Friday, January 25, 2013

What's the Hurry?...Part One

Was just thinking a tad more about the self-publishing arena, in light of recent posts and arguments in which I've been embroiled. Don't worry...I'm not beating that comatose horse anymore. :-) A peripheral side to the subject, however, does lend itself to a question I've often found myself asking of writers around me.

What's the hurry?

There seems to be a perception out there that we need to Get Published As Quickly And Often As Possible To Prove Our Value Or Worth Or...Something...As Writers. And yes, I've capped all those words for a reason. (There's always a reason.) It's because important things are always capped, doncha know. And I honestly think that this underlying assumption/operating principle/belief/perception is believed to be so Important (!!) that it leads to the situation I was decrying so much earlier--which is people publishing their stories or books, basically, before they're really ready.

In other words, rushing material into the marketplace the minute it's "done"--when taking a little more time and patience would have helped it get "done" better.

Where does this hurry come from?

I once heard a motivational tape that talked about "hurry sickness," the translation of what was supposedly a Japanese term for the way Americans rush about so quickly trying to multitask and the like. Putting aside whether or not the Japanese have any room to talk when it comes to work habits or ethics (pot, meet kettle), the term has become an apt way to describe the frantic way many people work. Unfortunately, that frantic attitude has even seeped into the arts...and it shows up in artists trying to spring themselves upon the public when they're not quite "there" yet.

Now, before anyone gets their shorts in a knot again about any perceived "slight" you could draw from the above, let me say one crucial thing: an artist generally knows, in his/her heart of hearts, when the work "ain't quite there."  

Ignace Paderewski, a famed concert pianist of an earlier era, is supposed to have said, "If I don't practice one day, I know it; if I don't practice for two days, the critics know it; and if I don't practice for three days, the public knows it." Most of us, of course, would deny being able to tell if a brilliant pianist simply "hadn't practiced" for three days...but the point is well taken that most of us know, in that still small place within, when we're "not quite there." 

This instinct is different from the nagging feeling that one isn't doing good work, that one isn't really talented, et al. Those feelings stem from fear, and they are inaccurate the majority of the time. The sense I'm talking about isn't negative, in that it's not self-deprecation or self-doubt. If anything, it's the opposite of that; it's a genuine humility that recognizes both our strengths and our present weaknesses. And it's darn near infallible, if we listen to it.

Problem is, a lot gets in the way of that listening. 

Most of what gets in the way is well-meaning: encouragement from critique partners, family, friends, or writers' groups--or even a "public" who may read a bit of what we do and think it's just the "bee's knees." One the other hand, the other side of what gets in the way, ironically, is that earlier nagging feeling that we're just not very good, what we're doing isn't very good, or we don't really have much talent.  Both of these sources of "input" can drown out our inner voice--and the results manifest themselves in two opposite scenarios. In one, the author never lets her work out for anyone to see it because it's never "good enough yet." In the other, she puts it out there too soon, because "it's better than a lot of other stuff out there."

But "better than a lot of other stuff out there" isn't the reason to put your stuff in the marketplace.  Why not?

First off, because that's a purely subjective--and, let's face it, hopeful--assessment of where you are rather than a clear and rational one. It may well be true, but it's just as likely to be only half-true, or only true in certain aspects and genres...or out-and-out false. 

Second--and this is more important--because comparing your work to anyone else's out there, for better or worse, is not a good measurement of whether it's ready to go out of your hands yet.
There's a huge difference between being just "better than other stuff" and being "the best you can physically do at this point in time."  If you've ever experienced the latter, you know this is true. If you haven't...you may be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. But fortunately, the solution is simple.

Listen.

Yes, listen to your crit partners. Listen to editors who read your work. Listen to contest judges. Listen to your friends and family babbling about how good you are. Listen to all of it...and then get quiet and let it percolate. Or, as I'm fond of saying, mull a bit.
And then a bit more.
And then even more.
And then see if you can go a little deeper, make it a little sharper, and make it go where it maybe never went before--maybe where you're not sure even you know how to go yet.
But don't stop at "as good as what's out there."
Don't even stop at "better than what's out there."
Make it so good it makes your blood surge and your heart sing.

You know the difference. Or you will know soon, once you start practicing that deep listening that is the only true judge of when something's really ready...versus when you've decided it "should be" ready or is "good enough."

Because "good enough"...never really is.
You know that, in your heart of hearts.
But it takes patience to deliberately let the work develop to its full potential before you turn it loose.
How do we learn that patience?  

I'll share some thoughts on that in Part Two.

Stay tuned!
Janny

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Few More "Gatekeeper" Notes...

...and a caveat.

First of all, let me say the reference to people not liking what I've said of late has, predictably enough, hinged around this "gatekeeper" discussion.  


No surprise there.


Nowadays, the "gatekeepers are evil" sentiment is considered to be inviolable. If you express a liking for "the way things used to be," you're painted as a dinosaur, an advocate of "cultural policing," a snob who simply wants things your way, and/or a  "wannabe" slamming those out there creative enough to go the self-publishing route.

Notice that in my original post, I did nothing of the kind of any of those things. I stated that in my opinion, we already had had a pretty good system of "sorting" out those works that were ready for public consumption from those that weren't. I added that the people who worked on that side of the desk weren't ogres, mindless drones, or people who hated creativity or innovation; they, just as the authors they unfortunately had to reject, were doing the best they could at the jobs they were hired to do.  And I simply put forth that in my experience, as a result of many books not having "gatekeepers" to point out flaws and/or send them back for more work, the market has been flooded with dreck.  


I actually took special and particular pains to say I was not badmouthing self-published authors or small presses in general.  Heck, I'm with small presses. Am I gonna be stupid enough to badmouth the route I've taken myself?


Yet at least two self-pubbed authors decided I was bashing their work and their enterprises--never mind that I hadn't said anything of the kind--and had all kinds of hurt feelings and/or snark that they then unleashed on me.


I also took pains to mention that the books I was criticizing were in my "inferior" list not because I "didn't think they were good enough for me" (!) or that "I should decide what quality is" (!!) but because they had flaws. As in errors. As in bad grammar, poor structure, word misuses, incoherencies, or other stuff that made me mutter a lot as I tried to read them. Those things have nothing to do with what I personally think of anything. Those things are basic English language writing skills. They're able to be objectively decided. And it's not just "my opinion" that those are important. I'd wager that any writer who was so quick to lambaste me for saying these things out loud would be put off the same way I've been by some of this stuff.


That's probably the saddest part of all of this: that people riding the horses in the crusade against anyone being able to tell you your work may not be ready...didn't bother to ever ask me more about what I'd read that had struck me that way.


They didn't bother to ask me if I've ever had to write a rejection letter, or if it bothered me to do so. (I have, and yes, it does.)


They didn't bother to ask me how much of this kind of work I've encountered, and if there seemed to be a bigger proportion of it coming across the figurative transom. (The answers are "a lot," and "yes.")


They didn't empathize one iota with the frustration that's clear from every single line of that original post. They apparently didn't read the line that said, "I hate saying this. I really hate saying this."


They simply decided I was disrespecting them, and proceeded to rant on me accordingly. 
Which does present the question of who actually was disrespecting whom

Finally, the caveat. If you've lasted this long in this post without seeing red and crossing me off every single friend list you have, you probably know what's coming and are fine with it. 
:-)

The caveat is about my tone. Oh, I got a lot of reprimands about that.

From people who don't believe in gatekeepers.
From people who don't believe in "cultural policing."
From people who don't know me personally--at least two of whom came to my blog already "loaded for bear" because they didn't like something else I'd said in a comment section somewhere else--and yet proceeded to assume they had the right to scold me.
To which I can only say, once again, "Who's disrespecting whom here?"

I put up a post out of frustration, dismay, and not a little grief.

It wasn't read that way.
At all.
But, hey, if you find yourself offended by a cynical, harsh, or perhaps a bit snarky tone on things that are written from frustration, dismay, and not a little grief--if you truly think that someone, on her own blog, needs to worry about whether she's "polite" enough in those circumstances...?

Feel free to go elsewhere for sugarcoating.

I'm just not wired that way, and it ain't gonna be here.

Godspeed.


Janny

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Support These Ladies!

Facebook's being a tool of the liberal media and trying to run them outta town...or at least off Facebook. Yep. Apparently, COTR's brand of "social media" is considered to be...what?? Anti-social?  (Facebook  takes no action whatsoever against abusive, threatening, or vile liberal sites. Just so you know. They have allowed sites to exist with impunity that basically call for the murder of conservatives, called for Romney's assassination, and, of course, we mustn't forget how "surprised" Facebook was that any sex offenders would use it for child porn. GASP! I know you're stunned.)

But these ladies are conservative and make no bones about it. You know. Like 53% of the country is, until the Democratic election machine takes over and changes the vote. So I guess FB figured it was  time to start clamping down on every single Constitutional right a conservative has...since we've already been disenfranchised as of the last election. We're not gonna fight back, after all...

Heh heh.
Let's quit taking this nonsense lying down, shall we?
GO CHICKS!!!!!!

Janny

UPDATE: Apparently, there's been an "apology" from Facebook and some amends are being made. We'll see. A little negative news coverage can sometimes be a wonderful thing...

Monday, January 21, 2013

Are You A "Team Player"?

I have a deficiency.
I admit it.
Easy as it seems for other people to do this, apparently, I simply cannot.

I am not a good "team player."
Those of you who know this blog well know this already.  

Maybe I should explain what I see as a "team player." What I've seen and heard and experienced at the hands of corporate types who speak in those terms.
What does it mean?

In my experience...
It means you  are not a person, but a "resource"--one a company can move around or deploy at its whim and convenience.
It means you embrace an aim of a group you get shoved into without your consent, to make something happen you may or may not even believe is a good idea.
It means you're  willing to "go the extra mile"--which generally translates to, "Sales promised something that is humanly impossible, but we have to save their butts by doing it."
It means you  move your vacations, your holidays, and your life around, if necessary, so that the "team" meets a goal.
It means you  say nothing at all when you see corporate top dogs taking glory for a grand conclusion you and your comrades sweated blood over--or, conversely, take all the blame away from the top dog (even if he or she goofed up) if something goes wrong.
Above all, it means that you think like the group, nod your head over the group conclusions, and keep your mouth shut if you disagree.

Now, to me, the above doesn't describe a human person.
It describes a machine, a robot, or a service animal.
(In fact, that probably does the service animal an injustice.)

Which is why I'm an entrepreneur...and not a "team player."

This kind of admission is anathema.
It brands you as "troublesome," as "difficult," or as "unreliable."
It can, in fact, keep you from getting hired for many of what are considered "good jobs."

And yet, many, many, many of us who bristle at the requirements/expectations above are anything but troublesome, difficult, or unreliable.
Many, many times, we're the ones actually getting the work done--and done well.
Most times, in fact, we're the ones who throw our whole hearts into what we believe in.
We're the ones who "leave it all on the field."
Which means we're the best bet if you truly want to get something of value accomplished...because we will own our own work every single time.
No groups or teams are necessary for us to get stuff done. 
We simply roll up our sleeves and do it.

This is why I'm a free agent, and happy to be one.
This is why I'm an entrepreneur.
And this is why if you think beyond the lines and color outside the box...you might discover that I, and many more like me, are precisely the people you'll want on a "team" that's gonna kick ass in meaningful, lasting ways.

Brilliance doesn't come cheap, and it doesn't come boxed.
Especially not in the "good team player" box.

Think about that the next time you need to hire "awesome."
You may not find it in the good, obedient team players.
But you just might find it in snarky, stubbornly independent cusses like me. :-)

Thoughts?
Janny

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Is It Just Me...?

...or is there a particularly weird form of laziness taking over the online marketplace?

I'm talking about the plethora of so-called "job" ads out there that keep popping up on writers' boards, job sites, etc., that are nothing more than some aspiring "writer" who wants YOU to write his/her book.

Not edit it--although there are a few of those. 
Not so much proofread--although, once again, there are a few of those. 
No, these ads aren't for writing  help. This advertiser comes right out and says, "I need someone to write a novel for me. I've got the idea  (or the characters, or a rough plot, or sometimes a little more), I just need someone to put it into words and organize it." (To which some of us are tempted to answer, "Don't we all!" But I digress. :-D)

Yes, ladies and gentlemen...this person doesn't just want someone to rephrase work already done, correct the English, and clean up the structure a little bit. This person wants YOU to write THEIR book for them. For which THEY will get the byline, ALL the credit, and ALL money that may come out of it.

Oh, they'll pay you for the privilege of doing this for them--don't get me wrong. In some cases, as much as $500! 

(This space for snorting.)

In return, you will sign away all other rights to the book. You will get neither ghostwriting credit nor royalties, should any show up. And it goes without saying that should you write a truly wonderful book and some publisher actually wants to ante up an advance, you certainly won't get a penny of that, either.

So one has to ask...what are these people thinking?
And what kind of idiot agrees to help them?

As to what they're thinking? They're probably thinking that "it's not that hard to write a book." I've even seen job ads saying as much--"for a professional, this won't be a difficult job at all."

What I've had to tell them is that a professional does that work on his or her own behalf--not for someone who thinks it's an easy job, or who portrays it as such.
(After all, if it's that easy, you can do it yourself...right?)

The second question, unfortunately, is answered by equally clueless "helpers."  Because rest assured, someone will take these pseudo-"jobs." That someone may have rotten written English, but they'll be willing to give it a shot. I suppose in those cases, a cynical realist would say, "Hey, there's a sucker born every minute. In this case, we got two for the price of one."  And some people--you know who you are--will step forward and have the nerve to call this a win-win: a person who can't write at all gets one who's just starting out in the business and wants to build a "credit," and both of them benefit from an easy transaction.

Only problem with that "win-win" is...it isn't true. 
In truth, neither one benefits.
The "author" certainly doesn't. On the surface, yeah, he or she gets a book to brag about. Is it going to be a great book? Two guesses on that one. It may or may not be readable. It probably will make them NO money at all. It's a vanity proposition, plain and simple, that they're getting at far less than a legit money-for-value price.

And the beginning writer who helps them doesn't benefit, either. This is a writing "credit" in the mind of the "hired writer" only. They will receive no actual credit for the work unless the "author" is gracious enough to give it--but they'll sign over all rights to ask for it. They won't be able to even so much as cite it in a portfolio, because it's not their work. It's someone else's.

Now, some of you may be saying, "Well, ghostwriters do that all the time. These people are offering the  same thing."
Once again, the only problem with that assertion is...it isn't true.  

It is true that a professional "ghostwriter" may or may not get a byline. Gracious co-authors treat you as one and give you one. Or they give you an "as told to" or similar acknowledgment which lets people know that they know that forces other than their own matchless brilliance helped make the book happen. They don't have to, mind you, though many of them do.

But where the similarity ends is when we start talking dollars and cents. For a professional ghostwriter, an author who hires you without giving you "author credit" will make it worth your while by actually paying you for the effort a book takes.

As I told one prospective client soliciting my services this morning, normal ghostwriting fees for writing an entire book start in the five figures. As in, $10,000 and above. And if you're hiring someone with the expertise, experience, and skill level I have--you should expect to pay twice that much as a start. Because what these authors have discovered--and what the fake "job posters" hope you don't know yet--is that writing a book is real work.

It takes time.
It takes effort.
It takes some degree of skill--even for a very borderline book.

Some of you may plead innocence at this point. You claim to only want someone to "help" you with your book by "fleshing out scenes, adding material, cleaning up plot problems," etc. For some reason, when you write out this request, you seem to think (erroneously) that all you're asking for is an "editor."

You're not.  You're asking the same thing a ghostwriter "ad" is asking for--you're just not as honest about it. And, more often than not, the money you're offering for that work is an insult even to a beginner, much less a seasoned pro.

Yes, most of us just laugh at these things and ignore them.
But it's disturbing that there are people out there who think these are jobs...
That there are people out there who think these are good opportunities...
And that there are job boards out there that continue to list these as if they're viable.

There is a place to go to have someone write a book for you.

It's called a vanity press. 
More and more, vanity presses aren't just places to print up what you've already done; they're places where you can get a package that includes everything from the writing on up.
These are the places where these people need to go.
They won't see any packages available for as low as $500 (or $100, or $50, as I've actually seen in some cases as the "expected budget"), so they'll probably consider them ripoffs.

But maybe, just maybe, they'll also do enough research to realize what they were asking in the first place by pretending to offer a "job" was an even worse ripoff of professional talent and time.  
And maybe...just maybe...the job boards will stop taking these fake "job" ads and leave room for real writing jobs instead.

One can hope, right?
As for me, I'm doing my best to enlighten folks like this, one ad and one pitch at a time.
I hope you'll do your part, too.

Thoughts?
Janny

Friday, January 18, 2013

Maybe I Should Just Call This...

...the Catholic Fiction EDITING Chick at Large. 
Maybe that way, people who don't like editors won't be tempted to read  it. :-)

Because I gotta tell ya...
I've got a way different perspective on the writing life from the time I've spent on the other side of the desk, versus the perspective I had before I did so.
I had a hunch.
But hunches aren't the same thing as spending a mile in my red pen's shoes.
And some people don't like what I conclude after swimming in all that red ink.

Just sayin'.

Being an editor has not made me a kinder, gentler human being.
In fact, it's made me appear to be downright rude, in some people's eyes.
Part of me wants to say, "Tough."
(Can you tell I'm a Robert Irvine fan? LOL!)
Part of me wants to pull back and say, "Hmm."

Maybe I should just stop editing anything at all. Permanently.
If it's gonna turn me into the female Robert Irvine, there are gonna be a lot of people who won't stick around long enough to find the soft marshmallow inside the tough shell.
The only question is...is the tradeoff worth making.

The fact that some people have stuck around is good.
But you know what they say.
You draw more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Good thing I don't want to draw flies, and never have. :-)

So if you're not a fly (which I assume you're not, since you can read, and I've rarely met any flying insects who can), and you can take the occasional caustic nature of this blog, I invite you to stick around. In fact, I encourage you to stick around and read a lot more of it.
I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Even if I don't change its name to discourage those who don't like snark. :-)

More on this as I mull it over!

Thoughts?
Janny

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bad Books: Or, A Paean of Praise for the Hated Gatekeeper

OK, it's time to stop hating the "gatekeepers"--if you haven't already. 
In fact, it's long past time to quit hating on them. 
Because what we've got by sidestepping the gatekeepers now is a whole swackload of really, really bad books out there. Books that are taking our money and giving us dreck in return.

Now, don't get me wrong. We've always had that swackload, in various quantities, floating around. It's been out there from the first days writers have tried to break down the doors of publishing houses and slip their "babies" in.  The difference between that previous condition and what we have now, however, is that now that swackload is publishing themselves, or getting published by small or indie presses...and the result is, shall we say, underwhelming.

OK, let's cut to the chase. It's awful.

CAVEAT: Do not construe this in any way as a generic slam against indie and/or small presses.  Do not put those words in my mouth; I'll spit 'em right back at you, with barbs attached. I'm published with small presses myself. I love small presses for many reasons--as long as they do as good a job with their own "gatekeepers" in place as the big monoliths do.

Trouble is...most times, they don't.
I hate saying this. I really hate saying this.
But, unfortunately, it increasingly is the truth. 
And it makes a bunch of people in the publishing business look like babbling fools.

The "hatred" of the so-called gatekeepers isn't really anything new. Those first readers, agents, assistants, and others who kept our "darlings" from seeing the true decision-makers in publishing have been maligned for ages.  They've been called petty, small-minded drones whose only concern is the bottom line. They've been called ignoramuses who wouldn't know great literature if it walked up and bit them in the neck. They've been called these, and other more unsavory things--once again--since the first writer tried to slip a Magnum Opus, scribbled in crayon on the back of an envelope, over the proverbial transom or under the proverbial door.  Why?  Because they stopped those Magnum Opera from ever getting near a publishing committee...and therefore, near a paying public.  And many, many, many times, that was a splendid and selfless thing to do.

Why splendid? Because when we saw a book get published in the past, we knew--or at least we could be fairly certain--that the book itself would meet certain minimum criteria. It would have a degree of readability. It would have basic conventions of grammar, spelling, punctuation, et al, generally observed and would make a degree of sense (James Joyce notwithstanding). It would, in short, be something that--odds are--not only met a basic benchmark of clarity and comprehensibility but was worth spending a few bucks and a few hours on. We may not fall in love with every book we bought, but at least we wouldn't feel like someone had robbed us of money or time under false colors.

And why selfless? Check out the pay scales for those gatekeepers, and that'll speak for itself. The great majority of editors in big houses begin as assistants to assistants and work their way up. Which means that their starting pay, if five of them room together in an apartment, might get them a decent place without bars on the windows, graffiti on the walls, or shots echoing around the neighborhood at night. Maybe. If you're one of the few people left in the world who really thinks  that "working in publishing" means you have a private windowed office overlooking the Hudson and/or Empire State Building, a great little "flat" in Soho or Chelsea or the Upper East/West Side, and that you spend the majority of your day with your feet propped up reading great stuff, in between schmoozing with name authors and agents and discovering the Next Big Thing...

Excuse me. I need to stop snorting now.

But despite these aspects of their trade, which most of them plied without complaint or (much) cussing, these first readers, assistants, and the like have taken a lot of abuse from outsiders in the industry. You know the type: they're the ones screaming about "artistic freedom" and "innovation" and bemoaning the "cookie cutter" aspects of publishing.  

The flip side? Much of what they say is, unfortunately, true. Publishing is by and large not run by people who love books; it's run by people who look at books as "product" (which they are) that should turn a profit (which it should!)...and less as artistic achievement--or, as Randy Ingermanson so wonderfully puts it, "Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius."

But the resulting "publishing" climate that has grown out of this urge for new, fresh, innovative, and "creative" hasn't resulted in what these people have claimed to want, either. Yes, it's resulted in a more "level playing field." But are arts really about everyone competing on a "level playing field"? Are they even supposed to be?

I would submit that no, they're not.

Arts are not democracies. They never were meant to be that in the first place. Yes, everyone should participate in artistic and creative endeavors. But there still has to be a quality-control system in place so that little Johnny, sawing away on a Suzuki mini-violin, isn't afforded the same performing venue as Itzhak Perlman.  He simply hasn't earned it yet, no matter how many participation ribbons his proud parents put up on the wall. He's got years ahead of him to continue to learn the art. To refine it. To understand its nuances, its conventions, its "rules" and its boundaries. If he chooses to break out of any of those things before the time is right, he won't sound brilliant; he'll simply sound unpracticed and unprepared. And no amount of validation of his early efforts will change the fact that, as far as true art is concerned, he's simply not ready. He won't provide a rich musical experience. He may provide an exciting one, a promising one, or an unusual one--but just as likely, he'll simply provide noise.

And noise, no matter how you disguise it, cloak it, label it, or package it, is not music.
Just as "published," no matter how you cloak it, label it, or package it, no longer is any guarantee that a book is ready for public consumption. 

But nothing is more apparent in our present publishing climate than a swackload of these not-ready-for-prime-time books  getting out there and pretending to be ready.
And their authors truly think they are. No one, after all, gets up in the morning and says, "Today I'm gonna write a really awful book." So they create, without many "rules" and without any "gatekeepers," and they put it out there...truly believing that no one has the "right" to tell them that it's not ready yet.

Well, guess what?
That notion is wrong.
Someone does  have the "right" to tell you that you may not be ready yet.
That someone is a gatekeeper. In the case of the arts, it's a teacher, it's a coach, it's a performance jury, or the like. In the case of publishing, it's still a first reader, an assistant, an associate editor, an agent...or whatever title the gatekeeper goes by.

Yes, gatekeepers can make mistakes. And sometimes, especially nowadays, gatekeepers aren't as well-trained as they used to be (partly due to that pesky "level playing field" notion that leads people to think "anyone can do this"). 

But as they move up in experience and savvy, they won't make anywhere near as egregious a mistake as many, many authors, self-publishers, and small publishers are making nowadays in pushing inferior, badly written, and error-ridden stuff into the marketplace.

Folks who hate the "gatekeepers" are fond of telling us, "Don't worry, the market will correct itself. Those books simply won't sell."
Guess what? 
That's wrong, too.
Because the public--even a discerning public--can't tell the difference between a book that looks ready to go and one that actually is.  Some of these books are amazingly disguised. Some of them have great cover art, and almost all of them have superb reviews posted online. The brutal truth is, however, that  most of them cannot begin to live up to either.  

So how is "the marketplace" gonna correct that one?
And when is it gonna start?

I would submit that we already had a pretty good preventive system in place.
Certainly it wasn't always "fair," and certainly it could become hidebound and downright idiotic in what it pursued.
(It still is, at times.)

But at least it was fairer than subjecting consumers like me to thousands and thousands of books that all claim to be ready, all will take my money...and in the end, will rob me of both money and time by being anywhere from merely boring to unspeakably bad.
Those books wouldn't have gotten past gatekeepers in the past.
They didn't deserve to.

They still don't.
And in this way, then, the  "experiment" has failed.

How do we fix this?
And which of you strident "anti-gatekeeper" folks is willing to underwrite my next few purchases, so that I can support this Brave New World of deserving writers without getting fleeced by all the ones out there who may as well have put masks on before they sold me their shoddy merchandise?

Thoughts?
Janny 

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Mutually Exclusive Goal Dilemma

...so I'm thinking that what I really need to do is get out to more writers' conferences and do more speaking, teaching, workshops, etc., for writers. I enjoy it, they seem to enjoy it, and I can do some traveling and get juiced up for my writing at the same time.

Sounds like a great plan, doesn't it? And there was a fall several years ago when I did just that. I spoke at three separate conferences within two months. It was rather a trip, in more ways than one.  I loved going around acting like a Big Shot--and at one conference, I won not one but TWO gift baskets. 'twas the only time I ever shipped things home from a conference!

But there's only one problem.
I'm discovering that I don't nearly love to travel as much as I once did.

There was a time when staying in a hotel was a treat.
It's not so much of one anymore, for a couple of reasons.
Some of those reasons have to do with recent travel, where I've been traveling with the family for family stuff instead of anything to do with craft, writers, writing, free lunches, or gift baskets. :-)

Another reason is...I miss my cats. Big-time. Especially my little girl cat, Cassie.
Don't laugh. Lots of people miss their animals when they travel.  When I had to leave her for six months when we were going through the relocation here, she basically shifted her allegiance to my husband for a long time and almost had no use for me--after being my "baby" before then. Fortunately, things have evened out now that we've been together again. But she's also gone through some health problems that I've done a lot to nurse her through, and she has once again become my "baby." Literally. When I get in bed, she is on top of me. She's on my head, on my shoulder, on my pillow, or curled up next to me pretty much all night...purring the whole time.

That's not an easy thing to go to bed without now. I even miss it when I'm only gone one night. I find myself wanting to run back home and cuddle with my kitten!

It's not practical to take her on the road, just in case you're wondering. We do transport cats in carriers when we need to--for moves and vets and such--but I would not want to go through the stress of flying with her, even if I did end up in an animal-friendly situation at the hotel in question. (Which most of the time, I wouldn't.)

Added to that a very real love for Being Home instead of Being On The Road...and I have a dilemma.
Day-trips are a possibility--but unless they're literally right next door, they're more exhausting than they're worth.

So what's a writer/speaker to do?

I can apply for some workshops, some conferences, and have the "high" of doing that writing-show thing again. But I'll be missing home way more than I ever used to when I'm doing it.

And I'm wondering how to reconcile those two incompatible goals.

Ideas?
Janny

The Editor Is Your Friend. No, Really. Part 4--The Final Chapter.

Stuck with it this long? Good! We're about to wrap up this mini-series, so grab a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy this last piece of the puzzle.

We've talked about what to watch out for in the editorial biz. We've talked about "red flags" you should notice, and those that you ignore at your own peril. And we've talked about a couple of key attributes a good editor has: namely, competence and humility--which can be considered as complementary halves of the same coin.

Now, let's talk about some other aspects of good editing and good editorial experiences. What else should you expect from a good editor?

1. A good editor will respect both you and your voice. 
You might think this is a given, but it's not. We've talked earlier about editors who don't respect what you're doing, don't like your genre or look down on it, or belittle or ridicule authors out of some misguided attempt to "make them tough."  None of these things is the mark of a good editor.  When we talk about editorial "humility" as a virtue, we're not just talking about the "head" knowledge an editor has; we're also talking about their "heart." If you ever get the feeling an editor's "heart" is not in the right place, this is not a good editor for your work. And that includes editors who will mess with your "voice."

The converse to that is, however, that you be honest about the difference between "unique voice" and sloppiness. :-) I wish I had a dollar for every naive young author who, when told to correct things like failure to capitalize, spell correctly, or punctuate and/or use the correct word somewhere, countered with, "But that's part of my voice."  No, no, and no again. Your "voice" has nothing to do with bad storytelling techniques, awkward sentence structure, or "breaking the rules just to break them."  If you know anything at all about the language, you know that any deviation you do from standard written English will result in a "ding" it its clarity. You don't want "dings." These things get in the way, just like spots get in the way of a clear view through a window. Make your writing as spot-free as possible; if you do that, a good editor will discern your "voice" and respect it, even if he/she forces you to do some heavy-duty literary "earth moving" in other ways.

2. A good editor will have a degree of flexibility and not be afraid to use it.
It might sound contradictory to stress format, correctness, and transparency as much as I do...and then sound like I'm saying the opposite in the next point.  I'm not. I'm merely saying that a good editor will not "pontificate." It won't be "my way or the highway" unless the change the editor insists upon truly IS a deal-breaker for his/her house or for the sake of the readability of the manuscript. There are cases like that, and writers need to respect them. 

But in the great majority of cases, such as if you're using a freelance editor to improve the book prior to sending it to a publisher or agent, a good editor will be willing to meet you halfway. If a requested change sticks in your craw, don't be afraid to ask about a compromise...or to ignore it entirely.  Odds are pretty good that either the editor won't notice it--it happens!--or, if he/she does and asks about it, and you explain your reasons, the editor will go with your judgment. If he/she does not, be sure you know why not.  It could mean the difference between a faux-pas in your book that you don't want out there...and prose that sings. Most good editors err on the side of the singing!

3. A good editor will be a good communicator.
You'd think it would be a "given" that a person who works with words all the time would know how to stay in touch with authors and other clients...but sometimes, it's not. We've all heard the horror stories of so-called editing professionals who take on a task and then are never heard from for weeks, or months. If at any time you get the feeling that this person may be one of those reclusive silent types, address that issue before you hand over your "baby." Otherwise, it can feel like you've thrown your work down a black hole, and no author deserves that treatment.  You're paying this editor for a professional job; part of that professionalism is regular progress reports and quick answers to any questions you have. 

What's "quick" and "regular"? Rule of thumb: if you send an e-mail to an editor, he or she should be back to you with some kind of response within the week. I won't say 24 hours, because that's blazing fast, and some of us don't check e-mails more than once a day; anything past five or more days, however, you have a right to question.  Treat this working relationship as if you're in the same physical office building together. You wouldn't accept "black holes" there, and you shouldn't accept them in this relationship, even if it's conducted from half a world apart.

Finally...let's get to the nitty-gritty, one of the biggest stumbling blocks on either side of the editorial equation.

4. A good editor will not come cheap.
This is worth repeating (although I won't). But it is worth saying, and saying over and over again--if you want quality, you're going to have to pay for it.  That's just common sense, but it's absolutely stunning how much common sense flies out the window when it comes to having one's work edited.

Why is that? One answer: too much misinformation is out there about the writing and publishing business. Yes, it's good to educate oneself. But if writers read enough horror stories about "greedy editors" who want "too much money" to "do nothing," they all too often get convinced that if you ask for money at all, you're suspect...and if you ask for a substantial amount of money, you're probably crooked in some way.

Don't fall for it. You get what you pay for...in this area, as in all other aspects of "real life."

This is not to say that you shouldn't take some of this guidance; much of it is sound. And, of course, you can shop around--and you should. Rates will range from as low as $25 or $50 for a complete book edit all the way up to my rates ($5 per 250-word page) and even higher, especially if you're hiring a "book doctor" who also claims to have connections to other media.  Much of what you decide to do with a book "doctor" or editor will depend on your budget. That being said, however, resist the urge to go with the low-ball bid strictly on price alone. I've seen $50 edits; trust me, you don't want one for your book. :-) 'nuff said.

When you do compare prices, make sure you're comparing apples to apples. Some people's idea of a "book edit" is little more than proofreading: they check obvious typos, they check spelling, and they check to see if your sentences appear to make sense. Unfortunately, some of these people use software to do those checks--which is never a good idea. Word's grammar check alone is so full of errors that, using it as a guide, you will start with something written right and end up with it wrong. (Clearly, Word did not use a good editor for their software "rules"!) Even if these folks do a personal edit, however, they're not necessarily going to examine your storytelling skills, catch plot holes, find things like name changes for a character, etc. And most people I know want all those kinds of things caught in an "edit" as well as the "basics."  So when you're comparing, take notes on who offers what--and know what you're going to pay for before you commit. If you want a comprehensive, exhaustive  edit such as the kind I (and many other seasoned pros) give, expect to pay at the upper end of the pricing scale rather than the lower end.

One caveat: be aware of the differences in prices--and time frames--per word versus per "page." Pages can be literally any length nowadays, depending on how the writer sets up the manuscript.  Obviously, a "page" with 350 words will take longer to edit than one with 250 words, so estimates you receive should reflect that. When I give quotes nowadays, especially for clients who want a "flat-fee" estimate, I tend to do them on per-word rates rather than "per page." It's far more accurate and fair to both sides. 

The other rate option is a per-hour rate; that can sound pricey at first, but if you've got a very clean manuscript, it can actually be cheaper to hire a high-per-hour rate editor than one who gives you a flat-fee quote. The higher per-hour editor often is better qualified and will work faster...which means that you pay a modest fee, get a quick turnaround, and have great results that fit your budget.

Such a deal, huh?

Whatever deal you strike, with whatever editor you choose...make sure you know what you're getting, when you're supposed to get it, and what you're paying for it up front. That way, you'll know if you're not getting what you paid for, and you can take steps accordingly. But if you exercise reasonable caution, you shouldn't end up on those "writer alert" boards complaining--or have to pay twice for an edit that should be done right the first time.

Good luck!

=======================

This installment concludes our quick-and-dirty course in Editor Wisdom 101. I hope the info here has been useful, valuable, and helpful. Any feedback you want to put in here will be appreciated!

Thanks for listening...
Janny 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Free Yourself! Throw Out The Lists! Just Write!

....just don't ask me to read and applaud what you come up with. 
Deal?

OK, let me backtrack a touch here, or none of this will make sense.

At this time of the year, it's a very popular thing to decide that one is going to "free" oneself to be "truly creative."  Sounds terrific, doesn't it? Free yourself. Quit standing in your own way. Quit telling yourself you "have" to do things a certain way for them to be "right."
All that stuff sounds truly enlightened. It sounds like an ideal way to create. Just sit down...and let yourself fly. What happens will be from the heart, and pure, and beautiful!!!!

If I've seen one expression of this sentiment, I've seen a dozen.
And every single one of them grates on my nerves like nails on a blackboard. (Or a plastic knife on Styrofoam, which is even worse. Trust me on this.)

Why is that?
It's because proclaiming that to the wrong audience is pure poppycock.
It's not only a lie...it's a lie that can devastate the very creativity it's trying to free.
At the very least, it encourages--yea, practically demands--mediocrity.
It baptizes it and calls it brilliant.
And it's a disgrace.

Now, this may puzzle you.
You may come away from that statement thinking I just don't believe in creativity.
That I find it threatening in some fashion that people are willing to toss away rules and just "fly." That somehow, because I make so much of my living on the other side of the desk, I've lost the joy of pure creation and want everyone to fit in a "box."

None of that is true, no matter what you might think at first.
As a matter of fact, I'm a great fan of creativity.
I'm just not a great fan of ignorant "creativity."
Of which we have so many examples in the publishing world now, it hurts to talk about them.

A word to the creatively wise--or those of you who would be--then, certainly seems in order.
What these sentiments don't tell you is the crux of the matter.
Which is that creativity, in order to be truly productive and to end with something worthwhile...
...needs a bit of structure.

Stop screaming. I promise, it's not gonna hurt as much as you think. 

The hard, grownup truth of the matter is that you are not creative despite the structure within which you work; you are, more often than not, more creative because of that same structure.

Michelangelo splattering paint in general patterns on the Sistine Chapel might have been creative. But it wouldn't have been awe-inspiring, edifying, and instructive--not to mention holy work--the way it came about when he planned out what he was going to do and was willing to spend those months on his back making it happen.

In other words...overall, for most creativity, a structure is a help, not a hindrance. In fact, most of the time, it's the only way that creativity gets channeled to bring about a successful  and truly beautiful result.

If you've been told otherwise, you've been lied to.
And I don't care how far up the creative ladder the person was who told you that.
Because they lied.

Deliberately? Nope. 
More than likely, they truly believe what they're telling you.
But many of these  brilliant, accomplished people are guilty of forgetting one thing: whom they're talking to. Because if you're a brilliant, accomplished person, and you're talking to newbies, you may forget that you're a long way from being in their shoes anymore.
And that's the problem.

Had someone told you, as a beginner, that you should just sit down, ignore all the structures and rules and potential labor-saving advice out there, and allow yourself to "fly"...you probably wouldn't have become a brilliant, successful, and accomplished member of your profession.
(Maybe you tried it, in fact, and discovered the hard way that it didn't work!)

That's why it pays to remember that  the ability to do what you do now, to use your creativity to its fullest extent, didn't just fall out of a tree and hit you in the head.
You had to seek it out. You had to learn it.
And, to a great extent, what you sought and had to master was the structure that would enable your work to see the greatest chances for success.

Think about it.
If you're a novelist, what's the best way for your story to see success?
Is it via 90,000 words of free verse?
Is it conveyed well in 300 pages of self-illustrated haiku?
Is it told in newspaper columns, Tweets, or Facebook posts?
Of course not.
It's in the form of a book. With chapters. With scenes. With conflict. With characters who show certain traits, talk a certain way, believe a certain way, and will portray your story in a certain way. For readers who read a certain way and like their stories to unfold a certain way.

In other words, folks...in a structure.
In a shape.
In a format.
Something that requires thought, not just raw emotion, unfettered "freedom," or counter-intuitive "brilliance."

So by all means, free yourself to do your  best work...whatever that takes, and however you can do it.  Don't be afraid to be creative. Don't be afraid to take a few risks.
But at least have respect for the lay of the land before you attempt to circumnavigate it.
And don't perpetuate this ignorant lie that creativity without thought or structure is somehow "purer" and "better" and more noble.

It's not. It's just self-delusion.
And the sooner you discard it as the counterfeit coin it is...

the sooner you'll be really creative this year.

Thoughts?
Janny

Monday, January 07, 2013

Happeeee Anniversareeeeee! Or, A Mixed-Bag Monday

...so today marks two years since the job for which I came to Indiana...laid me off. 

Eliminated my "position," which was good news, since that way I got a severance package. Paid me that severance, which was good news, since I was then able to do what I had wanted to do for a long time--go into full-time freelance work. But did it rather abruptly and without much warning, at 3:30 in the afternoon, when I did NOT have a car available to haul stuff home. Which meant I hauled home my personal belongings on a BUS.

Yeah, there are some aspects of things like this that are just unfortunate.

But overall? I'm glad. I'm a happy freelancer, albeit not a rich one yet.
And quite frankly...I've come to the conclusion more than once that I'm simply not "employee" material. I'm "entrepreneur" material, or "contractor" material, or "freelancer" material. "Employee" I don't do so good at, for many reasons.

So this isn't a sad, or mad, or upsetting anniversary.
It's kind of a great day.
The other side of the coin, though, is that it's also the day when we take down Christmas stuff in the house.
Which makes it kind of a sad day as well.
And--joy of joys--I actually have a dental problem to get taken care of this afternoon.
And we all know how much we all love going to the dentist.

Can I do Mondays, or what?
(sigh)

Janny