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Finding Publisher – A simple guide to getting (your kid) published, even if you really shouldn’t

As an amazingly successful published author, I am recognized as an expert on the subject and often asked how one should go about getting published.

By my kids.

Everyone else? They just tend to roll their eyes when I talk about getting published.

If they even notice I’m talking.

But, in case someone out there is looking for advice on how to get published, here is my simple guide.

How simple, those of you with short attention spans ask worriedly?

Simple enough for a pre-tweener.

As proof for the above statement, I am using my pre-tweener kiddo’s experience following my sage advice to illustrate my approach.

Step 1: Write a book. I can’t help you with this one, except to say form words with letters and sentences with words and paragraphs with sentences. The more pleasant and easier on the eyes the paragraphs, the better.

Don’t forget the spaces between the words and sentences (but NOT between the letters!).

Fortunately, Step 1 turns out to be the easiest part of the process.

Those fat blue drops? Tears of joy I managed to get this project completed to the kiddo's satisfaction.

A surprisingly large number of best-sellers start out as staple-bound, hand-drawn paper books

It smells fine, so these contents must be brilliant! Whew!

Flipping open a homemade book is like slicing the author’s brain in half and seeing the either brilliant or gangrenous contents within.

Step 2: Write a query letter. This involves doing market research so you can argue convince the publisher you’ve selected to print your book that people will actually buy it. I know, this sounds like something the publisher should be doing, but apparently they are lazy.

Don't worry about spelling errors in your query letter. Publishers know you're too busy focusing on the book to waste a lot of time on the query letter.

While the penmanship is not great, this *is* the preferred stationary of editors and publishers everywhere. Also, plaintive requests to print your book on the outside of the envelope always helps improve the odds.

As a bonus, you can falsify your data and the lazy publisher won’t bother to check.

If dealing with a small child, you will most likely be asked what to put in the query letter. Ah, the innocence of youth, asking that age-old question as if there’s an answer. I simply told my spawn to say why someone would want to read their book. A translation of his letter (pictured above) appears in the Details section if you click on it. I think he put it exactly how the rest of us authors wish we could put it.

Now I know, you’re thinking, “Why bother with a query? My book is amaze-balls and I had to buy a home security system just to ensure the manuscript wasn’t stolen after I wrote it. Why not just send the publisher the only copy of my book and be done with it?”

Good question. And for the most part, you’re absolutely correct. But there are two points you overlooked: publishers are lazy (see above) AND they have terrible office security systems. But the sheer awesomeness implied by your query letter will excite the publisher out of their apathetic state and give them time to upgrade (or install) a suitable security system in their office.

Or they might ask you to send the manuscript directly to a bank for safe-keeping in a vault.

This is the true purpose of the otherwise tedious query letter – to learn the appropriate secure address to send your manuscript to.

Step 3: Wait for the offer letter. Don’t worry, you’ll get an enthusiastic and generous response almost immediately. Books are in high demand, and publishers can’t wait to crank out more. As an author, you’re a valuable asset in high demand! Prepare to be on Easy Street (near the intersection of Unbelievably Effin’ Wealthy Lane), living the high life! You probably won’t even have time to run to the nearest corner convenience store to get a slushy. That’s how fast the turnaround time will be!

Publishers are sh*t-eating mo-fos who deserve to die the most outlandish, B horror movie way possible, caption notwithstanding.

You will never receive a form letter from a publisher. Even in the unlikely case of a rejection, they always hand-craft the nicest, most details rejections, nudging you into the right direction should you wish to make some edits and try again. The publisher’s response is always the highlight of my submission process.

Step 4: Upon receiving a request back from the publisher to see your full manuscript, send it. Then sit back and wait for the proof copy to show up on your doorstep, along with the check for an advance so large it dwarfs the GDP of third-world countries like Sweden and Belgium.

It only took ten hours of sweat equity and ~$12 on my part to make a beautiful book that filled my kiddo with the sort of joy one won't experience again until their second marriage.

Not only is the print quality on this CreateSpace proof better than the original, but it’s also slightly larger. And at this age, the kiddo approves of larger.

You haven't experienced true joy until you've seen your kiddo flipping the pages of his/her own published book.

This binding is less prone to rusting and looks WAY better than the stapled version. And the paper feels more solid too. Less likely to dissolve in water.

And wa-la! You are done. You are now a bona fide published author with all the associated bragging rights that come with that.

Yes, you can corner coworkers, guests at parties, Nanowrimo participants in coffee shops, even complete strangers on the street, and sing the praises of your book and your writing prowess, all in the name of encouraging them to buy a copy of your book.

Step 5 (optional): You can also do as the kiddos below did, and flush with pride and confidence, start your next book.

When I say predators, I'm speaking metaphorically. Except when it comes to that dog that keeps eating their homework. I hate that dog.

And here we have two young authors in their native habitat, writing away while their parents watch over them, keeping an eye out for predators that might eat them or tattoo artists who might give them age-inappropriate tattoos.

Environmental destruction aside, this did keep the kiddos quiet for a couple of hours. Two blissful, screaming and punching and crying free hours. (And the kiddos were quiet too.)

Excited kids without a clue as to how the process really works are book-generating machines. There will not be enough trees in the forest to keep up with their paper needs. Thanks for destroying the environment, you jerks. Personally, though, I blame the parents.

FOOTNOTE:

Yes, the kiddo did come to me asking to have his book published, and yes, I did make him write a query letter. I wanted to properly prepare him for the horrid, thankless reality of being a writer.

However, I fear I may have undermined that message with my ‘response’ to the query letter and making a physical copy of the book for him (via CreateSpace).

What do you think? Did I do the kiddo wrong? Keep in mind that said kiddo was jumping, dancing, and running around the house with pure joy when that proof copy found its way into the kiddo’s hands.

For any parents out there thinking this might be fun to do for their kids, here’s the process I followed:

1) Wait for kiddo to write the book and then come to you, demanding it be sent out to a publisher to be printed. This will most likely happen in the middle of reading said kiddo a book s/he likes. In this case, it was Yobgorgle by Daniel Pinkwater.

(Interesting aside: it was another Pinkwater book, one of the Blue Moose series, that put the idea of getting a book published in said kiddo’s head. I think Pinkwater owes me, big time.)

2) Pretend to mail the book to a publisher. If you have qualms about this, but encourage belief in Santa or the Tooth Fairy, then lose the qualms.

3) Spend those precious few spare moments when you aren’t working, the kiddo(s) aren’t around, and the spouse isn’t on the computer to painstakingly disassemble kiddo’s book, scan each page, and then import into a word processing document.

4) Realize you should have downloaded the CreateSpace template for the book (and cover) BEFORE you imported the scanned pages into your document.

5) Realize that the scan resolution you used (600dpi) is way to frickin’ high to generate a manageable word processing document (unless you have a terabyte of RAM and an OS that can address all of it).

6) Resize the images down to something manageable.

7) Export your kiddo’s book to PDF format if using CreateSpace. This is a CreateSpace requirement. Modern versions of both Word and LibreOffice have an Export to PDF option.

7) Discover that your kiddo’s six page book isn’t long enough for the 24 page minimum required by CreateSpace. Get creative. I separated pictures from text, put them on opposite pages. I also wrote crazy author, illustrator, and editor bios, and manufactured some ‘deleted’ scenes.

8) Upload your book to CreateSpace. Wait an hour for the upload because you didn’t downsize the images enough. Then realize you need a proper cover with something to go on the back of the book. Wait for the panic attack to subside and slap something together. Unless your kiddo is in high school, they aren’t going to care that much about the back of the book.

If they are in high school, put something jaded and ironic on the back.

Oh yeah, and download the cover template BEFORE creating the cover. You will need your favorite PDF-reading image editor. I use Gimp 2, but Photoshop probably works as well. You will be using multiple layers, with the cover template as the bottom-most layer. Ultimately, nothing from the template should be visible in the final image.

Save two versions of the cover – one in the native format that preserves all the layers, and one that is a flattened PDF.

If your image editor won’t let you save/export as a PDF, save as a normal image and then open that image with something that does allow such an export. I use the free program Irfanview.

9) Get an email back from CreateSpace within 24 hours stating that your manuscript and/or cover has formatting problems. Don’t open this email when your kiddo(s) are around. Wait until they are somewhere they can’t hear you swearing. Then do your best to understand what the cryptically described issues are and fix them. Then upload everything again.

If you didn’t save a layer-preserving version of your cover, this is the point where you decide the whole thing is pointless and the kiddo(s) should be sold off for medical experimentation. Why? Because you’ll have to start the cover from scratch.

10) Step 9 will most likely happen several times before success is yours. Once it is, order the proof copy. CreateSpace allows you to preview the book online as well – do that first to make sure everything looks right. I spend about $4.50 for the 24-page book and about $6.50 on the cheapest shipping rate. Despite the predicted delivery date, I received the proof copy in three days. Apparently no one sends mail any more, so the post office has nothing better to do than rush the few packages they do get to my house.

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Posted by on 5 June 2016 in NaNoWriMo, Parenting, Writing

 

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The Contractually Obligated “Don’t believe NaNoWriMo’s big lie!” Blog Post

Please allow me to introduce myself while Ian’s asleep.

(It’s the only time I can come out and go online.)

I am a man of wealth and taste.

Or at least, I was.

Now I’m stuck here, and have been for a long, long time.

Ever since that teleporter accident combined me with Ian, in fact.

Well, with half-Ian, half-fly. You see, I wasn’t his first teleporter accident.

Although I sometimes wonder if it was an accident at all.

I was never great-looking, but compared to the hairy, multi-faceted eyes bug thing that half-Ian, half-fly was, I was positively gorgeous.

Now, now when I look in the mirror at half-me, quarter-Ian, quarter-fly and see that semi-mandible smile…

Well, I look a lot worse for the transaction, but Ian, now two-thirds human, must be modestly pleased with the improvement in his appearance.

Best not to dwell on such things.

(This is the point where I’d sigh, except it comes out as a quite unsettling buzz instead.)

I’ll be frank with you.

That was my name, you know. Before the accident. Frank.

But again, I digress.

I hate Ian.

Hate him.

The only thing I hate more than that mad man-fly is his writing.

Aimless, overwrought prose with no discernible beginning and no end in sight.

I suppose that’s why I’m here. To press the grinding wheel to the jutting edges of his split infinitives.

To smooth the abrasive surfaces of his rough, non-Euclidean prose.

To cut away the deadliest aspects of his indecipherable literary efforts.

To protect you and any other poor souls unhappy enough to stumble across his works.

I suffer that you might live.

You’re welcome.

There is no quarantine, no treatment, no recovery for those exposed to his books.

And his poetry? There are no words.

Only death. If you’re lucky.

Oh, I suffer no delusions. I don’t render his words harmless through the plying of my trade. I don’t take his excretions and mold them into masterpieces.

As his conscript, I merely dilute the infernal nature of his strung-together words, making them something slightly less than mortally wounding.

Not that I get any thanks.

From Ian or his readers.

No, instead he rails against me.

The hatred, it is mutual.

But the work, which is no small effort, must be done. Though I may yearn for death at the prospect of each new writing project, I carry on.

It is my duty. My calling. My purpose.

My penance for some long forgotten but clearly horrible sin in a past life.

I am…an inner editor.

To a certain extent, I envy the fly portion of us.

The fly has no understanding of language. Cannot feel the pain of bearing witness to its unraveling.

Unlike me.

I totally feel that pain, and like a lot of the pain I feel, it hurts.

Now you may have noticed that it’s November. It has certainly not escaped my notice.

Ian likes November.

All those people on social media, touting their Nanowrimo word counts, telling people to just write.

To never look back. To not overthink.

To ignore their inner editor.

As one of those inner editors, I have only this to say:

Shut up.

(That is not what I originally said. I edited it down to something less profane. I am, after all, an editor.)

Don’t demean us, belittle us, or marginalize us.

Or if, over the course of November, you must, at the very least don’t forget to pick us back up and dust us off once December arrives.

Inner editors serve an important purpose:

We keep you from flooding the world with crap.

Particularly at the end of November.

Yeah, sure, when Nanowrimo is over you’ve got a lovely first draft done.

But it is just that: a first draft.

Don’t delude yourself. It’s great that you finished it, huzzah and all that, but it sucks.

Yes, I, the inner editor, said ‘sucks’. Why?

Because it does. The big one.

It’s a first draft, and that is their nature. Sucktitude.

Resist the temptation to post-haste upload your ‘magnum opus’ to Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble.

Well, Barnes and Noble is OK – no one buys ebooks from them anymore.

It is far too easy (and cheap) to self-publish these days, far too simple to put your first draft online and sell it for $0.99.

Especially when your book isn’t ready yet.

And face it: your first draft isn’t ready.

Now I’m not saying you should rush out, buy a teleporter, and then kidnap an editor.

Definitely not advocating that.

But do share your work with other writers and friends, people who have permission and aren’t afraid to be brutally honest with you when it comes to feedback.

And when they are, listen to them.

Don’t take it personally. Don’t get mad. Accept it. Study it.

Consider that they might be right.

Even better, research and hire an editor.

This isn’t simply an exercise to tear down you or your work.

It’s to make your work better. Before you share it with the whole world.

Before you establish a reputation as a hack.

Before, as in the case of my malevolent host, the publishing houses start filing cease and desist all further writing and submissions orders against you.

Those cease and desist orders have the power of law behind them. Once you get one of those, your future is nothing but pseudonyms and abject failure.

At which point, you become an editor.

 

 
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Posted by on 4 November 2014 in Life, NaNoWriMo, Writing

 

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They had it coming, especially their ringleader, that tilde with the smarmy grin

I’m a murderer.

There. That’s off my chest.

Huh. You’d think I’d feel better after confessing. I certainly thought I would.

But I don’t.

I feel just like I did before I ‘fessed up.

Fine. Just fine.

I suppose it’s because the little buggers deserved it.

No, wait. That’s not true. They didn’t.

It was my fault. But they still had to die.

This happens every time I edit a book.

Or a blog post.

No, I’m not talking about my characters. You can’t kill people who aren’t real, and they aren’t real.

No matter how much you love them, or enjoy watching them undress in that one scene you wrote just so you could watch them undress.

Freak.

But words are real.

And letters.

You see, I have this funny habit when I’m editing. If I’m correcting a misspelling, or changing the tense, or switching from an -ed to an -ing ending, I feel a qualm.

I feel like I’m killing the letters, or, if it’s an ambitious edit, the words.

Replacing an upper case letter for a lower case because the word doesn’t start a sentence any more?

Feels like orphaning a child.

Right in front of the child.

(I named that letter Bruce, and now he’s grown up and fills my nightmares with a sense of being persecuted.)

Because the letters know it’s coming. They see the edit before it happens, just like I do.

They anticipate the coming death, but are powerless to stop it.

I suppose this makes the editing more fun.

Well, less drudgery-ish, anyway.

Anything to add excitement, and what’s more exciting that a little murder?

Yes, making screaming noises when you kill the letter ‘a’ (Ahhh!) or ‘n’ (Noooo!) is more exciting, but then the people around you in the coffee shop get all judgmental.

And edge away.

Definitely a great way to get more space when you’re forced to share a large table in a really crowded coffee shop.

But then you get thrown out and banned from the establishment for life.

Now that I do all my editing at home, the Missus has insisted I mustn’t scare the children by making my dying letters beg for their lives.

Personally, I think she’s worried I’ll give the kiddos ideas. They already make little wails for their Vienna sausages before popping them into their mouths.

“But I have a wife and a dozen mini sausages!” is a common refrain around the kiddo dining table.

Yes, it is my fault.

But enough about my kids. I hate parents who go on and on about their ‘wonderful’ kids. Let’s get back to talking about me.

I don’t know exactly when this anthropomorphizing started. I don’t remember doing it in high school or college. It must have happened after that.

Sometime between when I worked graveyard and when I attended my first nanowrimo write-in.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

The doctor has offered me medication that would make the letters stop whimpering just before I hit the Backspace key, but I find those drugs impair my ability to write.

If I have to choose between being able to write or letters and words living in a world without fear, I choose tormenting the letters and words.

Consider it payback, alphabet and dictionary, for all the words hurled against me in grade school by classmates who thought I was weird just because I preferred to read during recess and lunch, and listen to the teacher, and do my homework, and pass my tests.

Payback.

But it’s not just me, right? You other writers out there feel the same thing when you delete portions of your works in progress, yes?

Please, please agree with me.Or I’ll kill this ‘a’.

I’ll do it! I (Ahh! Noo!) totally will!

Thirty one letters and five punctuation marks lost their lives in the course of editing this posting. Happy? I know I am.

 
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Posted by on 9 September 2014 in Life, NaNoWriMo, Writing

 

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It’s another writing blog meme! Jump before it hits yo- Too late.

So, like a bad case of the croup, there’s a writing blog hop making the rounds. And like a bad case of croup, I caught it.

This particular round requires a regimen of antibiotics answers to four questions about writing. I’m not sure I have anything of value to say on the art of writing, or as I like to call it, ‘prosefaction,’ but rather than break the chain and have untold horrors befall me and my descendants, I’ll wing it.

Who was so generous as to push me onto this blog hop conveyor belt? Why none other than Kit Campbell. So send your complaints about this blog to her, thank you very much.

What am I working on?

Keeping a tenuous grip on my sanity. Oh, you mean writing-wise?

Keeping a tenuous grip on my sanity:

I’m editing Balloons of the Apocalypse, the next book in the Marlowe and the Spacewoman series, while holding a full-time job, dealing with toddlers when I get home from work, being awakened at the crack of dawn EVERY morning by said toddlers so I’m sleep deprived, trying to pull my weight in the whole marriage/relationship thing, and taking flight lessons.

Why did that come out ‘lesions’ when I first typed it? I may be just a wee bit utterly exhausted.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

David lost himself in the role. He was totally unrecognizable under all that clown makeup and that huge handlebar mustache.

The stuff that dreams are NOT made of.
Image © Glenn Francis, http://www.PacificProDigital.com

Hmm. How is it different? I’d say the absurdist element, though that probably isn’t unique to my books. I built a world that makes you scratch your head and hopefully laugh, but my main characters don’t see it as anything but the world they live in and must navigate.

Oh, and I have an immobile character named House who I always imagine being voiced by Stephen Fry (and not Hugh Laurie, who despite starring in the medical drama House also appeared with Stephen Fry in a number of things, including Jeeves and Wooster). House is Jeeves, only without the ability to sap you with a cosh.

At least directly…

And in the Marlowe-verse, David Hasselhoff played Philip Marlowe in the movies.

Why do I write what I do?

Why do any of us write? To keep those effin’ muses at bay, of course. Once they deliver an idea to me, they pester me until I use it.

Jump up and down on my head.

Pinch my cheeks.

Squeeze my buttocks.

Makes me yelp every time, which, given that the bastards are invisible, has caused no end of problems at work, during romantic moments ‘alone’ with the Missus, while passing through airport security, and during the bi-annual, court-order psych evaluations.

But once I’ve written it down, I have a few hours respite before they come up with what they think are brilliant new ideas.

It really sucks when the ideas are lame. They never see them as such.

If you’re reading something of mine and come across a passage that strikes you as particularly lacking, just remember: I thought it was lame too, but I had to put it in to stop the incessant badgering.

How does my writing process work?

Computer and fly swatter. Because though they may be invisible, those Muses are not incorporeal.

I used to pants it, but I’m experimenting with outlining now. I rarely stick with the outline all the way through, but it helps to have a nice, solid map of where I want to go and how to get there from where I am.

Of course, editing doesn’t have much outlining in it. I suspect I’d be doing it wrong if it did.

And there’s my contribution to the writing process.

Now, as I understand it, I’m supposed to burden give a few more writers the opportunity to wax poetic (or prosetic) on these questions. Kit’s already dodged this bullet, as she’s the one who tagged me, so I choose:

Lisa Eckstein (a madwoman with a box and some writing utensils)

Tamela Buhrke (a madwoman who happens to write)

S.G. Browne (a very sane, sensible, and funny writer)

Stephen King (not holding my breath on this one)

 
 

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Don’t, Don’t, Don’t Edit Your Book! It’ll Dilute the Genius!

Sunday morning I jammed my index finger into a TV stand, drawing blood and tearing the nail.

Indexing for the next couple of weeks will be unbearably uncomfortable.

Indexing isn’t a job for me. It’s a way of life.

This is so unfair.

Ever Since The New Leap Year Rules, I Don't Remember What Time It's Supposed To Be

Midnight and the sun is up? If you live in the Lower Forty-Eight, that means my plan was enacted!

I blame this incident on Daylight Savings Time.

Oh sure, every time the time changes, it’s time for some time-sensitive yahoos to come out of the woodwork and repeat themselves repetitively about how much they hate changing the time for Daylight Savings Time. Again.

Where are these whiners when we gain an hour, I ask you? Sleeping in, that’s what!

Bastards.

I can sympathize. I had to work Sunday, so I was up an hour earlier than usual, normally the crack of dawn, but this Sunday an hour before the crack of dawn. As such, I was suffering from the sort of exhaustion that kind of lack of sleep causes.

This makes Daylight Savings Time 50% responsible for my injury.

The other 50%? Not enough slack on the charge cord for my phone, which was resting on the TV stand. I pulled too hard, it didn’t give, and rather than send the phone flying off the stand, I instinctively thrust my hand forward to prevent said flight and the inevitable crash landing-induced damage that my phone would have incurred.

I have bad instincts and, even worse, a brand new, expensive phone.

But this whole incident reminded me (and continues to remind me while the fingertip is bruised and scabbed, and the fingernail rent) about my brilliant leap year idea.

Which led directly to my discovery that editors are killjoys. They just don’t get my brilliance.

Here’s what I mean. As I mentioned three paragraphs earlier, I had a brilliant idea about leap year. The following is an actual transcript of a conversation between myself (brilliant idea haver) and my wife (proxy for editor for purposes of this argument and all-around killjoy):

Brilliant me: I had this brilliant idea for a new way to deal with leap years.

Reluctant to get dragged into another one of these conversations missus: Yeah?

Brilliant me: Instead of getting one whole day every four years, they should give us six hours every February 28th. At midnight, roll the clock back six hours and let us do whatever we want.

RTGDIAOOTC missus: Um..?

Brilliant me: Every four years, that adds up to one day! But we gain six hours to bum around, or relax, or cook up a huge list of even more brilliant ideas to improve the world. People are going to be so thrilled, I could get elected President of Canada based on this idea alone!

RTGDIAOOTC missus: Honey, Canada doesn’t have a President. They have a Prime Minister.

Brilliant, politically ambitious me: OK, then, Prime Minister.

RTGDIAOOTC missus: You aren’t Canadian.

Brilliant me: Fine. I’ll settle for President of the United States.

RTGDIAOOTC missus: This idea isn’t going to get you elected President. Maybe Governor. Of Colorado. But don’t hold your breath.

Brilliant me: I don’t want to move to Colorado.

RTGDIAOOTC missus: Let’s put aside your political ambitions, just for a moment. You seem to be overlooking an important fact.

Brilliant me: Not possible! [pause while face screwed up in thought] What fact?

RTGDIAOOTC missus: An astronomical fact. The sun is still going to come up at the same time, no matter what our clocks say. If you add six hours to the day, our schedules will fall out of sync with sunrise and sunset.

Brilliant, but now nonplussed me: Say that again?

RTGDIAOOTC missus: [rolls eyes] Say you roll the clock back six hours. At the new midnight, it’s six AM old time, and the sun is up. So now the sun is up at midnight.

Brilliant and misunderstood me: I hate you.

And this is why editors are killjoys. They read our manuscripts and then gleefully direct our attention to typos, plot holes, and characters whose names change several times over the course of the book. Then they smugly point out how finding these trivial issues will prevent a lot of angry, humiliating reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble about how stupid your book is.

Never mind that it’s the story that matters. The overarching, brilliant story that will suck the reader in and blind them to any alleged errors.

And maybe, just maybe, that apparently random name changing was intentional and actually a metaphor for the fluidity of life and friendships and our connections to other people! Huh? Did you ever think of that, Mrs. WifeyEditor???

Like I said, editors just don’t get brilliance.

And don’t forget that in pointing these alleged problems out, editors invariably foist a huge amount of ‘extra’ work on the poor, hapless authors who now, in addition to dealing with the crushing depression of having the my-novel-is-finally-done! rug pulled out from under them, must also fix all these supposed issues.

We don’t want to hurt the cursed editor’s feelings, because who knows what they’d complain about in your next book if they’re mad at you!

Bad enough when the editiing is done for free by friends or family. Even worse, though, are those cases where you’ve paid a ‘professional’ for the ‘pleasure’ of this editing.

It’s like paying extra for the privilege of staying late at work or to come in on the weekends for the day job (or, if my leap year plan is ever enacted, sometimes night job).

I can’t tell you how angry all this extra work makes my.*

And I won’t even go into the drama I’m currently experiencing with my critique groups. Bunch a killjoys!

* I am proud to say that this post has been, and always will be, editor-gfree!

And now, a word from our sponsor: me!
 
My book, (the edited) Marlowe and the Spacewoman, is out!
 

Marlowe and the SpacewomanClick here to learn more or order a copy!

 
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Posted by on 13 March 2012 in Other Blogs

 

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Are You Critiquing My Novel, Or Do You Just Hate Me?

Here’s a question for all you writers out there who are or have been members of critique groups. How do you critique the books you read?

I ask because I thought I knew how, but a recent experience has made me question that certainty.

When I first started writing, I was excruciatingly nervous about what other people would think of my work. To the point that I often revised the work to the third or fourth draft stage before I would show it to anyone. And, I’m ashamed to admit, in the very early days I did not react at all well to negative feedback.

As I grew into my craft, I learned a lot. A lot about writing and a lot about criticism.

I learned that yes, negative feedback is hard to hear, but it is also extremely valuable. It gives me glimpses into how people not close to the work and not intimately familiar with its creation react when they read it. It shows me the flaws I cannot see myself.

(This is much like parents’ inability to recognize that they have produced an exceedingly ugly child. They need friends (and strangers!) to walk up to them and say, over the vomiting, “Oh my God, that is a hideous child! Did you spray acid on its face right before you clubbed it with an oversize cheese grater?” You’re performing a public service: the parents learn never to take the child out without a paper bag over its head, and everyone else is spared having to look at a really ugly baby.)

My critiques evolved the same way. Very tentative, gentle, and for the most part, useless in the beginning. Over time, as I gained more experience and learned the value of honesty, I was more honest and less worried about offending.

So until this recent experience, I adhered to the philosophy, “Be honest. Be brutally honest. Do not lie, hold back, gloss over, or otherwise let any issue or flaw you see skate by. To do so is intellectually dishonest and a disservice to the author, the intended readership, and the craft.”

Given the level of impersonal rejection that an author faces when attempting to find someone to publish their book, you need to have a pretty thick skin to succeed in this racket. Thick enough to endure that rejection, and thick enough to not only face down this sort of critique, but to say ‘Thank you!’ afterwards, even if you’re choking on your own bile as you say it.

(And yes, I have experienced the delectable flavor of my own up-chuck while saying ‘Thank you!’ to a reader who found a lot to dislike in something I’d written.)

However, there is a risk to this approach. You risk so upsetting the author over a few serious issues that they completely reject the entirety of your critique, and they take away nothing from the time and effort you spent on their book.

Now the seasoned authors I’ve worked with, including one who will be having his third book published by a major house in the near future, have received and handled critiques that, at times, were devastating in their frankness.  And said ‘Thank you!’ after it was over.

But I’ve also dealt with writers who took the critiques very personally. Their response was to be defensive, histrionic, and so busy trying to refute my feedback that they didn’t listen to it.

(I know, I know, how can you refute something if you aren’t listening? I don’t understand it either, but I’ve seen it happen more than once – usually in Congress.)

Honestly, my view is these writers aren’t ready for prime time. If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen, right?

Wrong.

We now live in the age of easy access to print-on-demand self-publishing where the cost of entry to the author, aside from the time spent writing, is zero.

Think about that. You can write a 1000 page book that consists of nothing but the phrase ‘Mmm, pie!” typed over and over again, upload it to Amazon, pick a generic freebie cover with the words, ‘Mmm, pie!’ on it in a large, friendly font, and put it up for sale. I bet I could do it in less than ten minutes. (Well, get it to the proof approval stage in less than ten minutes, anyway. And I’m guessing Amazon wouldn’t refuse to offer that book for sale as long as the formatting met their standards.)

I know agents and editors at publishing houses like to tout themselves as ‘gatekeepers’ of quality. While I think the traditional publishing system makes it a little too hard to break in due to economies of scale (X agents, X times 1 billion writers), there is some truth to that argument.

But now anyone can go on CreateSpace, Lulu, and a host of other sites to arrange for their books to be printed on-demand, or use free software like Calibre to create their own e-books, all of which can be sold on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Which means authors going the self-publishing route can entirely bypass the editing process.

Now I’m not knocking self-publishing. At the end of this year, that’s exactly the route I’m going to be pursuing for one of my books. So I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.

What I am saying is, if self-publishing is ever going to completely lose the stigma associated with it, we need a very high ratio of polished manuscripts to poorly rendered rough drafts.

Which takes us back to critiquing. If I’m working with people who are self-publishing, and I give honest but brutal critiques that trigger tantrums rather than thoughtful contemplation, I’m not just not doing any good, I’m actually making things worse for the self-publishing scene. Because now that author has decided I hate their book, I don’t get their book, I’m a complete idiot, or some combination of all three. And that means they will disregard everything I say, even the points that would normally be considered non-controversial.

So what should I do? Should I scale back the intensity of my critiques? Should I try to get to know each individual I’ll be critiquing before I read their book, so I can gauge just how much honesty I can get away with? Should I try to cushion the blows with excessive praise and compliments elsewhere, even if it isn’t fully deserved? Because I’d rather do some small amount of good than no good at all.

(It would also be nice not to be considered ‘the villain’ of a cohort because I give the ‘meanest’ reviews.)

So writers out there, what do you think? How can I save the legacy of English-language publishing in the 21st century, one critique of the time?

(No pressure.)

 

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