Saturday, August 6, 2016

SERVING UP SHIT


Practically since birth I've had a love affair with the written word. 

First I was a reader, a savorer of ideas on the page that could so adeptly build pictures, movies, whole worlds and civilizations in my mind. 

I became fascinated with the creation of fiction.  I loved my fantasy world so much that I began to write some of it down in stories, one of which I wrote into a full-fledged 145-page novel at the tender age of eleven. 

A writer was born. 

Though married young, I read every article, book, tutorial, I could get my hands on, and taught myself writing, editing, formatting and many other skills necessary to hone my craft.

I submitted everything I wrote, but in those days it was all snail mail and I was dirt poor.  Envelopes, postage, paper, typewriter ribbons, copy machines (to produce pristine copies with no white-out showing), and other office supplies needed in those days to produce a manuscript and get it submitted were not cheap, and thus submissions were few and far between. 

Then along came computers, and with them a whole new writing game. 

And with that new writing game came a whole new breed of writers. 

Through the years I've amassed not only writing skills, but thanks to workshops, some editing and critiquing skills as well. 

The new breed's motto is "a done thing is better than a perfect thing."

I beg to differ. 

While perfection is an elusive thing, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be striven for, especially in a manuscript.

This past year I was hired as an editor by a small press and immediately became astonished at some of the absolute dreck that came across my desk from wannabe "writers" who don't know and don't give a damn about preparing a manuscript for submission. 

The level of disrespect for their own work, the editors and publishers they submit to, and in turn the readers they expect will pay for the privilege of wading through typos, appalling misspellings, grammatical muck, poor and even non-existent story line, horrific dialog, abysmal punctuation, and total lack of concern for any of the above leaves me seething. 

In a society that wants everything yesterday and produces faint copies of quality merchandise of yesteryear I must say books, whether electronic or printed, fit right in with the rest of the slop being manufactured today. 

A society more concerned with "getting it out there" than with whether or not it's worthy to be out there makes readers' choices precarious.   Writers are afraid if they don't pump out a million words a year they will be forgotten in a month. 

And you will, my writer friends, if you keep pumping out the level of swill I keep seeing. 

We all know what Hemingway thought of first drafts. "The first draft of anything is shit." The man had a way with words, I must say. 

The scary part is that many writers bang out a first draft, apparently don't bother to even read it through, and depend on computer spell check to "edit" it for them and email it off to a small press. 

It ends up on the desk of an overworked, time-pinched, caring editor like me.

I like writers, okay?  I am a writer, I have worked decades perfecting my craft and am still learning every single day. I am more than willing to advise, help and work with my fellow writers to ready a manuscript for publication, but I must be met halfway. 

Editors are not ghostwriters.  We are not co-writers.  You are the writer of your book.  Unless you are willing to share your byline, then polish your manuscript and perfect it before you submit it. 

And actually, as an editor I would think a writer would take whatever steps necessary when it comes to their manuscripts, to meet me all the way.

I should never ever see a first draft.  Or even a second draft.  I should only see the final polish of a manuscript because it's not my job to rewrite your stuff.  It's yours. I repeat: I'm your editor not your co-writer.

I'm supposed to catch minor flaws here and there throughout an entire manuscript, not on every other page.  Rewrites and complete overhauls are your job.  Learn the tools of your trade.  Apply them to your manuscript. Then learn more tools of your trade. 

That includes:

  • Editing.
  • Formatting.
  • Marketing.

Self-publishing means just that – it means you take it upon yourself to learn every aspect of crafting a book or magazine or greeting card. 

It does not mean bypassing quality control. 

Put yourself in your readers' place during each phase of your process. 

  • How's the story?
  • How's the dialogue?
  • How's the grammar, spelling, and sentence structure?
  • How's the cover?
  • How's the formatting?
  • Are you past the "shit" stage?
  • Are there even minute flaws?  FIX THEM!!  Do not depend on your editor to do it.  There should be nothing in your manuscript that requires an apology.  Become paranoid about your reader finding mistakes and realizing you're a lazy slug only interested in the money. 

It used to be that editors fielded manuscripts and much of the crap out there never got to the readers. 

No longer true.

It only takes one sloppy, piece of crap to turn a harried, disappointed reader off in the first ten pages and turn to a better book produced by a caring writer. 

I'll be glad to take hacks' disappointed readers off their hands and sate their appetite for a quality book or magazine. 

And it serves them right for serving up shit.



TD – 7/24/2015

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