The other day I read a profile of Stieg Larsson in The Walrus. Much of the article concerned his magazines fight against the extreme right, the unique freedoms of the press in Sweden and protection of people who are their sources, which makes the plot of his crime fiction believable there and nowhere else. But what interested me was something else.
Imagine the advice that Larsson could have received from agents or editors reading his draft of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
“I am sorry but our publishing house (agency) doesn’t see that your work fits for us at this time. However there is some power in it and we would consider reading the manuscript upon revision. It needs to be trimmed by half, irrelevancies cut away, and ideally a dead body should appear on the first page.”
Then, I guess, 20 million copies wouldn’t have sold in the first year, would it? But instead Norstedts, his Swedish publisher, accepted it.
(Okay, Larsson originally wanted to call the sequel, The Girl Who Fantasized About a Gasoline Can and a Match. Changing it was good advice.)
My point and one that puzzles me a lot, is how do you know when to take writing advice and when to ignore it? There isn’t any way to predict success. Everyone tries, but I do think it’s mainly a matter of chance. All I can do, as a writer, is my best. But even in that, how do you know when to listen and when to say push off?
What do you think?