blogger: Cynthia Ruchti
A simple two-word phrase–great expectations–has maintained a steadfast and recognizable connection to one literary work first published 160 years ago. What else could come to mind when we hear those two words together but Charles’ Dickens’s highly popular and still lauded novel by that name? Great Expectations (serialized in 1860-61; published in book form by Chapman and Hall 1861)–is a study of humanity’s highest and lowest moments. Extreme poverty versus extreme wealth, love and rejection, and–as is expected–the triumph of good over evil.
I wonder if Dickens expected we would be talking about his story on Palindrome Day 02-02-2020. Did he anticipated his words would stay in print this long? That the story would still resonate?
Great Expectations was his thirteenth novel, so it’s highly likely he expected some would love it and some would loathe it. It may have surprised him that most loved it, and that one of his contemporaries–Thomas Carlyle–considered it dribble. “That Pip nonsense,” he was known to use to describe the story.
The Encyclopaedia Brittanica, on the other hand, hailed it for its genius as a bildungsroman. (Extra credit if you didn’t have to look up that word.)
“During the course of the novel, Pip comes to realize that his “great expectations”—social standing and wealth—are less important than loyalty and compassion. Great Expectations was also noted for its blend of humour, mystery, and tragedy.”
And, the book has garnered more than 14,900 reviews on Goodreads, so there’s that.
Are writers prepared to have our expectations changed, as Pip’s were during his coming-of-age?
Common great expectations for writers:
- If we work hard and long enough, we will be published.
- Somewhere out there is an editor whose been waiting for my manuscript.
- If my book is strong enough, it can overcome the Goliaths of platform.
- If my concept is strong enough, an editor will fix all the writing issues.
- I can expect royalties to cover at least the mortgage each month, if not the cost of a dream home.
- Publishing one book guarantees a second contract, and NYTimes Bestseller status means my future is secure.
Common truths about those “great” expectations:
- Not all who wander are lost. But some are. And not every book–even a great book–can count on hard work and perseverance as enough to lead to a book contract. A contract is not an inalienable right. Agents, editors, and established writers understand that great books sometimes die on the vine. We mourn. But it’s true.
- Editors are waiting for a manuscript that causes them to get excited about its possibilities. But a more reasonable expectation is that not all books find their e-Harmony (editor-Harmony) mate and vice versa.
- So few books are strong enough to overcome a weak or non-existent platform. We can expect that hurdle, so we anticipate and whittle the hurdle down to size with our efforts to connect with those interesting in reading what we have to say, the stories we have to tell.
- A great concept is sometimes destroyed by writing issues. Editors or agents may a.) suggest a collaborative writer or b.) reject the work because of overwhelming writing issues. It’s least expected that the editor will overlook the writing errors. That’s why writers keep learning and growing, so the writing matches the compelling concept.
- Stephen King, John Grisham, and J.K. Rowling aside, few other authors can count on royalties to make a house payment. A writer who expects to solve their family financial woes with income from books is leaning on false expectations, not great ones.
- Publishing one book that sells extremely well doesn’t necessarily guarantee a second contract. The excellent writer never stops improving, studying the market, and writing with current reader needs in mind. And bestsellers? Talk to any bestselling author. The honor soon fades in the heat of pressure to write another book with bestselling potential.
Uncommon encouragement for writers:
Rather than discourage writers, this post is meant to help us adjust our expectations, even as Pip did. Actually, so did Charles Dickens. The Encyclopaedia Brittanica notes, “In the original ending of the work, Pip and Estella were not reunited, but Dickens was persuaded to write a happier conclusion.”
Even Dickens’s great expectations were edited.
What writer expectation surprises you with its true side? How have you adjusted to new expectations?