Monday, May 23, 2011

What about the writing?

Earlier this month author Stephen Leather was a guest on Joe Konrath’s blog. He talked about what’s happening in the world of electronic publishing and brought out a few interesting points.

The first comment he made to which I must take exception was: 

“The vast majority of self-published eBooks are bad. Worse than bad. Awful. There, I’ve said it.  By “bad” I don’t just been badly formatted or lacking originality. I mean badly written. Bad punctuation. Clichéd descriptions. Clunky dialogue. And here’s the thing. When I hear “Indie” writers talking about their books, all they seem to talk about is how they go about marketing their work. How they blog, how they work their Facebook contacts, how they post on the forums. I never hear them talking about how they want to improve their craft. For most of the ones I come across it’s all about the selling."

The part of his statement I question is “The vast majority of self-published eBooks are bad. Worse than bad. Awful.” First of all, when someone makes a blanket statement like that, I have to ask have they read ALL of the multiple thousands of self-published e-books out there. I think not. He is merely repeating a statement he’s heard elsewhere. As an author himself, Mr. Leather should be above stereotyping other authors based on hearsay. Shame on him!

The part of his entry I totally agree with is:

"When I hear “Indie” writers talking about their books, all they seem to talk about is how they go about marketing their work. How they blog, how they work their Facebook contacts, how they post on the forums. I never hear them talking about how they want to improve their craft. For most of the ones I come across it’s all about the selling. I get emails all the time from “Indie” writers asking me what the secret is to selling a lot of eBooks. I don’t get any asking how they can become better writers."

This is very true. As a member of various indie groups I can testify that 99% of the discussions focus on marketing. From my experience though, what I’ve heard from most of my fellow indie authors is that they have already put in the time – years and often decades. Also most of us have a critique group, a writing group or beta readers that we work with. We only join the indie author groups when the writing is done and it’s time to begin marketing.

Anyone that knows me can tell you that I am an evangelist for electronic publishing, but I would never recommend that a first-time author self-publish their book without at least have a group of 3-5 people (to whom they are not related or sleeping with) to read and critique the book. Whether this is an online or local group doesn’t really matter. What matters is that these people are honest in their criticism.

I have always been a proponent for new writers learning all they can about the craft. If you could talk to my critique partners or some of the folks for whom I’ve done paid editing jobs, they will tell you that at times I became a thorn in their flesh with the craft articles I attached to my critiques. For three years I led a local writer’s group where we would focus on a topic twice a month, and I would distribute copies of craft articles on that subject I’d printed out from the Internet. Since I didn’t have the money to go to school for an MFA, it’s how I learned and continue to learn EVERY day. In my opinion, online research and study is the cheapest, easiest and most convenient way to learn. Google is a new writer’s best friend. If you have a problem with point of view, don’t know how to plot out your novel, or have issues with grammar and punctuation, the answers you need are at your fingertips – for free.
There is no excuse for being ignorant of the rules. Not in this day and age. If you call yourself a writer, you should know where to go answers for what you don’t know.

As Joe says in response to Mr. Leather:

“In the past, the gatekeepers (agents, editors) vetted manuscripts and screened out the majority of the S#&*. Up until last year, I believed this was a necessary part of the process.

Then I realized that the self-publishing revolution has gatekeepers in place. They're called readers.

Most readers don't have the experience of industry pros, and may not be very helpful in their critiques. But they do vote with their dollars, and a wise author should pay attention to reviews that say similar things (I hated the hero, the writing is repetitive, this needs an editor, etc.) …

Ultimately, it comes down to the same thing it always has: write good books.

Once you do that, you can decide which path to publication to pursue. The fact that we have a choice for the first time ever is a wonderful thing. Don't take it lightly.”


PJ Jones said...

Thanks for posting this, Chicki. I agree that some indie writers need to hone their craft, esp. plot holes, POV shifts, showing, not telling, basic grammar and characterization. This site hosts excellent writers' workshops. PJ

bettye griffin said...

I personally believe that it's safe to say, if not "most," that "much" of the independently published work out there is crap. I often take a look at indie projects promoted through a site I subscribe to that features excerpts. I can usually determine just from an except if the writing is any good, and sadly, it often is not. If consecutive or every other sentences begin with "ly" adverbs and adjectives ("Merrily she rolled along; slowly she turned; happily she sang a tune"), if I spot two or more redundancies ("She raised the window up; she lowered the window down"), and tags after every piece of dialogue between two people add up to don't buy for me. But a good number of these projects have met with wonderful reader response.

On the other hand, I do have to say that I've read traditionally published books that were shockingly bad, and I've come to the conclusion that, if you're a big seller, the manuscript has a good chance of going to press exactly the way it's submitted, with a spell check run but virtually no edits. Glaring holes in the plot? No problem. I once read a book with a mistake that made the entire story non-feasible. Factual errors? No problem. And again, readers will often praise the writing.

Such is the arts. As someone said in The Godfather Part II, "This is the business we've chosen." And personally, I love it...and being able to grow has a lot to do with it.

bettye griffin said...

Oops. That should be "excerpt," not "except."

AllureVanSanz said...

I agree. Not enough self-published authors are self-aware. I think we all miss things. I know my commas are nightmarish in my first few drafts and I depend heavily on my CPs to point them out (they don't always catch them. lol). But I'm constantly learning, checking, getting new BETA readers and critique partners to try to find more of those little mistakes.

The problem is, large errors haunt a decent number of self-published books for no other reason than impatience. It's tempting to rush, and I think we all do a little, but some writers throw drafts up.

Here's hoping readers do good gate-keeping work. I'd hate to think my effort in making my books perfect before publishing is for nothing...yanno?

AllureVanSanz said...

Um... P.S. My books are not by any means perfect. I should have said "effort in *trying* to make my books perfect". lol

Zee Monodee said...

Agree with you - there's only so much our own eyes can pick up, which is why others (CPs, beta readers) are always, always needed.

In the end, it comes down to this, whether you're indie-pubbed or coming through a 'big' house - it's not because you've got a book out and selling, that it means you've got nothing left to learn!

Chicki said...

Excellent comments, ladies! Electronic publishing is still in its infancy, and I hope as it evolves the authors who are stepping into the arena will take the time to hone their craft. E-pubbing is not an excuse to sell junk1