No fledgling business can emerge into the world without the occasional stumbling block.
Luckily, there’s only been one of them so far in the young history of Tell My Story, but it taught me a useful lesson early on.
A coach writes to me from the United States. Let’s call her Zelda. Well, I say “coach”… From Zelda’s website it’s clear she does offer the standard mix of understanding, encouragement, advice and support, dressed up in the motivation-speak that is standard fare in such circles. You can be whatever you want to be. Your only limits are in your mind. Reach for your dreams. You get the picture.
But it turns out Zelda has another identity as a writer of mildly erotic novels. And it’s in that capacity that she reaches out.
Not because of any fame I myself enjoy as a chronicler, still less a purveyor of eroticism (heaven forbid), but because she thinks she may need an editor.
“Send me a chapter over,” I say. “I’ll have a look at it.”
The first thought I have when I open it is “Hmm, you need an editor”.
There are more adjectives and adverbs stuffed into each line than in your average thesaurus. Vigorously, robustly, the tall, handsome man thrusts at her, while demurely, coyly, his voluptuous, sensual prey flees his advances…
The story appears leaden and predictable, and we are coshed over the head with far too much information, which should naturally emerge over time. “The 45 year-old Esmerelda, dressed in her favourite flame-orange dress with the plunging neckline — the one she had bought in the sales at Macy’s – stood there in her Jimmy Choos, thinking back to the divorce she’d gone through earlier that year, right there in New York. She hadn’t loved her husband for years, and when he ran off with his secretary that had been the final blow. So now she was free again. It was at that moment that Pietro, a muscular Italian cop, knocked on her door. When she opened it, she could hardly believe her luck. The cops were getting more gorgeous every year…”
And so on, for page after page.
But please don’t worry about copyright – I just made that up.
Anyway, ever-mindful of my professional duty, I ploughed through it with a sinking heart, trying my best to point out where the text could be made more streamlined, where it could do less telling and more showing. Or in other words, where the story could reveal the characters and their motivations without Zelda having to spell them out in black and white, or rather in one shade of grey.
But as I pressed on, I began to realise that perhaps this was exactly what readers of this kind of novel wanted. Who was I to impose my reading standards on the housewives (mostly) who go for this stuff? Maybe this was an excellent example of the genre, and the kind of novels I personally like to read would have been totally inappropriate for this audience?
In short, I ended up unsure of everything, but sent the chapter off all the same, festooned with comments. Pleasingly, the feedback was positive. Despite that, it turned out my price was considered too high to carry on.
No problem – I was paid promptly, and learned a key lesson: “Stick to what you’re good at, and what you enjoy. That way it’s much easier to convince clients and sell your service.”
And so it turns out I’ll never know what happened between Esmerelda and Pietro.
Although I can guess.