn't a straight romance. I was asked to re-write completely, pairing the heroine off with a different man. This was to make it more of standard romance. The reason given for this artistic butchery was, "If you don't turn it into a romance, I don't know how we're going to market it." No one ever suggested that the re-write would be a better book.

I withdrew the manuscript, committing professional suicide and was dropped some months later for "disappointing sales". I published HOUSE OF SILENCE - as it stood - on Kindle as an indy ebook and it now earns me a living as my most popular novel.

Authors don't write the book of their heart to be commercial. Obviously we hope it will earn us money, but few unpublished writers burn the midnight oil for love of money. It's the love of story-telling (and caffeine!) that keeps them at their desk.

I'm sure there are lots of editors out there making good writers better. There are also editors who are rejecting originality, genre-mixing and edgy, unorthodox characters because they don't conform to what's on the current bestseller lists. (Publishers have fallen over themselves to sign up authors prepared to replicate 50 SHADES OF GREY. You're not telling me that's about producing "the perfect story"!)

I do realise editors have financial imperatives. If their books don't sell, they'll lose their jobs. It must be heart-breaking for them having to ignore original writing in favour of something predictably safe. But this has led to a dumbing down of commercial fiction and rigid genre rules.

Well, indy ebooks have changed all that and traditional publishing is in a state of panic, signing up 50 SHADES clones. (The smart ones are signing up innovative indy bestsellers.)

I came unstuck with traditional publishing because my editor knew *retailers* wouldn't like HOUSE OF SILENCE (and in the UK, publishing is governed by retailers, which nowadays means the big supermarkets.) It just wasn't clear what kind of a book HoS was. (I market it as "REBECCA meets COLD COMFORT FARM".) But I knew *readers* would love it. And they did. 25,000+ downloads so far.

Authors and editors used to have more or less the same agenda. That's no longer the case and that's why so many authors - unpublished and traditionally published - are going indy. It's the best & quickest way to get the book of your heart published and into a reader's hands.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Denise and Linda .. what a great read ... sounds like the two of you have lots in common ...

Cheers Hilary

Adura Ojo said...

Hi Denise,
Elizabeth Bennet is one of my favourite heroines of all time. Love her. I like heroines with an edge to them, feisty and all. If EB were removed from Pride and Prejudice, it would be a boring novel to read.

Adura Ojo said...

It's a tough publishing world out there, but I think authors should prevail in what they want in their characters. We need more feisty heroines:)

Nas said...

Lovely post, Denise and Linda.

The query reply is - fun! But sadly true. It may have happened in today's time.

I think editors are bound by the publishing house guidelines, even though they may feel the story is what they should be publishing.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Denise, Hi Linda
You had me laughing with that fictional letter from N. A. Editor.

I agree, the publishing industry is out of touch. Your books sound so amazing. I will have to give myself an e-reader and start buying and reading many excellent stories.

Francine Howarth said...


Couldn't have said it better myself, and I'm renowned for kicking editor butts and pointing unfavourable spotlights at publishers! Well done Linda... The rejection letter's a hoot! ;)


Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Denise, Hi, Linda (nice to meet you)

Well, this was a VERY interesting post/interview. Linda, you are so IN-TUNE... I really like an edge in writing. I get SO tired of the usual heroin. You pin-pointed this beautifully. Also, I don't thing editors want to deal with a "real" woman.

People, and women, especially, are wonderfully complicated. I am totally fascinated by them. They rule their lives with passion and their hearts... many times that leads to less than desirable situations. Anger, vengeance, revenge, PASSION of all types should be visible in our female mcs.

Yes, you can give them some of the "perfect" attributes... BORING. It's the SPICE that makes the meal...

I am looking forward to reading one of your books.


Linda Gillard said...

Thank you once again, kind people, for your enthusiastic comments and for making me feel so welcome on Denise's blog. :-)))

N R Williams, you don't need an e-reader to read STAR GAZING which is in print as a paperback. (That's the one with the grouchy blind heroine.) I'm also hoping HOUSE OF SILENCE will be available as a pb by Christmas.

Blogger said...

eToro is the best forex broker for beginner and full-time traders.