Who We Write For And Other Imponderables

Okay, last week it was hard drive failure, I hear you mutter. What’s his excuse this time?

Yea, I know. Regular blogs are part of the deal. But living out here in one of the poorest countries in the world has its downsides, and constant power-cuts and interrupted internet access are among them. I’m trying my best. Honest!

Tomorrow, power and ISP permitting, I’ll be featuring an exclusive with Marion G. Harmon, whose novel Wearing The Cape is destined for fame and fortune.

But after a week of disruption (have you ever tried writing a novel with pen and paper by candlelight?) I’m easing myself back into things with a round up from some blogs I follow which warrant sharing.

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“It’s okay to be at whatever stage you’re on.” So says Janice Hardy over at The Other Side Of The Story, in a highly recommended blog entitled All the World’s A Stage: The Stages Of A Writer.

Janice breaks down the process from wannabe to success into ten stages and offers some great advice about taking it steady and not jumping in before you’re ready.

Janice’s point being that a decade or so ago agents and publishers were inundated with new manuscripts from millions of new wannabes. The reason: word processors had made finally made completing a novel a reality for those of us never gifted with basic typing skills. (Hands up anyone who can actually write the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog in one go without looking and without a mistake…) (And no, I didn’t manage it that time either!)

Now history is repeating itself with publishing, with just about everybody theoretically capable of putting their masterpiece before an adoring public within minutes of typing the last line.

But as Janice explains, there are several stages all writers need to pass through before they get to that point. Which stage are you at?

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Someone self-evidently at the successful publishing stage is blogging guru Nathan Bransford, who this week has been guiding us through his process from writing to publication for his middle-grade novel (that’s a kids’ book for sort of 8-12 age range, for us outside the USA).

On Thursday he explained why he opted for a traditional publisher over e-publishing, and perhaps the most significant point to emerge there is that e-readers are simply not aimed at children. Quite apart from the lousy graphics on the Kindle (what were Amazon thinking of?) it’s simply a given that most parents aren’t going to spend a fortune on an e-reader for their precious off-spring.

And those that can afford it may as well get them an iPad that can do so much more, as well as show pages of a book.

The real issue is that e-readers are simply not child-friendly, which is a tragedy given even the smallest of children love computer games and have few problems handling a mouse or a decent sized keyboard. But until someone brings out a rubber-cased, shock-proof e-reader that can withstand being covered in jam or dropped down the toilet then Kindles, nooks and other rival devices will remain adult pleasures. Children’s authors with low e-sales should bear that in mind and not get dispirited.

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Amanda Hocking announced another big deal this week, this time for her Trylle Trilogy. I mention this because of an interesting point Amanda raised on her blog.

One thing I love about Amanda is that she is so down to Earth, despite the bank balance and the deserved acclaim. Explaining to readers what the new deal meant for them, she said “If you haven’t read the series, it will make it easier for you to find, and the books will have fewer errors.”

This seemed particularly apt coming from the phenomenon that is Amanda Hocking given rival dark fantasy author Charlaine Harris had us sweating for a day or so earlier this week. Her e-book Dead Reckoning, the latest instalment in the fantastically successful True Blood series, came bounding up the charts despite a hefty price tag of £8.99, getting worrying close behind us in the top ten before running out of steam.

Two points arise. First, the ebook price of £8.99 is 75% more than the Amazon guaranteed price for the pending paperback, and fully 12% more than the RRP of said paperback. True, it’s cheaper than the hardback, which has a UK RRP of £16.99, but is there any justification, beyond clawing back the advance, for this kind of profiteering?

That said, I guess one has to ask why not? No-one is being forced to buy it at that price, yet clearly thousands have done so.

Would an indie publisher get away with that? Of course not.

But at least if it’s been published by a “real” publisher it won’t be full of typos and formatting cock-ups. And believe me, Saffi and I know all about that (though I think we’ve got it sorted now).  But hey, if typos and formatting errors were good enough for Amanda Hocking…

But this is where it gets interesting. Several of Charlaine’s reviewers commented on the number of typos and formatting errors in this series, including the latest ebook.

Now obviously nobody’s perfect, but this is a major release by a major publishing house and by a major author. If they can’t get it right…

Or is this a Kindle problem? I’ve seen a version of Sugar & Spice that contains typos that as co-author I know one hundred percent were not in the script we submitted. Random appearances of the hash symbol for example that we only realised were there after x-thousand copies had been sold (and that we still pay the price for in bad reviews).

Critics not unreasonably assume this is down to us being lousy spellers and typists, but I suspect even the most inept of proof-readers would spot a random hash symbol (#) in the middle of a sentence and be bothered to delete it before submitting for publication.

And yes, we did a thorough check after publishing and were quite satisfied we’d done our best.

My suspicions were first aroused when I downloaded a Sherlock Holmes book and a Jane Austen book and found ridiculous errors and typos in classics that has been published a zillion times over on paper without problem.

I suspect a close perusal of other ebook versions of major titles might reveal a similar issue…

It just may be that the Kindle download process is sending out errors to some / all devices that neither author nor publisher are aware of until the negatives start rolling in…

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Of course, if you managed to get your script written with minimal assistance from the spell-checker and you know where to put apostrophes and can tell the difference between a simile and a metaphor then you probably had a good English teacher.

In fact, the very fact that you’re reading this and are (or have aspirations to be) a writer is because you had a good English teacher.

Of course no-one ever had an English teacher quite as good as Robin Williams’ role as “Mr Keating” in the inspirational film Dead Poet’s Society.

But could Mr Keating have written a good book?

It’s a question I often ponder, and one Anne R Allen drew on indirectly in her blog Want To Be A Successful Author? 10 Things English Majors Have To Unlearn.

Somehow Anne even managed to get Star Trek IV in there to make her point. (Yes, I queried her about it too.)

Her point being that writers write books to sell, not to impress their professors or win prizes in exotic prose.

Yes, it’s nice if they can do both, but at the end of the day, unless we’re wealthy enough not to have to worry about selling, then our ultimate aim is to sell our work.

And we won’t do that (or at least not on any significant scale) by worrying about what we were taught in school / college / uni. As Anne says, it’s quite the opposite. You need to unlearn all that and get real.

Fancy adverbs, fifty different “said” tags and lavish metaphors and similes all carefully alliterated do not make for a good book.

That said, it’s possible to go too far the other way and write our books line by line from the latest How To guide.

Yes, we can all mock Dan Brown, find fault with JK Rowling, or casually dismiss Enid Blyton for not being on par with Shakespeare or Tennyson. But what wouldn’t we give for their sales figures?

As writers we can sometimes be obsessive to the point of distraction when it comes to “doing it right”.

Bottom line is, the people out there actually buying our books have not read How To Write Next Year’s Shakespearean Blockbuster and don’t give a fig about POV rules (Stand up, James Patterson, and take a bow), show and tell (Dan Brown we love you!), political correctness (Enid Blyton, you are still my hero!) or a million other rules, many of which have probably been invented by the How To Write industry for the sole purpose of selling more How To Write books.

When you write, don’t write for your English teacher. Don’t write for yourself. Don’t even write for the agent who’s probably already got a rejection slip with your name on it.

Write for your readers.

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  1. What a great post. I especially like your thoughts at the end. Forget the ‘rules’ and write what you like. There’s an audience for that.

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