One of the major criticisms I get about my writing is that I need to make sympathetic characters. The hero that everyone admires from the beginning, the shining knight on the white horse so to speak. So I looked at some writers known for their strong characters.
Most famous novels: LESS THAN ZERO and AMERICAN PSYCHO
Who can't help but admire a rich self absorbed drug addict on the path to self-destruction, or a yuppie stock broker who thinks he is a serial killer.
Early in his career Brett Ellis was told the same thing that no one would read novels where the main character isn't sympathetic from the start. Simon & Schuster refused to publish AMERICAN PSYCHO because of protests. Something I'm sure must bring a tear to his eye every time he cashes the checks he is still receiving from the novel and screenplay.
Most famous novel: FIGHT CLUB
It's hard to imagine some one more sympathetic than an anarchist terrorist who takes out his frustrations with the modern word by spreading mayhem. I'm sure he also feels the sting of all the agents that rejected him and wouldn't take him on until after FIGHT CLUB was published and turned into an Oscar Nominated Film.
Most famous novel: A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
A truly sympathetic character; Alex, our humble narrator merely wants to engage in a little of the old in and out, and some ultra-violence while listening to a little Ludwig Van. The complaints about Alex not being sympathetic must have hurt Burgess when the TIMES ranked him #17 on their list of greatest British authors since 1945.
I'm not saying that my writing is as good as those three, but the critics who say that people won't read a story that doesn't have a sympathetic main character are clearly wrong.
To all the writers out there that are having your work criticized because editors don't believe the public will read it based on some aspect other than the writing I'd like to give you this little word of wisdom: Find authors that successfully use that aspect and write something that goes all out with that. It will help define it for you.
As John Jakes says about writing, ““Be yourself. Above all, let who you are, what you are, what you believe, shine through every sentence you write, every piece you finish.”