This short piece in Salon (originally a letter in the Reading Club) last week got me thinking about boredom, specifically the kind of boredom that we publishing folks experience on an almost hourly basis. Of the thousands of queries and manuscripts that we sift through every year, a significant percentage suffer from a serious case of boring. The good stuff is exciting, thrilling, energizing, and…not boring. The very bad is tragic, hilarious, depressing, and baffling, but, again, not boring. Then there’s that other category of submissions: the inescapably, suffocatingly, mind-numbingly boring. For me, getting through these is the hardest part of my job. Saying “next” when it’s an unsolicited query or manuscript that’s dragging you down into the arms of Morpheus is one thing. It’s quite another when it’s a manuscript by a client or a client’s referral.
When it comes to explaining to a client why his or her novel doesn’t work, “Because it’s boring!” is not an option. You have to dig around for problems of plot, characterization, themes, etc., and that entails reading much more of the material than you can stay awake for without the aid of artificial stimulants. The biggest problem is, of course, that the book is boring, but people who will happily take eviscerating criticism about their prose style or their lack of character development would run you over with their SUVs if you mentioned the “B” word.
Which is why I was so amused by this phrase in axelrod’s letter regarding MFA workshop critiques: “If we didn’t like a piece, we could talk about anything but the one thing that mattered, the awful, dreaded taboo word: boring.” Heh. I know just what he means.