Saturday, November 22, 2014

Stop embarrassing yourself

Here I go again, about to step in it up to my earlobes. I seem to do that often, and it’s just something I do naturally, so I don’t care anymore. It’s a comfortable place to be. Some of you are going to be furious with me when I finish this, so just bear with me and you’ll understand why I’m saying what I’m about to say.

Some of my fellow authors have recently lamented the Kindle Select Program’s cheapening of the marketplace. I understand their concern, truly, I do. It’s making it very difficult for them to compete in the marketplace. I realize this, and I apologize – a little. But for authors like me who are lesser known and still trying to make a place in the market for their work, it’s great exposure to the masses.

But there’s another factor upon which I touched last week in my blog post, and so today I’m going to expand on it a little. Okay, a lot. Humor me. It is the influx of “authors” these days due to the availability of the ability to publish. And the influx is massive. It’s less like an influx and far more like an invasion. But there’s a distinct difference in these authors. What’s the difference, you ask?

It’s that a great many of them shouldn’t be publishing anything. Period.

“Well, freedom of speech and my rights and blah, blah, blah!” the invasion cries. “Who are you to tell us whether or not we should publish, you erudite word master prone to snobbery!” The answer is apparently that I think I have a little knowledge in that arena and I might possibly be able to advise you. So let me try.

But wait: The new invasion of “authors” would never use those words, you know, like erudite, because, quite frankly, they have no idea what that means. And I don’t think a one of them owns a dictionary.

You see, here’s the thing. I have this mental block when it comes to “sensual” and “sensuous.” And when I get ready to use one, what do I do?

I look it up.

That’s right, folks, I’ve been doing this since I was eight years old, and I do still own a dictionary. I don’t use just the online version; I actually own a paper and cardboard dictionary, an orange one with the name of the dictionary on the spine. Really. And it gets used – often.

So yes, I know the difference between the following words:

your, you’re;
there, their, they’re;
it, it’s;
to, too, two;
bare, bear;
peak, peek, pique.

Oh, there are so many more that I see misused on a daily basis. Kills me, it really does. All you have to do is look them up. And that’s the problem.

Today’s “authors” don’t even know they should. They actually think they’re using the words correctly, or they don’t care (because they’re in such a rush to hit “publish”), or they don’t think it matters. They have such a poor grasp of the English language that they don’t know there’s another (correct) word available. Sad, really, but it’s the truth.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Unless you made straight As in high school English (and they give those loosely these days, let me tell you), please, PLEASE do not publish a book unless you can afford the $4,500.00 for a professional editor, and if you hire one, make sure that their English skills are better than yours. I know that’s difficult, since you don’t have a standard to even work with, but try. Please try.

And here’s a novel approach: Read a novel. I mean, read. Do you even read books? Do you know what good writing looks like? Check out Barbara Kingsolver, Patricia Cornwell, Stephen King, John Grisham, Sue Monk Kidd, and their fellow authors. If you can read their work and then read yours and still not see the difference, for god’s sake, shut off your computer and go knit. Or something.
Before you think I’m just a snob or I’m being mean and petty, let me tell you why I’m saying all of this. And it’s not what you think.

It’s because you’re embarrassing yourself.

You really are. You’re putting out a substandard work for which you’re neither trained nor prepared. Worse yet, you’re doing it proudly. Like a dog with a dingle berry on its butt, you’re strutting around as an “author,” doing author-like stuff, talking like an author (“Oh, let me pass this on to my PA”), and generally trying to be a part of the publishing community. And you can be, because there are plenty of other authors just like you out there, dashing something down, halfway formatting it, slapping a five dollar cover on it, hitting publish, and THEN editing it for six months and re-releasing it and re-releasing it and re-releasing it, and really not doing much to it. Maybe you’re even changing the plot in those re-releases. That’s a new book – you do realize that, right? Why would you release something that’s not finished? That’s like mixing up cake batter, pouring it in a pan, and taking it, unbaked, to a family dinner and being disappointed when it didn’t receive “critical acclaim.” You think it should?

You don’t realize it, but authors like me and my fellow word slaves are looking at your work. We’re either reading it because one of our readers has made some comment about how horrible it is, or we happen on it accidentally and throw up in our mouths a little when we read it. Do you realize you get whispered about? Do you know that you get laughed at? Well, you do. It isn’t pretty. And it’s your own fault, it truly is.

But what happens next is the real travesty. When you do that, when you turn out something that isn’t finished, or has mistakes all through it, or reads like a first grade reader, you’ve just added one more substandard work to the growing pool of substandard work out there. Oh, yes, part of this is because it’s so fun to be an author, so romantic and exciting and all that crapola. So let me clue you in on the romance and excitement of being an author who puts out polished, professional work.

Fifty edits. That’s what we estimate my works undergoes – fifty edits. It gets checked for all of the following: proper word usage; spelling; punctuation; plot continuity; inconsistencies in the plot, characters, setting, and anything else where it could be a problem; non-breaking spaces between titles (Mr., Mrs., Dr.) and the first names of the characters, or between the title and the last names of the characters if the first name isn’t used, or between first and last names if there are no titles; non-breaking spaces between ellipses (do you know what those are?), except for the last one in a string followed by more narration/dialogue; non-breaking spaces between a word and an em- or en-dash following it (but not behind the dash, and I assume you know what those are, right?); correct chapter presentation; and generally anything else that could possibly be wrong, including the front and back matter (there’s a couple more of those technical terms).

Wait – you do know what a non-breaking space is, right? And where to find one in your word processing program?

Then it goes to a professional formatter. That’s not terribly expensive, but it’s necessary. It makes the difference between finding a chapter starting on its own page, or finding a chapter starting halfway down a page. And yes, there is a way to keep that from happening. No, I will not share. Get a formatter. Please.

And a cover artist. Holy shit balls, I’ve seen some of the worst crap in the world on covers. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” only applies when you’re standing at the makeup counter at Macy’s. If it’s a real book, and you’re not speaking metaphorically, then yes, they do get judged that way, so make it look professional.

And now you’re saying, “But I don’t have that kind of money!” Know this: The ones of us doing this work seriously know that it’s a business. And starting and running a business takes money. Some of us are still hoping to break even. Many won’t ever, even though their work is pristine. Put the money into a good product. Please.

Now I hear you crying. I know, I know – you’ve got a great story in you. Doesn’t everyone? If you sit around long enough, you can come up with a story that seems like the best one since JK Rowling set down that pen and went to town. Written down on paper, meh. Maybe it’s good; maybe not. So let me give you some encouragement.

Write it. Yes, that’s what I said: Write it. Then publish it on Lulu or Snapfish or someplace like that. Take it to your family get-togethers, see if your aunties and cousins will buy a copy. Take it to a festival in your town, pay for a booth (yes, they cost money), set up a table, and put a stack out there. See if you have any interest. And ask for feedback – honest feedback. Yes, I know it’s like putting yourself out there naked on the corner of First and Main and hoping everyone likes what they see. It’s painful. Often, your work will be less eagerly received than if you twerked on the front lawn of the church on Sunday morning. That should be a sign to you.

After all of that, if you still believe in that story, or your writing, or what your five fans (translation – your mom’s bridge friends and your hairdresser) said in the reviews you begged them to write, then do it. But don’t be like the guy I recently encountered, who sent me his story and asked me to read it and give him feedback. Here’s what happened.

I read it, and it was awful. Read more like an instruction manual than an erotic romance or erotica. I told him so. And he published it without doing a damn thing to it. Worse yet, I got a PM from him this week, telling me that he’s got a new book out and INSTRUCTING me to go to Amazon, buy it, and give him a good review. He didn’t ask, mind you; he TOLD me to do so. I’m guessing he did that to every friend he has on Facebook. Did I do it?

Hell no. I can pour sulfuric acid into my eyes without having to buy it on Amazon and give it a review, because that’s what some of the “books” out there today are like. Stop embarrassing yourself. Just because you can hit “publish” doesn’t mean you should. I’m going to hate myself for this, but if you want, send me a few pages and ask my opinion. Be prepared for the real deal, not a candy-coated version, because I’m tired of this shit and I’m ready to get real about it.

I should warn you, though, don’t do it if you’re going to cry or go out there and bad-mouth me. I can bad-mouth right back. If you do it, everyone will see your crappy work, because I’ll post it and point out the errors.

Then you’ll wish you were twerking naked on the lawn of the police station on Saturday during the annual catfish celebration. Unless you just don’t care. And that makes you part of the problem.

Editing by Mr. Deanndra, who is an avid reader and an all-around great guy (but not an English major).